Everyone talks about the Web-based revolution going on in American classrooms. But what does that mean, exactly? Instructor wanted to find out how real teachers are harnessing the power of the Internet. That's why, in partnership with Macromedia, the California company that designs authoring software for media-rich Web sites, we held the Blue Ribbon Web Site Contest. The contest was open to K-8 teachers who, alone or with students, had created Web sites that play a key role in the lives of their classrooms.
Here, in addition to honoring the winners, we hope to inspire teachers to take advantage of the new technologies. As Kirsti Aho of Macromedia says, "Today's children are natural Web users, and those who work with basic Web tools right now will soon be ready to use professional tools, which can powerfully enhance their ability to communicate. Macromedia sees the future of the Web in classrooms as a dynamic, interactive environment facilitated by collaboration."
Looking at the nearly 150 contest entries, we were struck by the hive-like hum of work in schools across the country. From everyday curriculum, to field trips and quilt projects, to special science, math, and reading initiatives – these classrooms are busy! And the best of their Web sites serve as a piece of the action, dynamically connecting kids not only to powerful educational content, but also to one another, to parents, and the world.
Cameron Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Carlton Oaks School, in Santee, California, has created a Web site that is both diversified and tightly focused, which is no mean trick. Thanks to a digital camera, photos of the class at work and play abound on the site (www.santee.k12.ca.us/cwilliams). There's a great sing-along section with downloadable audio files, and links related to books students are reading, like The Rats of NIMH and the Harry Potter series.
Mr. Williams also uses his site to amplify and broaden in-class events. For example, after a student's father who was in the U.S. Navy had visited the class and talked about circumnavigating the globe, just like the explorers they'd been reading about, the visit was extended online with a link to the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64). But probably the most impressive feature of this site is the student-written Fifth Grade News, an excellent online newspaper. The TV reviews are pointed, the spring fashion report is in-the-know, and the advice column is wise beyond its years. And because this school is in the town where a dreadful school shooting took place in March, there is reporting about the lock-down in the wake of that tragedy, and students' honest reactions to that bewildering event.
Part of what makes this site excellent is that it empowers students in subtle ways, such as not only reporting on a field trip to the zoo, but also asking kids to rate the trip. Mr. Williams is clearly interested in the world at large, and has the gift of passing his passion along to students.
Kristi Rennebohm Franz teaches first and second grade at Sunnyside School, in Pullman, Washington. Because her site (www.psd267.wednet.edu/~kfranz) chronicles not only the current class year, but the past three years as well, we can see how her class's work has evolved over time — students' ongoing involvement, for example, with two local ponds while studying the water habitat.
From ladybugs to the solar system, this class packs a lot in and it's all reflected on these pages. Each school day is marked with a square in the math quilt, and parents can log on for information from which shoes their kids need for P.E. to how to help them at home with reading.
Debra Crockett of Tarwater Elementary, in Chandler, Arizona, uses the Room 21 Web site (ww2.chandler.k12.az.us/tarwater-elementary/class21/home21.htm) to show off her third graders' writing and art, to engage them in interactive projects, and to communicate with parents. There's a quilt project here, a collaborative campfire story with some unusual twists, and weekly reports on Gordon, the class pet — a green snake who not only can put away quite a few crickets at mealtime, but also forms the figure "8" at will.
Choosing these winners was a real challenge, and we thank everyone who shared their work with us. Take some time to explore these sites, along with those of the honorable mentions at right — you won't find a better view of the Web-based revolution.
Thank you, judges
- Neme Alperstein, the "CyberTeacher" on Scholastic.com's Teacher Radio, teaches fifth grade at PS 56, in Queens, NY.
- Robert Krech, a second-grade teacher at Dutch Neck School, in Princeton Junction, NJ, is a teacher-adviser for Instructor.
- Julie M. Wood, Ed.D., a specialist in literacy and technology, teaches at Harvard's School of Education.
- Michelle Bergey, Twentynine Palms Elementary, Twentynine Palms, FL www.geocities.com/fifth_grade_tpes
- Diane Cook, Copper Hill Elementary, Ringoes, NJ
- Caryn Dingman, Dingman-Delaware Elementary, Dingmans Ferry, PA www.mrsdingman.homestead.com/MrsDingman.html
- Kathy Engell, Eagle Creek Elementary, Arlington, WA www.asd.wednet.edu/EagleCreek/Engell/musicity.htm
- Nanci Hamilton-Hoffman, Buck Lake Elementary, Tallahassee, FL www.bucklake.leon.k12.fl.us/Hoffman/hoffman.html
- Lanise Jacoby, Peirce School, Arlington, MA
- Jim Shipp, Bryn Mawr Elementary, Loma Linda, CA. http://rims.k12.ca.us/foot_prints/index.html
- Claudia Spangler, Bow Elementary, Bow, NH
- Carole Underwood, St. Thomas More School, Baton Rouge, LA www.thomasmoresch.org/3rd2000/underwood_home_page.htm