Using the Internet to teach and teaching students how to use the Internet

This is adapted from a post, Technology and Education, on my other blog, Teachers Outside the Box.  The other post expands on the whys and when of using technology.

Technology Good …

You hear the BUT coming.  Yes, here it is: technology can do a great deal for students and educators but sometimes we are dazzled by its magic.  Technology does not teach reading, writing or arithmetic.  For that we need only very simple tools such as paper, pencil, literature and counters of some sort such as stones, buttons or beans.  I have put paper bags over students’ heads to demonstrate unknown variables when teaching algebra and created a dance to demonstrate the relationship between high pressure, low pressure and rain.  Everything else is extra and not necessarily helpful.

Before we invest in tools for schools, especially expensive technology, we should ask why we are buying the tools.  What, exactly, will it help us teach and how will it help us teach it?  Will it be used frequently?  How flexible is it?  How will the kids respond to it?  Finally, is it truly good value as a teaching or learning tool for the money and time that will be spent on it?

When I was learning to teach ESL we were given the rule of thumb, teach new grammar using old vocabulary and new vocabulary using old grammar.  When we use technology are we using it to enhance what we are teaching or are we using skills the students already have to teach them how to use the technology?  Both are valid.

What are the School’s Computer Labs for?

For example, we have computer labs.  Why?  We have to teach children how to use the Internet.  What do they need to learn about the Internet?  How to find information is probably the first thing you think of.  The biggest problem with information on the Internet is the variability of the quality.

When children start visiting the computer lab in kindergarten what can they learn about assessing the quality of information?  You laugh; you know that kindergarten kids just play games on the computers.  The games are chosen to improve the children’s knowledge of letters and numbers, to acquaint them with the keyboard, to improve their manual dexterity and for a number of solid educational reasons.  The games would not be in the lab if they were not educational.  We hope.

By grades four and five they are doing research but the research is usually on sites handpicked (by their teacher) where the job is to find the information required and make notes or answer questions.  Taking notes and answering questions are important skills.  Doing them in a lab does create a stimulating change of pace from writing notes in the classroom.

However, the students do not have to determine how good the site is as their teacher has already done that.  They can not be allowed the freedom to roam the Internet and access what they find as some of it would be entirely inappropriate.  When my sister was concerned that my niece might have scarlet fever, I typed those two words into the search engine and the first site I found had nothing to do with medicine.  The difficulty is that by the time students are free to roam the Internet at will, they still have not learned to assess the sites they find.

One Way to Integrate Technology and a Number of Forms of Media:

Start in the Library Using Indexes, Chapter Headings, Catalogues and Key Words

So how could you teach children of that age to search for and assess the quality of the information they find?  You could take them to the library and teach them what they might find in an encyclopaedia, a dictionary, a book on the topic or a thesaurus.

Many students don’t realise that if they want to know something about cows, a book on farms might have something.  They don’t know that if they have five books in front of them, perhaps only two have a lot of information and the other three should be searched using the index or the chapter titles for a few salient facts.  What kind of words should they use to look up information in the index?  If they were studying cows, how about bull, calf, cattle, beef, milk, leather, ranches and so on.  This is often a new idea to them, but when they start using the Internet knowing how to come up with good keywords will be essential in their searches.  Maybe a thesaurus would be useful.

I like to give students an adult crossword to solve after pointing out the encyclopaedias of pop culture, space, writers, sports figures and other specialty references.  It becomes a bit of a competition to see who can figure out the answers, using only books. The crosswords are at their most effective if they are difficult.  It is a good start at training students to do research.

Assessing the Quality of Information

Once students know how to find information you can teach them to think about what things should make them sceptical about the quality of the knowledge.  Which might be more out of date: a book on cows or a book on rockets ships written in the 1950’s?  Would a book about farming written by an astronaut be as informative as one written by a farmer?  Would a farmer who had studied physics and math at university be able to write a good book on rockets?  What kind of books is most likely to provide information?  What would you find in a book labelled fiction? Biography? Non-fiction? A search on the online library catalogue has turned up:

It’s ONLY Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English Lucy Rogers

Cover of "It's ONLY Rocket Science: An In...

Rocket BoysHomer Hickam

Cover of "Rocket Boys (The Coalwood Serie...

Rocket Science: 50 Flying, Floating, Flipping, Spinning Gadgets Kids Create ThemselveJim Wiese &Tina Cash-Walsh

Cover of "Rocket Science: 50 Flying, Floa...

 Sesame Subjects: My First Book about Airplanes and Rockets (Sesame Street) by Kama Einhorn and Christopher Maroney

Cover of "Sesame Subjects: My First Book ...

The Rocket Mike Leonetti & Greg Banning

Now ask the students which books are not likely to help them learn about rockets.  What helpful information is missing that they should expect to find in a library catalogue? What other information will they find only by looking at the book? Of the books they think might help them learn, which do they think might have the most information?  Which one would they prefer to start with (not always the same one)?

Ready for the Internet, More Skills and Boolean Logic *

All of this thinking applies to searching the Internet.  Once students have learned how to search for information and having found information, examine the source with a critical eye, they are in a better position to make good use of electronic sources. They will now need to learn how to search effectively using Boolean logic* and how to navigate web sites.  Just because they can navigate their favourite web sites doesn’t mean they know how to navigate those which will provide useful information.  They might tell you and their parents might echo that they spend all their time on the computer and therefore know everything.  It ain’t necessarily so.

Students researching cows and rocket ships are just one example of how some of the skills needed on the Internet can be taught and honed elsewhere. Skills like these are transferable and not just from the library to the Internet.

From the Internet to Media Studies

From the Internet the skills transfer neatly to media studies.  Here the added value is learning how language, graphics and sound are used to influence consumers. This is an opportunity to integrate art and music if you are lucky enough to be teaching those subjects.  The use of light and shadow is effective in subtly setting up products in a positive way.  Music is an effective mood setter which is why few films operate without it. Even if you don’t teach those subjects, you can give those teachers a note of what you want to stress and ask them to reinforce it.  Children are never too young to appreciate this kind of information.

You can show this on Internet sites as well as magazine and television advertising. In fact, it is important to teach detecting bias on Internet sites.  In teaching your students you will bring them through the skills of searching for facts and analysing sources to looking for bias and observing how bias can subtly affect people.

Your students will be better equipped to look beyond the razzle-dazzle to the message. This is use of technology in education but not technology for its own sake.  This is examining how to use technology and how other peoples’ use of it affects us.  With luck you could leave your students with the most valuable lesson of all, the inclination not to take information at face value no matter where it comes from.

*Don’t know what Boolean Logic is?  I won’t tell.  See this site for a good explanation in how to use it in Internet searches:

Boolean Searching on the Internet: A Primer in Boolean Logic by Laura B. Cohen.  Part of Internet Tutorials: your basic guide to the Internet If you teach math, set theory and Venn diagrams, you will be able to do a two for one lesson or reinforce one concept in the other class.  Show your students how even the weirdest math has real life applications!  How cool is that?

Suggestions for Adaptations
Primary Grades:   Start with teaching them about the influence colour, lines, light and shadow have on the mood projected by a picture.  Use full-page magazine ads so they can look at them together.  Read short poems with them and ask them how they made them felt and what colours they would use and how they would use light and shadow to express the mood.  Encourage them to draw the feelings, not necessarily the objects involved.
Next, use music to elicit how different kinds of sounds express different moods.  Show commercials where music is a strong part of the message.  If you can find an interesting piece of video (u tube might be a good source), show it to them silently, ask them what music they would use to accompany it.
Find a cartoon that effectively uses light, shadow and sound to create atmosphere and let them tell you how these tools affect them.  If you can find something they haven’t seen that is also well done, their response will probably be better.   Some of the Japanese Anime, especially the ones that centre around ghosts, are excellent.  Our National Film Board has some excellent animations, too.
Don’t show the whole cartoon, just a small section that effectively demonstrates what you want to teach.  You can ask questions such as: “What kind of person do you think he is?”  What clues do you have?”  (light, shadow, colour, music).
You might have to show the clip several times, but that’s OK.  Later, when the unit is finished, show the whole movie as a treat and ask the class if things turned out in the way they had anticipated.
As for teaching your students how to do research, you will have to assess whether their reading skills are good enough.  Even then, at this age, it would probably be best to do it in small groups.  Without a teacher librarian, I leave that to your imagination.
Intermediate Students:  These students would probably benefit from a similar approach to the juniors, depending on their reading levels.  Obviously, you would have to find more age appropriate materials.  With this age group, I have found that sometimes it is easier to teach literary concepts using a short film.  I haven’t tried an episode from a serial, but I suspect a carefully selected one might be effective.  A Law and Order episode might be a good choice to demonstrating the use of music.  It might be worth considering using Anime or NFB shorts as well.  They would have the virtue of being new to the students and might intrigue them.
The temptation is to remain on a non-reading path, however many of these students are on the cusp of reading or not reading.  At this stage they need a lot of practice and instruction in how to read, so do not skip any reading components, especially those which require them to pay attention.  There are some great books out there; I’ll put them on my book list.
High School Students:  If you are reading this, you are probably a specialist who is teaching one aspect of this topic.  It’s worth giving the other aspects considerable attention so that you can draw your students’ attention to the others.
Computer teachers instructing in Boolean logic need to point out the wisdom of screening for bias.  Media teachers talking about bias should advise that an understanding of Boolean logic will save time.  You know what your students are doing so you will know what materials are available at their level to teach them.
Good luck and the best of fun to all of you.

About Diane Scaiff

Education fascinates me as a teacher, a learner and observer. I constantly wonder why certain things work and others don't, why we are told to teach in ways that are not sound, pedagogically, when we all know better. I also wonder about the impact of teaching on teachers' lives. Does it change us? Does it affect our families? What about the effect of public perceptions of teachers and our roles in the communities? How can we be scapegoats once day and saints the next? How do we deal with this? How are students affected by these perceptions? I hope to address some of these questions and more that arise from my readers as time goes on. There may be no answers, but asking questions is important. Diane B.A. (hons), Dip R.S.A., M.A.(Ed) 25 years of teaching elementary students and adults, Qualified in ESL and adaptive education.
This entry was posted in Art, Bias, Boolean Logic, Internet, Kindergarten to Grade 12, Media Studies, Music, Reading, Research and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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