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Who's Teaching Your Kids About The Internet?
By Terri Hunter-Davis
question…but one that's not quite so easy to answer. Generally
speaking, Internet instruction today isn't terribly different from sex
education 20 years ago: Your kids may learn some basics in the
classroom, some from you, some from the TV — and then they fill in the
rest from other kids!
Most schools have introduced formal
computer instruction in their curricula, either district-wide or
individually. But that instruction most often focuses on operational
use — from basic keyboarding to software proficiency. Many schools also
often allow third-graders and beyond to access the Internet on school
computers, either in the classroom or in extended care programs. And
there is broad awareness of the need to teach children how to safely
surf the Web.
But even as the Internet is relied upon
increasingly as a research tool, it is difficult to find teaching
guidelines — or districts using them — that instruct children how to
use this immense resource: how to find information online and how to
distinguish valid data from bias and fiction. The U.S. Department of Education lists nothing in its online resources on teaching Internet usage. Nor does the California Department of Education — the state that famously is home to Silicon Valley. Neither public nor private schools are immune.
It's not the library
teachers do instruct their young students in the basics of Internet
research, as they cover other aspects of more general research. But
using the Internet is much more complex than going to the library and
looking up something in the encyclopedia. The sheer volume of content
on the Internet overwhelms adults, let alone children. And the toughest
concept for tweens to grasp is that unlike in the library, much of
online content is not factual. They aren't necessarily equipped to see
the difference between a blog entry on George W. Bush and an
So as your parents patiently helped you sift
through the World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica, expect to help your
child sift through page after page of Google results as he or she
tackles that first research paper and beyond. You'll likely be the one
who raises the first red flag against relying on the "sponsored
results," and teaches them not to blindly trust Wikipedia.
may find it difficult to strike the right balance between letting a
child do research with some level of independence and monitoring usage.
(And that's not even accounting for a sneak visit to Club Penguin when
it's homework time!) Teach your child to find real sites through search
engines, even if she thinks she knows the right URL for a site. Why?
Ask anyone who not so long ago accidentally added the .com suffix to
www.whitehouse instead of .gov. Now it's a site devoted to news on the
presidential campaign, but it once featured scantily clad and
suggestively posed models. Not the sort of site you want popping up on
your work screen — or in front of your child's innocent eyes.
schools aren't providing formal curricula for teaching Internet usage,
to what can they turn? We found one resource through AT&T Knowledge
Ventures. Their site on "Strategies and Resources for Using the Internet Effectively in the Classroom"
offers a set of modules that will "provide teachers with a basic
foundation of using the Internet and also examine strategies and
resources in which they can effectively use it with their students."
While the module on Internet basics is perhaps too basic, the others —
on effective Web searches and resources, Web site evaluation, Internet
curriculum and strategies for using the Internet in the classroom —
provide tips for teaching students the basics of using the Internet for
a technology curriculum developer for grades K-8, includes units on
advertising and research strategies in its Internet curriculum, as well
as safety, manners and history of the medium. CyberSmart's site
provides links to a fact sheet as well as a brief online presentation for each unit.
thing is certain: Just as the Internet is constantly changing and
evolving, our schools' approach to teaching how to use it will also
evolve. Look for The Online Mom to revisit this subject very soon….
Hunter-Davis is a veteran writer, editor and designer in both print and
online media. Her areas of expertise include family, lifestyle and
shelter topics. Terri lives in San Francisco with her husband and
increasingly tech-savvy 6- and 10-year-old daughters.