the Internet to Work
by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First
published in Vesta
Pretty much all Vancouver teachers and students have Internet access, in
schools-in our classrooms, libraries, and computer labs, at
all of my students at East Vancouver's Chief Maquinna Elementary report
having computers and Internet access, at public libraries, cafes, and
How to use that wealth of information in a way that supports the rest of
what's going on in the classroom can be more problematic.
done a series of lessons at Maquinna, having
students get information
from the school library, from CD-ROM encyclopedias, and online.
I asked students to discuss the pros and cons of using each information
source. They concluded that the Internet was the hardest to use, that
information they found was often hard to read and interpret, and that it
often lacked credibility. But they also said that it was where they were
most likely to turn the next time they needed to get information.
So expect your students to turn to the Internet if you give them
research-based homework. But while students are likely to use the Web,
many of them are unlikely to use it well. Most students know about
engines (typically Google.com), but understandably have trouble being
to find web pages with on-topic and age-level reading material amidst
often hundreds or thousands of 'hits' for their search.
At age-appropriate points, we teach students how to best use paper and
pencil and how to use the school and public libraries. Too often,
teachers assume that students 'just know' how to use the Internet.
this is because many teachers still feel intimidated by the Web, while
nearly all of our students take computers and the Internet for granted.
Teachers who rarely use the Internet often have unrealistic expectations
about how difficult it can be for their students to find useful
The Web is like a gigantic library in which the collection is poorly
catalogued and much of the material hasn't been shelved properly. It's
relatively easy to find specific facts ("What is the population of
or to find something on a relatively broad topic ("Find a web page about
Ancient Egypt and write down ten facts in your own words"). But it can
extremely difficult, especially for a grade 6 or 7 student with average
reading ability, to use the Internet to find specific information to
to higher-level questions ("Why did ancient civilizations arise in river
valleys like the Nile or Mesopotamia?")
is possible to use the Internet as a source
research, but it can be a
lot of work, and it takes a lot of practice to do so efficiently and
effectively. Just as teachers (hopefully!) get in the habit of checking
their school librarians before giving class assignments that require
use, teachers need to get in the habit of checking the Internet to see
students are likely to encounter before sending students off on often
frustrating online information chases.
Doing so assumes, of course, that teachers themselves become comfortable
searching for information on the Net. Many teachers will find that the
way to do that is to start using the Internet as a source of
the things that they like to do, even things that may seem totally
to what's going on their classroom. Travel, gardening, cooking, music,
whatever you're interested in. Anything that raises your comfort level
online will make it easier to also check online sources the way your
students are likely to.
And, especially for students in grades K through 6, teachers and
should start off at a site search engine like Yahooligans
than an adult-oriented search site like Google.
Students will get far fewer 'hits' on Yahooligans-which is a good
the hits they get will have been checked by real humans for relevance
child-friendly reading level.