Thursday, February 22, 2007

Off On a Tangent

I think the Internet is one of the most valuable tools that has been introduced into the classroom, and also one of the scariest. Scary only because of the abuse by those who do not hold very high moral standards. But put that aside and see the joys -the blossoming flowers available. The new Web 2.0 tools available really can help bring our students into the 21st Century, especially if they are willing to teach 21st Century Literacy Skills. (Literacy by the way crosses all subjects - not just ELA. Gotta teach those kids how to read a science source. Different skills than a Harry Potter book.)

Today I started listening to a podcast from David Warlick about School 2.0 and what it will look like. Sadly, I got interrupted and must get back to it, but the first part was made up of interviews from teachers. Some of the random thoughts were: we need to teach students how to filter information for reliability and then how to use it properly; kids are way ahead of us in technology; we need to redefine literacy.

I'm going to tackle the first thought about filtering for information. I use to have my students do a search on flowers. We'd show the different topics that came up and how to read the description of the website. Then I'd ask, "I'm doing a report on the parts of the flower. Which link do I click on?" After we look at that site and evaluate who created it and the information on it I would have them go back to the search results and ask, "I want to plant flowers in the garden. Which flowers would be the best for my environment and will fit the school budget?" Again we would look at which sites are the most appropriate. We even looked at the dynamics of a website and what areas should not be clicked on if we are focused on our studies. That usually left us with links about tattoos, people with the last name Flower, some "exotic" people by the name of flower, and so forth. I would then warn them that if they clicked on one of those links, since the description did not fit the need, they could be written up. "Curiosity killed the cat, don't let it kill you," they'd often hear me say.

Now, smart schools have search engines like netTrekker in place. I can look up all kinds of flowers and their part and not once get anything exotic that I'd be nervous about my students being curious about. You can still teach them how to judge a website, how to filter the content, how to use the content (and document it), but you're not putting your students in danger of nasty pop-ups like that shameful school district did in Connecticut. (I still blame the school, not the substitute.)

One of my favorite sites is Wikipedia, but there are a lot of schools (especially colleges) that want to ban this from the school servers. First off, banning such a site is only going to encourage it's use more. The first reason for banning is because they don't know the credibility of the site since anyone can edit the site. I'll accept that. They can still use it as a start for their research, but they still need to verify the information. The second reason is because college students should not be using encyclopedias. I'll give them that one too, however they're looking at it all wrong. They should be TEACHING their students the 21st century literacy skills, teach them how to start with information found in an electronic encyclopedia and then find the experts and articles that either discredit such entries or supports them. Teaching - that's the name of the game.

Well they should be happy to hear that there is a new site on it's way to eLand. Larry Sanger, one of the founders of Wikipedia, is creating a new site called Citizendium. They will make everyone register and make use of the experts. The new site will have content editors that will approve articles before they are posted and even write some for the site. You can read more about it in eSchool News. Now the questions comes down to these - knowing that the content is approved by an expert, will schools allow it? Will they remember that even though Citizendium has done their part in making sure that the content is creditable, the students understand how to use it, especially in the 21st Century Classroom and not the old style?

I need to go finish the podcast. I'll have more thoughts tomorrow that I'm sure will lead to me birdwalking (getting off task) just as easy.

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