Business-like, isn't he?



Vesta News

    Putting the Internet to Work

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Vesta News May 2004

    Pretty much all Vancouver teachers and students have Internet access, in
    schools-in our classrooms, libraries, and computer labs, at home-virtually
    all of my students at East Vancouver's Chief Maquinna Elementary report
    having computers and Internet access, at public libraries, cafes, and more.

    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.

    Vesta News May 2004I've done a series of lessons at Maquinna, having students get information
    from the school library, from CD-ROM encyclopedias, and online. Afterwards,
    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 the
    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, too
    many of them are unlikely to use it well. Most students know about search
    engines (typically, but understandably have trouble being able
    to find web pages with on-topic and age-level reading material amidst the
    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, however,
    teachers assume that students 'just know' how to use the Internet. Perhaps
    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 information.
    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 Japan")
    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 be
    extremely difficult, especially for a grade 6 or 7 student with average
    reading ability, to use the Internet to find specific information to answers
    to higher-level questions ("Why did ancient civilizations arise in river
    valleys like the Nile or Mesopotamia?")

    Vesta News May 2004It is possible to use the Internet as a source for 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 with
    their school librarians before giving class assignments that require library
    use, teachers need to get in the habit of checking the Internet to see what
    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 best
    way to do that is to start using the Internet as a source of information for
    the things that they like to do, even things that may seem totally unrelated
    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 students
    should start off at a site search engine like Yahooligans
    ( rather than an adult-oriented search site like Google.
    Students will get far fewer 'hits' on Yahooligans-which is a good thing. And
    the hits they get will have been checked by real humans for relevance and
    child-friendly reading level.

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan