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By Jim Gerland and Mark Winer

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The Internet in the Classroom
September 2, 1997

Back to school for many students this year means greater use of the Internet. The utilization of email, newsgroups, and World Wide Web sites has become common place in many classrooms. But the value of the 'net is a hotly debated subject by educators and taxpayers (remember, we're the folks paying the bill to wire America's classrooms).

Opponents believe that there are too many potholes on the Information Superhighway to integrate it into today's classrooms. For example, much of the information on the Internet can not be verified. Is it fact or merely data? Can we expect students to have the skills to decipher between fact and fiction? How will teachers verify that a student's research hasn't been copied from a website or bought from an on-line research paper site?

We haven't even addressed pornography or other inappropriate material. How can we be sure kids are sticking to academic work? Some software solutions exist: Net Nanny (www.netnanny.com), SurfWatch (www.Surfwatch.com), CYBERsitter (www.cybersitter.com), and Cyber Patrol (www.cyberpatrol.com) are products which claim to block out offensive sites. Of course the best defense is to keep track of what your kids are doing.

Despite these real questions and concerns about the use of the Internet there is a belief among its supporters that the Internet can improve student performance and learning. Many teachers feel that anything that increases the interest of their students in the subject at hand is worthwhile. Using the Internet can facilitate the development of reading, writing, and analysis skills.

One reason is that computers fascinate today's youth. This generation has grown up playing Nintendo and programming the VCR for Mom and Dad. If nothing else students who use the 'net will possess stronger reading skills - after all, you have to read the text on a site to get the information, even if it is "fun" site that kids go to. And because not all the information on the Web is factual, students will learn new skills - for example, information literacy - to learn how to disseminate information to form their own opinions regarding the validity of such.

More schools are being wired for the Internet. Unfortunately, not all school systems can afford this. Federal, state, and local funding is necessary to build the infrastructure that is needed to provide net access. And where net access is available we have found that teachers are not trained to properly use the Internet as an educational tool in the classroom. It is our hope that more teachers, administrators and legislators see the value of the Internet to students' learning.

We think that the Internet is a wonderful medium with a vast potential to help teach America's youth. In just a few short hours of surfing the 'net we were able to find a number of great sites that can be used for reference, to answer frustrating homework questions, or research topics.

Yahooligans (www.yahooligans.com) is a great launching point for students. Organized like its big brother, Yahoo (www.yahoo.com), this site is an index of links especially for kids. The School Bell section (www.yahooligans.com/School_Bell/) provides links to all sorts of help for writing, researching and completing homework assignments.

Finding help for homework problems is easy on the Internet. One of the best is Channel 7's Homework Homepage (www.wkbw.com). Here you will find links to references books, math studies, science pages, history web sites plus links to local schools on the Internet. Another excellent site is Homework Help (www.startribune.com/stonline/html/special/homework/) where volunteer teachers help solve students' homework problems.

You can get answers to homework questions by email as well. KidsConnect (www.ala.org/ICONN/kidsconn.html) promises answers to K-12 students email questions within 48 hours of submittal. If you are subscribed to an online service check out what they have to offer. For example, America Online has a great Homework Forum (keyword: homework). Likewise, CompuServe offers a similar service to help students get answers to those tough questions (GO: Education).

A few sites that Elementary School kids and their parents might find useful include: The Math Forum (forum.swarthmore.edu/arithmetic/arithmetic.html); Flashcards for Kids (www.wwinfo.com/edu/flash.html); Children's Literature Web Guide (www.ucalgary.ca/~kdbrown/); Book Nook (I-site.on.ca/booknook.html).

Middle school students can find useful information at these sites: Amateur Science (www.eskimo.com/~billb/amasci.html); The Science Club (www.halcyon.com/sciclub/); Authors on the Web (avery.med.virginia.edu/~jbh/author.html); Ask Dr. Math (forum.swarthmore.edu/dr.math/).

High school students will also find a great volume of resources on the Web. Math formulas can be found at Math Homework Help (www.erols.com/bram/). Other sites to view: An Introduction to the Study of Literature (www.uwm.edu/People/jat/); Foreign Language Sites (www.richmond.edu/~educate/stohr/chalktalk/flang.html); Scientific American's Ask The Experts (www.sciam.com/askexpert/index.php).

Of course you'll need a dictionary and thesaurus to ace that research paper. On-line reference resources are in abundance on the Internet. A good place to start is Dictionary.Com (www.dictionary.com) where you'll find links to a host of on-line reference materials. Some other resources to check out include: OneLook Dictionaries (www.onelook.com/), Roget's Thesaurus (www.thesaurus.com), The Elements of Style (www.columbia.edu/acis/bartleby/strunk), and The Online Books Page (www.cs.cmu.edu/books.html).

And for those of us life-long learners there is Learn2.com (www.learn2.com). Here you will find interesting tidbits ranging from practical to esoteric such as how to tie a tie or how to remove wallpaper.

As you can see, the amount of useful - and some not so useful - information for students on the Internet is nearly endless. A discriminating student can find answers to nearly any subject matter they may be faced with in or out of the classroom. What a wonderful resource.

Finally, we want to continue to help you utilize the Internet in your life. Let us know what you're interested in and we'll check it out. You can email us, info@internet-guys.com , or fax us, (716) 853-1350 and let us know what's happening on the Internet in WNY or any computing related activities you're involved with.