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Technology-rich learning environments can be designed using the wide variety of learning resources currently available in schools and libraries. Learning resources can be found on CD, DVD, as well as on the web.

eye means readExplore the following materials to learn about web-based instructional materials:

eye means readRead the following materials on this page related to learning resources for children and young adults: Building Internet-Rich Learning Environments, Designing Effective Internet-Rich Activities, Good Topics for Internet, Inventing Creative, Technology-Rich Projects, and Designing Internet Projects.

Building Internet-Rich Learning Environments

computerOnce you’ve got the hang of using Internet yourself and you’ve identified some resources to use with students, consider the learning environment. How will students use the information they find on the Internet? Rather than giving students a traditional assignment such as “locate information about a topic and write a term paper”, take an inquiry-based approach to learning. Ask students to question the world around them. Design motivating activities with a meaningful task and specific products that ask students to apply Internet information to the production of a poster, brochure, demonstration, or debate.

You may not have enough computers for everyone to do everything all the time. Encourage collaborative projects using Internet resources. You may assign one team to work on the computer each day or each week. For example, your class might take the role of a government “watchdog” organization. In small groups, students could track a bill moving through Congress using the Thomas website.

WebQuests provide an authentic, technology-rich environment for problem solving, information processing, and collaboration. This inquiry-based approach to learning involves students in a wide range of activities that make good use of Internet-based resources. Bernie Dodge developed the WebQuest concept back in the mid 1990s. Go to the The WebQuest Page or WebQuest.org for lots of examples. Do a WebQuest Search to find examples.

Let’s explore a couple of sample WebQuests to give you a feel for the format and philosophy. Explore the WebQuest called Paper or Plastic. It asks students to reflect on the question: Is there a correct choice to make when faced with the choice between paper or plastic bags?

Snakes Alive is a fun WebQuest for elementary science. The introduction explains that the famous herpetologist Professor Slither has been called to Africa and needs your class to take care of her four baby snakes. She wants to be sure that the children will make good snake sitters, so there are a series of tasks that students must complete to prove they’re ready. For example, students need to know the vocabulary, life cycle, and feeding patterns of snakes. Then, students will get to make a snake exhibit to share their snakes with others. During the process, students choose a specific snake and learn more about it. They also learn why snakes are important. Along the way, students use web resources and print resources. A rubric is provided for evaluation. A conclusion and followup activities are also provided. For example, students can read an online story called The Snakeman. Learn more about WebQuests at Teacher Tap: WebQuests.

Increasingly, WebQuests are incorporating elements of Web 2.0 technology such as blogs, wikis, and online discussions.

Effective Internet projects start with the careful selection of web sites. Use bookmarks to keep track of the sites that your class will be using. Consider creating bookmark folders for class periods, units, or specific activities. Once you get rolling, think about the development of your own web pages. You don't need a web server to run web pages on your own computer. You can simply make a page and open the document like you open a file in a word processor.

eye means readExplore the following three online workshops to find out more about WebQuests and Web 2.0 applications: WebQuests and Web 2.0 and Dive into WebQuests: Reading, Writing, and Web 2.0.

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Designing Effective Internet-based Activities

There is more to integrating Internet into your classroom than simply finding information. The effectiveness of your project will depend on the attitude you have about technology. Are you teaching hardware, software, or content? Are you thinking “Let’s go to the computer lab”, “Let’s explore Internet” or “Let’s do science”? Start with an educational objective, not an activity. Your objectives might include all three areas, but start with the curriculum guide.

Ask yourself, is this activity to learn about a concept related to a subject area, or to learn about telecommunications? Teaching the use of telecommunications is a worthwhile goal, but we’ve found that it’s more meaningful if students are applying its use to a meaningful project. The project doesn’t have to be hard or high level, but it should serve some purpose other than “busywork.” For example, rather than asking students to list the name and dates of supreme court decisions, direct them to select a judgment and debate both sides of the issue.

If you’re exploring a music resource, don’t just copy a favorite song, do something with the lyrics. Maybe you could have students compare and contrast two songs written by the same composer. The point is to make the project useful. It’s okay to start with “treasure hunt” type activities to become familiar with a resource, but transfer is more likely to occur with more meaningful activities.

Now ask yourself, is it worthwhile to go online? To address your content objective, a book, CD-ROM, video, or hands-on experiment may be the best resource. When you figure out the time it takes for all the students to get “logged on” and begin exploring a site, you might be done with a paper and pencil activity. Would print resources be easier or better to use? Would traditional resources such as a videotape be as or more effective?

Let’s say you’re studying volcanoes. What concepts and generalizations do you want students to be able to express? How can we gain student interest in volcanoes? What resources do you already have in your classroom and library to support your unit? What seems to be missing?

Online interactives are also great for informal learning environments in public libraries. For instance, the mystery game Snapshot Adventures: Secret of Bird Island from Large Animal Games is an inexpensive download. Participants photograph birds during a cross-country adventure. Armed with a camera and a field guide, users must capture portraits of birds in close-up, in flight and perched in trees in order to complete your life list and solve the mysterious disappearance of your grandfather. Create a display with books and videos about birds. Create a bulletin board featured birds created during the game. Hold a bird watching nature walk around the library and invite the local bird club to participate.

Snapshot Adventures: Secret of Bird IslandSnapshot Adventures: Secret of Bird Island

eye means readRead Interactives: Dynamic Learning Environments by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson in School Library Monthly (January 2010). IUPUI login required. Choose the PDF Full Text and read pages 41-44.

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Good Topics for Internet

Look for information unavailable in print resources. Electronic resources may be more effective than traditional resources in many situations. As you determine whether to include online resources in your project, consider some of the following areas where Internet is a great asset.

Distance

The high cost of field trips and the sheer size of the earth makes it nearly impossible for students to physically explore the world outside their school district. You can’t physically take your class to visit the rainforest in Puerto Rico, but your students could interact with children living in San Juan and ask them to describe their experiences. Many experiments require data from a number of different locations. Your class can’t take soil samples in Seattle, Minneapolis, and Boston. On the other hand, they can collaborate with students at each site and share their findings. You can’t follow the migration of Canadian geese on foot, but you can trace it on a map with the help of children in the flight path.

Joining a virtual field trip is one of the best uses of Internet in the classroom. You can explore the materials from past trips or join a trip in progress. For fifteen years, students have been participating in the Jason Project exploring exciting locations such as the ocean floor, the volcanoes of Hawaii, and the polar regions. The project sponsors provide timelines, activities, and materials used by the scientists and explorers. There are opportunities to share ideas with the scientists, travelers, as well as other students during the expedition. Many virtual field trips provide daily updates with photographs, movies, sound clips, and journal entries.

Some virtual field trips are free, while others charge for participation. Many opportunities provide supplement materials at a small charge. You may want to start with an established project such as Journey North or the Jason Project.

In addition to live, interactive virtual field trips, there are many opportunities to go on virtual visits to specific historical, cultural, and science museums. Visit the Smithsonian. You can visit zoos and aquariums such as the Sea World and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. While there you can learn about animals and even see live cams.

Time

The timeliness of information is another important concern. Working with the 1970 census data is useless if you’re looking for recent trends. Rather than reading an outdated book about a country, students can go directly to the country and city for information. For example, Lonely Planet is a popular website for country and travel information.

Exploring a book on the space shuttle with a 1983 copyright date would lead you to believe that there has never been a catastrophic shuttle accident. It’s difficult to study the most recent elections without resources. Up-to-date information is one of the most compelling reasons for using the Internet. The NASA sites, Weather Channel, and similar sites are updated regularly.

Remember however that not all resources on Internet are updated regularly. You need to check the date of publication to ensure the timeliness of information. If you want information on the most recent natural disaster, the Internet is the place to go.

Variety

Sometimes the school and public libraries simply don’t have the information you need. If you’re interested in the Indian mounds of the Ohio Valley, you might have a tough time finding anything on the topic if you live in Alabama. On the other hand, there are lots of resources online. If you want Cajun recipes, try sites in Louisiana. All of the states and provinces now have sites students can explore. Yahooligans has a nice master list of states. Try the following trick in locating states. For example, South Dakota is http://www.state.sd.us/. Replace the state abbreviation with another state and give it a try. Florida is www.state.fl.us. Check out the California state page. Look for the education or kid’s page for good resources.

Expanded Searches

Although searching for information online can be slow, it may be faster than a traditional card catalog. Since the Web is set up as a hypertext environment, you can click on related words and find things you might not discover using traditional keyword searches. For example, there are dozens of sites that focus on poetry and the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. You can even read with works of people who have recently received the Edgar Allan Poe award.

Directories, indexes, hot points, and keyword searching of databases are all ways to find information. With all these tools, you can find information on almost any topic imaginable! You can also waste lots of time, so it’s a good idea to do some planning before you start using the Internet.

Interaction

It’s difficult to interact with a book. It won’t answer your questions and is unlikely to provide more than you request. Internet allows “real-time” or slightly delayed interactions around the world.

With email or threaded discussions, students can practice their Spanish with a class in Mexico City. Children from a small rural town in southern Mississippi can communicate with students living in downtown Chicago. Young children can talk to older people about life in the Depression or same age children in the United States can talk to students in Croatia about war. Unlike snail mail pals that take a week or more to respond, with Internet children can engage in written conversations to share ideas, concerns, and insights.

Websites often provide a high level of interactivity through their online projects. It can be as simple as clicking on a visual for information or as complex as the analysis of a math answer. For example, Franklin’s Lightning Laboratory provides a fun, simple, interactive page on the topic of electricity safety.

Go to Making Vaccines and Build a Sod House. Also try Edhead's website on topics such as Virtual Knee Surgery, Weather, and Simple Machines.

Expertise

Although your students may think you know everything, there are many times when students and teachers need information that goes beyond the expertise in the classroom. Many classrooms use “experts” websites as a way to locate people with a high degree of skill or knowledge in a particular subject. Try the Homework Spot: Experts page for ideas. Others make use of the “classic” websites sponsored by well-known organizations in each subject area such as National Geographic.

Authenticity

It’s hard to understand what a government policy or bill looks like without seeing a real one. If you're interested in the United Nations stand on an issue, go directly to the source. It’s hard to understand what letters written during the Civil War were like without actually reading one. Internet contains authentic documents on every subject imaginable. The government is rapidly transforming their stockpiles of print information into useful online resources.

See our resources that make use of primary sources. For example, CBC's The Halifax Explosion uses primary sources to understand this historic event.

Varied Information Types

School libraries are unable to keep up with the endless variety of information types. Not everything is available in a printed form or on a videotape. As a result, libraries are expanding their doors to Internet information resources. For example, if students are studying the Midwest floods from the early 1990s, some of the best resources are available online through the midwest agricultural co-ops. Bibliographies, poetry, short stories, novels, and historical documents are just a few of the written communications online. Many of the presidential libraries and national museums are beginning to place their holding on-line. Go to Newseum to explore an interactive museum of news.

Students enjoy reading the fictional writings of other children their age. They can read the tall tales written by Texas children on their state history. Geographic, demographic, and all kinds of other data and statistics are also available. Students can download computer software, text, graphics, audio, video, and sounds.

Channels

When a student is working on a project, they don’t always need print materials. Maybe a video clip of a frog dissection or a color photograph of a color painting will add spice to their multimedia presentation. These resources may not be available in the school, but they may be online. If you want TV commercials, go to Ad Critic. NASA has an array of still and motion pictures. Visit the Louvre and download digitized copies of famous paintings. Through illustrations, animations, text, and audio narration, you can explore the world of the dinosaur or genetics at the American Museum of Natural History’s Ology website.

Motivation

Using Internet is fun. From David Letterman, British Comedy, and Star Trek to scuba diving, travel, and cooking, there’s something for everyone. In addition because of the linking of resources students may end up in a “scholarly” site when they started off with a personal interest. Consider using fun sites as starters for academic projects. Students could visit new car sites and do math activities. They could visit the post card or virtual flower site and write a poem to a friend. For instance, they could go to author and illustrator Jan Brett’s website, complete a fun activity, and write a postcard based on a book character. Students enjoy visiting their favorite things online including movies and products. Check out the Disney website. Combine fun and learning with a website like The Fin, Fur, and Feather Bureau of Investigation sponsored by National Geographic.

Seek out interactives to bring your library alive. The Los Angles Public Library uses games to help young people learn about the library. Check out the Games section.

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Inventing Creative, Technology-Rich Projects

Once you’ve explored the possible uses of Internet in the classroom, you’ll want to create projects that focus on information processing activities. Go to the Teacher Tap: Information Skills page for ideas.

For decades, children have been given the same assignment, "write a paragraph about ..." For the same amount of time, students have copied information from the encyclopedia. With the introduction of CD-ROM, Internet, and word processing, copying and pasting has gotten even easier. How do you discourage this behavior? First, give students assignments that require them to use higher order thinking. Ask them to analyze, synthesize, and formulate new ideas based on their information. These types of reports can't be copied. Also, talk to students about the ethics of using the work of others. Discuss the term plagiarism and how to avoid it. Teach them how to properly cite their sources.

If you're concerned that students might be copying essays from the Internet, it's easy to check their work. Use a search engine such as Google or Northern Light to search for a sample phrase (put it in quotation marks) from the questionable student paper. There's a good chance the phrase will pop up. The student project was on the topic of comparing the book Brave New World and The Giver. Four identical papers popped up.

Rather than viewing free essay and quick content sites such as Cliffs Notes, SparkNotes, and others as enemies, see them as resources. For example, you might start with the character analysis of Call of the Wild at SparkNotes. Ask students to critique the review and share their comments in the discussion area.

Remind students to use a variety of resources for their project. For example, a student working on a project on the writer Maya Angelou will find biographies, poems, interviews, discussions, bibliographies, criticisms, as well as audio and video clips on the Internet.

When students use web resources, they need to remember to cite the materials they incorporate into their project. Teacher Tap: Citing Sources provides links to some good resources on this topic.

Although there’s information on almost every topic, it’s sometimes difficult to locate. Don’t assume that students can always find the information they’ll need. Provide a starting place such as a sample site to begin their research, or provide a list of topics you know will be successful. For example, it's easy to find information about all kinds of animals.

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Designing Internet Projects

As you design a web-based project, think about all the resources that could be used in the project, not just the Internet materials. Let’s take the topic of World War II. Start by brainstorming all the materials available including books, videos, live interviews, primary sources documents, and maps. You might find that the textbook is too difficult for some students, so bring in some other books such as Stephen Ambrose’s The Good Fight.

As you think about uses of the Internet, begin with your favorite educational starting points such as 42eXplore. The World War II page includes good starting points, activities, WebQuests, and resources by students and for teachers. There are also supplemental pages on key events and people. Next, think about the software you could use such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, Inspiration, and Timeliner. You might use the video camera to record oral histories.

Consider the visuals that could be incorporated including photographs, posters, maps, diagrams, charts, and videos. Use Internet as a tool to hold class discussions. For example, your students could read the book Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki and email someone who lived in a Japanese Internment Camp. There are a number of quizzes and WebQuests that might be helpful as a review activity near the end of your unit. Both teaching units and student projects can also be found on this topic. The options are endless!

As you design projects, keep these four questions in mind: Is it fun, realistic, worthwhile, and productive?

Is the project fun? Let students use the tools and resources they enjoy. Some students love graphics while others learn more from audio or text. Let students express themselves in fun ways. Also allow students to work on projects that have personal interest. If it’s science, can it be related to health or social issues such as AIDS or steroid use? History can be linked with music, fashion, and money.

Is the project realistic? Let’s make learning authentic, by associating learning with real-world problems and focusing on real-world audiences. Help students answer the question “who cares?” about the topic. Use real documents, pictures, interviews, and resources. Avoid contrived assignments with sterile results by encouraging student projects that have a real impact. Let students share their projects with others.

Is the project worthwhile? Match the lesson outcomes with the activities and the assessment. Give students credit for their progress as individual and team members.
Is it productive? Make certain that students have the time to work on projects, but try to limit the amount of time piddling with “dead-end” resources by providing lists of suggested sites to visit. Assure planning by requiring students to submit organizational tools they developed such as webs, charts, or timelines.

Internet is a great resource for teachers and children. Develop projects that use the unique types of information available on the Internet and remember to connect Internet resources with traditional resources.

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Adapted with permission from Chapter 5 in Lamb, A. (2006). Building Treehouses for Learning: Technology in Today's Classroom, Fourth Edition.

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