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EdTech Update





Can 4th graders search?

Under the mistaken belief that I actually know something, people often tend to write asking my advice. Now I love giving advice (solicited or unsolicited) as much as the next guy, but there are lots of areas where any suggestions I can give should be considered extremely suspect. And just having an opinion is not the same as having a something valuable to say.

Here's a good example that came in yesterday's e-mail:

Our district recently purchased NetTrekker to help us in "filtering" inappropriate websites.  Some people believe that upper elementary students (4th - 5th grades) have the capability to search for valid information by surfing.  My experience has been that NetTrekker should be used by the to find specific websites and direct their students to those sites. I have found that most elementary students have a difficult time just reading the information - let alone distinguishing the difference between legitimate and illegitimate information.

What is your opinion regarding this issue? 

And here was my lame reply...

Good question. Since I don't work with elementary students on a daily basis, take my response with a grain of salt.


First, I DO think we should be teaching 4-5th graders to do effective Internet searches. Personally, I hate the word "surf" which implies a recreational, casual approach to finding websites. Can 4-5th graders do effective searches - yes, but only if we take the time to actually teach them strategies for doing this. Should they be "surfing?" No.


Is there a place for using pre-selected sites found with Nettrekker or elsewhere with 4th-5th graders? Absolutely. If the focus is for kids to learn about a particular topic rather than learn to do effective searches, this is probably the best strategy - not dissimilar to creating a webquest (or in the olden days, pulling a cart of books for kids doing research on a particular topic.)


I'll put your question on my blog too and you can see if other people have an opinion.


 OK, educators who work with upper elementary students on a daily basis, how should I have answered this question?


Holding kids to higher standards

I love it:
Study: College students lack literacy for complex tasks.
Here's the dirt:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than half of students at four-year colleges -- and at least 75 percent at two-year colleges -- lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks such as understanding credit card offers, a study found.

The literacy study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the first to target the skills of graduating students, finds that students fail to lock in key skills -- no matter their field of study.

The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.

Without "proficient" skills, or those needed to perform more complex tasks, students fall behind. They cannot interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.

But here's the good part:

Overall, the average literacy of college students is significantly higher than that of adults across the nation. Study leaders said that was encouraging but not surprising, given that the spectrum of adults includes those with much less education.

Please, please don't give me the test on comparing credit card rates!  (Do credit card companies want their rates understood?)  No, I don't understand George Will's arguments most of the time. And yet somehow, I manage to hold a job. Remarkable.

Bill, a teacher with whom I once worked, was enamoured of E.D. Hirsh's cultural literacy theory that every educated person should have at his or her command a certain amount of common historical trivia. One day he he was storming around the high school hallways bemoaning the fact that none of the kids he polled knew the significance of the date 1066. I caught up with Bill later that day and told him that my unscientific study showed exactly the same results - nobody I asked knew why 1066 was important. Oh, but I had been asking teachers, not kids.

Here's my new rule: require no high school tests that the legislators who vote for them can't pass.

For the life of me, I don't understand why we expect our kids to be smarter than we are.  Maybe because we know we aren't smart enough?


Greetings from Indianapolis and the ICE Conference. Workshops today and a keynote and spotlight tomorrow. Stop by to say hello if you are attending.


The Case for Social Networks

This is from the ISED-L elist. Posted here with permission by the author, Jason Johnson (no relation), under Creative Commons license. - Thanks, Jason. It's terrific. Doug

The Case for Social Networks

Jason  Jason Johnson

Director of Technology -- The Lowell School 1640 Kalmia Road, NW -- Washington, DC 20012

I was asked to write a small opinion piece in response to a front page Washington Post Article on student blogs. It will not appear on-line so I thought I would post it here [ISED-L]  since it is heavily influenced by the discussion on this list.  My thanks to all those who will hopefully see some of their own voice reflected, as best I could, below. _Jason


Like many educators I have been watching the social networking site phenomenon flower over the past year.  I  appreciated the front-page Washington Post article “Teens' Bold Blogs Alarm Area School” for its survey of the current state of affairs.  However, the article made it appear to be a new and alarming phenomenon when it has been a continual challenge since the introduction of the internet into homes and schools.  This is only the latest iteration.

At its core, the issue is not about technology at all, but about helping students understand where the public sphere ends and the private sphere begins, how to converse in those domains, and how to be part of a community. Too often we, as adults, make technology appear special and unique in some way and focus on the medium and not the message.  I have seen teachers do this by misinterpreting Marc Prensky’s dichotomy of students as “digital natives” and teachers as “digital immigrants.” Parents do it by proclaiming their ignorance of technology and what their “whiz” of a kid does on the
computer.  In doing so, they abdicate responsibility for a conversation that is, again, not about technology at all.

It is much harder to educate around what is public, what is private, and community participation.  These lines are shifting and blurred each day. We can blame the usual suspects like MTV’s “Laguna Beach” and any number of reality-based TV shows.  We can cry foul when we read that the Washingtonienne receive a $300,000 advance for writing a book after gaining notoriety for blogging her sex life on Capitol Hill. Parents and many schools find it easier to scare students away from the internet and block off large swaths as places full of sexual predators that will jump on the smallest personal detail and exploit it in horrific ways.

But students recognize the hypocrisy as their parent goes on a date with someone they met on; as their uncle marries a women he met through a Harley fan site; as their parents sit at a soccer game maintaining other relationships through email on their Blackberry rather than talking with one another. They compare what they see with the internet abstinence policies implemented by many schools and recommended by some national programs.   As a result they never really take the lessons to heart and learn only how to avoid issues on the internet, rather than how to cope with and defend
themselves. In addition, they are deprived of or must seek surreptitiously what has become a significant and accepted part of being social for both adults and children.

Those schools and parents that are no longer “alarmed” are having thoughtful discussions with students around how to be a citizen online.  As always, this includes some measure of avoidance and a digital safety net (either by content filter or usage tracking), but it also includes defenses as well. It includes advice on how to protect an online identity while still participating; how to judge and check on strangers you meet; common ploys; and how to dispose of your on line identity if need be.  And most importantly, they include how to judge what you should make public and what should be private.  Many times this discussion starts with what others (family, friends, college admissions officers) may think about their public
statements. A final step, that a very few take, is to address what students’ rights and responsibilities are.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an excellent guide for student bloggers that addresses this in a frank and straightforward manner.

It was telling to me when the American Psychological Association release a presentation on August 1st, 2004 on investigator’s experiences with internet sex crimes.  The study suggest most offenders did not deceive victims about the fact that they were adults interested in sexual relationships and that a major challenge for prevention is, “the population of young teens who are willing to enter into voluntary sexual relationships with adults whom they  meet online.”  This made explicit to me the fact that most of us had been having the wrong conversation. I think far more parents and educators are now having the right conversation.

Teen blogs are not about the technology – they are about feelings of belonging and being loved.  They are about trying on different personalities.  They are about someone who feels isolated connecting with others who share their interests or insecurities.  They are about all the same things that have existed for hundreds of years, hidden in notebooks and scribbled on bathroom walls and whispered over telephones. The content of bears discussion, not obstruction.  It is where some schools and parents are looking to better understand and aid their children and students.  Our dialogue should teach them to use the site effectively and about what they can hope to accomplish with it.  As the National Research Council report on protecting children from internet pornography analogized: “Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All of these measures are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one's children is to teach them to swim.”  We all need to be training more swimmers.