Internet Offers Benefits to Children and Classroom Teachers

by Marisa Beard

Picture a group of children gathered in front of a television monitor, all eyes intently focused on what is happening on the screen. Children are smiling, laughing, and conversing with one another. Are they watching Saturday morning cartoons? No. They are participating in a lesson that involves using the Internet.

Teachers of students of all ages have begun to incorporate the Internet into their curriculum. "Why would a teacher want to do this?" "Isn't it more work for the teacher?" "Is it safe for the students?" are all questions asked by educators.

Why a teacher would want to incorporate the Internet into his/her curriculum is the first issue that needs to be addressed. Teachers from preschool to high school are expected to know an amazing amount of information or have the skills and knowledge to obtain current information for their children. Although educators try to involve students in real life experiences, sometimes this just isn't possible. Students in Chicago's inner city probably won't have the opportunity to visit a farm. Or rural students may not have access to an art museum. Should these students completely miss out on these experiences, or should the teacher try to bring the experiences to the classroom? One way to show children the world is through the Internet. Children can visit a variety of Internet sites that offer information about, as well as online tours of, farms, art museums, grocery stores, veterinary clinics, hospitals, and schools. Children can experience these places individually, in small groups, or as a whole class.

A teacher may wonder, "How can I effectively use the Internet without taking away from the curriculum my school district wants me to accomplish?" "Won't I have to spend more time preparing my lessons?" There are many ways an educator can use the Internet in the classroom without disrupting the current curriculum or spending an inordinate amount of time preparing.

In Amy Morris' first grade class in Macomb, Illinois, sending and receiving e-mail supports an interactive method for discussing letter parts and letter writing. A large monitor (either a large computer monitor or a television monitor connected to the computer) offers all children the opportunity to see and participate in the activities. The form and structure of incoming e-mail is reviewed and examined, and the resulting discussions target the absence of some letter components, the various greetings and salutations used, and the inclusions of unusual "emoticons" such as :o) and ;o) and :0( in the letter.

As children in Morris' class progressed in their e-mail writing skills, many of them struck out on their own and began to send e-mail messages to family members, children from other classes, and classroom visitors. The children asked for a word chart to be placed by the computer so they could type often-used words without asking for help from an adult. They also requested that each e-mail that was received be printed and placed into a classroom book. Children are often observed reading these e-mail messages to themselves or friends in the classroom. Morris believes that all children in her first grade class leave at the end of the year with a greater understanding of the proper components in letters.

E-mail is not the only way for children to interact on the Internet. More and more sites written especially for children---from grocery stores to banks, from veterinary offices to family organizations---encourage children to look for information, share information, submit stories and pictures, and play games.

If a child asks a question that a teacher is unable to answer, the teacher can go to a predetermined "safe" site and search for the information. A few of these sites are http:/ (a museum), (a virtual zoo), (berenstain bears), (crayons).
The sites allow users to search within a safe environment for specific information.

Internet safety is important to discuss with children who are capable of using the Internet independently. Without frightening children, explain that you want them to e-mail only classroom-approved friends and go to the sites that you have already visited. If the browser (Netscape or Internet Explorer) is set up for e-mail and is formatted with an address book, children can use it for their e-mail correspondence. Even very young children are able to recognize and learn the names of those people with whom they'd like to correspond. Including a key word in the name section of the address book to identify a person would also be helpful, such as, "Sally's mom," "the book lady," "Joe's dad," "the animal doctor." Bookmarks can be set up in a folder specifically for the students in the classroom. These bookmarks can be retitled in words that children can recognize or read. When children work in groups to go to a site, they will usually help each other find the right bookmark for a particular location.

As teachers become more proficient Internet users, they can do more to unleash the learning potential of students. Classroom web pages can be used to share information with parents and other students. Students can discuss what they have been learning or simply things they wish to share. For students with speech or language difficulties, Internet use can be a wonderful opportunity for them to use their language to share information that others can understand. Children can create HyperStudio stacks and upload them to be placed on their classroom web page. These stacks can then be viewed by friends and family, giving the student the opportunity to share with a broader audience. Simply put, the Internet has so much potential in being used in a positive and educational way. Information that children never had access to before and people whom they have never met are right at their fingertips.

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