Welcoming the Internet Into Your Classroom

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

This seminar will discuss a few critical components of putting the power of the Internet to work in the classroom. These include simple searching techniques, information literacy skills, and strategies to develop Internet-safe lessons.

As a teacher and lifelong learner, one of the most powerful and rewarding instructional tools at your fingertips is the Internet. Within seconds, an entire civilization or country thousands of miles away is at your desktop. Questions that would have taken hours to find an answer to are not only answered but expounded upon. Due to its timeliness and currency, the Internet can capture teachable moments — as you see students' eyes light up with excitement, the Internet can expand that moment with pictures, facts, and human stories that make learning come alive.

 

The Internet provides a wealth of resources and information that make teaching exciting and new. Some of the nuggets you can find on the Internet include:

  • lesson plans
  • virtual field trips
  • simulations
  • facts, figures, and formulas
  • exhibits
  • experiments
  • maps
  • seminars for professional development
  • songs and stories
  • tutorials
  • puzzles
  • book reviews
  • historical archives
  • authors
  • science fair projects
  • collaborative projects

The Internet is also an ideal mechanism for encouraging students to assume responsibility for their own learning. As students find different learning resources on the Internet, they become active participants in their quest for knowledge. Incorporating the Internet into your classroom provides students with more opportunities to structure their own learning. Students are able to define their learning needs, find information, assess its value, build their own knowledge base, and communicate their discoveries.

Yet before you can begin to use the Internet in your classroom, students need to have the foundation of two main sets of skills to help them navigate the Internet and then manage the large amounts of information they find.

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Internet Navigation Skills

It helps in introducing the Internet to your students to familiarize them with common terms. You may want to use the Internet Glossary to help define terms.

Explain to students that the Internet is an amazing system of computers that provides people with incredible amounts of information. In order to make sense of all of this information, search engines were created to help people find what they were looking for in a more efficient way. However, the very act of searching the Internet can be overwhelming. There are a myriad of search engines to chose from, which will return hundreds of pages of information for a very simple search. After discussing the concept of search engines, I teach my students a few handy tips for their searches. If possible, I have students practice each searching rule before I go on to the next one.

 

Simple Searching Rules

Simple Searching Rules

  1. Use the word AND when you want information about two or more key words together.

     

    For example: colleges and SAT, dolphins and whales, Dodgers and Giants and Expos

     

  2. Use the word NOT when you want information about one key word but no information about the other.

     

    For example: art NOT painting, football NOT playoffs, national parks NOT California

     

  3. Use quotation marks around the names of people, places, or a phrase. This makes sure that the words appear right next to each other in the Web site.

     

    For example: "multiple intelligence theory," "President Washington," "California beaches"

     

  4. To find a picture of something, type in image: (what you are looking for).

     

    For example: image: dog, image: Saturn, image: Michael Jordan

 

 

It is important to discuss what types of key words students need to type in to find the correct information. The more specific the key word, the more specific the returned information will be. Although this seems basic, some students need to see examples of key words in searches. Idea webs, or concept maps, may be one useful strategy to help students focus on the exact topic and most appropriate keyword for an effective search.

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Information Literacy Skills

The amount of information available over the Internet, on the news, in newspapers, and in magazines and books is overwhelming for most adults, let alone children. Therefore, it is critical that students learn to find, analyze and use the information available to them at their fingertips. These skills are information literacy skills, and the sooner we begin teaching students these skills, the better their chances are of succeeding in the Information Age.

Information literacy skills entail complex thinking and reasoning. These types of skills take time and practice to learn, and many adults do not have strong information literacy skills . . . so be patient and encourage students to practice, practice, practice.

Many of the following information literacy skills can be taught by discussing the concept first, followed by examples and modeling. As students watch you and other students manage information, think aloud about what is being analyzed, and reach conclusions, they will begin to use similar strategies for themselves.

Keep in mind that many of these skills are considered advanced thinking skills when you think in terms of Higher-order Thinking Skills (HOTS) or Bloom's Taxonomy. Included by each skill is the Bloom's Taxonomy skill(s) that is used in each strategy.

1. Know when there is a need for information (Comprehension):

  • Recognize when there is a need for information to solve a problem or develop an idea.

     

  • Brainstorm multiple strategies for approaching a problem or issue.

     

  • Identify, organize, and sequence tasks to complete an information-based project.

 

To teach students these types of skills, I ask students to write down what problem they are trying to solve or what exactly they are trying to learn. Then I have students write down the steps they need to follow to complete their research or find an answer. Remember that searching is only one possible avenue for gaining information; finding an online expert or doing an online simulation are also options students might consider.

2. Find and identify information needed (Comprehension/Analysis):

  • Formulate questions based on information needs.

 

  • Use effective search techniques; use key words to search for information.

 

  • Analyze various sources for relevance.

 

  • Read competently to understand what is presented.

 

Students need to learn to formulate well-defined questions that relate to the identified needs, problems, or research they identified in the first step. Once they complete this, it is time to let them practice their searching skills or to direct students to specific sites where their questions can be answered. I believe in previewing all sites, yet there are times when I feel comfortable with a student's searching skills and responsibility and will allow them to search on their own. Students then need to determine which of the suggested resources are most likely to meet their needs. Relevance rankings and site descriptions are two tools offered by most search engines to help users sift through resources.

3. Analyze the information found (Analysis and Evaluation):

  • Evaluate the quality of information by establishing authority.

 

  • Determine accuracy and authenticity.

 

  • Distinguish among opinion, reasoned arguments, and fact.

 

These skills are very complex and can take a lifetime to learn. It is important to begin discussing these strategies with students at any age. One powerful way of teaching students is to provide examples of what an opinion consists of, versus a reasoned argument or fact. You can find Web site examples of each and show students that not everything on the Internet is factual.

It is critical that students do not equate a textbook with the Internet. I find many students believe that if they read it in a book or see it on the Internet, it has to be true. Many believe that to be "published" on the Internet, you have to prove your information is accurate. I explain to my students that any one of us sitting in the room could start our own Web site with false or inaccurate information and have others come and read what we wrote. Therefore, it is crucial that students eye all information with a healthy cynicism until they continue to research and find supporting information. Students should learn to always look for information about the author or sponsoring organization as one way of establishing authority and authenticity.

4. Organize the information (Application):

  • Know how knowledge is organized.

 

  • Organize and store data in searchable formats.

 

  • Organize information for practical application.

 

Once students have accessed and analyzed information, it is now time for them to learn to organize it in a format that is easily found for future reference and use. Students need to know how to "bookmark" specific pages (or you may already have bookmarked specific pages for students to use). Students may wish to print out specific pages and use graphic organizers or outlines to organize the mass of information. I also have students make a folder for themselves on the computer's hard drive, where they can save information and copies of specific Web pages.

To help students organize information, direct them back to the first two skills taught. Students can organize their information using the overall task list or questions as guiding topics. Remember that for many students, it is important that they be able to discuss their information and eventual organization of it with a peer or adult. Many of us need to literally "think out loud" to organize information into a clear structure and format.

5. Use information effectively to address the problem or task (Synthesis):

  • Create new information by synthesizing data from primary and secondary sources.

 

  • Integrate new information to existing knowledge.

 

  • Summarize information found in sources.

 

Once students analyze and organize information, it is time to begin putting it all together. Using their newfound information and knowledge, students need to summarize what they have learned as it relates to the overall tasks identified and the questions formulated. It is also important that students recognize they may have existing knowledge about the subject. Students can be taught to ask themselves if the new information "fits" with what they already know or if it is different.

6. Communicate information and evaluate results (Application and Evaluation):

  • Present information in a product form.

 

  • Document sources using appropriate formats.

 

  • Ongoing evaluation by revising and updating the product.

 

Students now turn their attention to producing an end product with their information and knowledge. An important step in teaching this skill is to show students examples of well-done final products. These may be reports, drawings, oral presentations, or multimedia products.

One of the final steps in any product is to document where the information was found. Using a bibliography format, students can record the Web site addresses, the name of the site, and other important information such as who is sponsoring the site. Since there is no one correct way of referencing Web sites at this point in time, it is up to you to figure out what type of information is important to you to have students provide. My students were asked to reference their Web sites in this general format:

Ink Spot: http://www.inkspot.com; Sponsor: New England Writing Group
E-mail: NEWG@aol.com

As you work through the information literacy skills with your students, remember that these skills are not the types of skills you can teach once and assume students will learn. They require very advanced thinking and organizing skills and therefore need multiple lessons and practice sessions. In my opinion, students are always on a scale of improvement with these skills; it is not a situation in which students either have them or don't. There are several skills on the list that I need to improve upon myself!

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Develop Internet-Safe Lessons

Now that your students have basic skills on searching and navigating the Internet and strategies to manage and make sense of the information they find, you can begin using the Internet in your lessons, learning centers, and individual assignments and projects. A few last-minute tips on developing Internet-safe lessons:

  1. Never start lessons by having students only use search engines.

     

  2. Require students to find very specific information, not just surf.

     

  3. Always require students to write down the URLs of the sites they use for reports in a bibliography format.

     

  4. Don't send the entire class to the same site at the same time.

     

  5. When possible, try to preview sites before students visit them. This is not crucial when using Scholastic.com since sites have been previewed by teachers already, but it does become more important if students are using other search engines on the Internet.

     

 

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Assignment

Examine the information literacy skills in this seminar and develop one activity that you could use to help your students strengthen their ability to manage and use information. Since these skills are very conceptual, students need the opportunity to practice each skill in a very conscious way. For example, Skill 1, Knowing When There Is a Need for Information, could be introduced by giving students a list of different assignments and having them highlight the ones that would need information to be solved or completed. The list would consist of assignments that might take a long time to complete but do not need any further information gathering from students as well as those that would require outside information.

  • Subjects:
    Teacher Tips and Strategies, Communication and the Internet, Computers, Teaching with Technology
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