But - I found it on the Internet!
With so much homework done online, kids need better skills to sort good information from bad
Caroline Clemens, a sixth-grader at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, Md., may be young as researchers go, but she is already a savvy broker of Internet-based information. Like thousands of her peers, Caroline uses the Internet for many of her classes, preferring to "Ask Jeeves" than to seek out her school librarian for answers.Skip to next paragraph
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Children of the Internet generation know that the voyage of Christopher Columbus or the life cycle of a butterfly are but a few clicks away. To them, card catalogs and bound encyclopedias are simply relics of the ancient past.
It's a change that's occurred with all the rapidity of a high-speed Internet connection - and one that's profoundly changing the landscape of most educators' worlds.
"I call it a paradigm shift," says Marty Hankins, director of technology at Garrison Forest School. "[The Internet] puts incredible resources at the fingertips of teachers, but it also means that teachers are becoming facilitators, and that is hard. It's a changing dynamic in that teachers don't have all the information."
For students, the new tool means developing critical-thinking skills to evaluate endless reams of data, while resisting the distraction of Web ads and the temptation to plagiarize content from the Web.
But in many ways, the true pressure is on teachers. They must be up to speed in a medium that is often more familiar to their students. And they're having to rethink everything from comfort with reliable resources provided by well-respected publishers to developing a sharper eye for plagiarism.
Yet with the focus in recent years on acquiring hardware and software, teachers have been largely left to figure out on their own how to use the Web effectively in class - even as more and more of their students turn to it first for schoolwork.
The number of children ages 1 to 12 going online will grow from 8.6 million in 1998 to 24.3 million in 2003, according a study by Jupiter Communications, a New York-based consulting firm. Jupiter data also show that 75 percent of kids online use the Internet to do homework.
And why not? In one sense, finding information on the Web has never been easier, even though the experience can be a bit like trying to get a sip of water from an uncorked fire hydrant. Type the words "Civil War" into the Alta Vista search engine, for example, and 580,838 pages are retrieved.
But while the thought of easily tapping such resources is enticing, the lack of guidance can present a young scholar with a confounding array of positions and voices to absorb while trying to understand an issue.
That presents educators with a new responsibility - one that must be taught to ever-younger classes. "You have to teach how to identify source bias, and balance that with other sources - teach how information fits in a larger construct," says Jacqueline Hess of the Academy for Educational Development in Washington.
To do this, teachers must help kids develop a discerning eye for everything they see, hear, and read on the Internet. "Training a kid to have a critical eye is very, very important," says Catherine Davis, a veteran teacher and managing editor for Yahooligans.com, an Internet directory for young adults (and one that includes advertising, though it is clearly marked). "It is important for kids to understand what is content or advertising."
But if Samuel Ebersole's research is accurate, much work remains to be done in that area. Professor Ebersole, chairman of the mass-communications department at the University of Southern Colorado, collected more than 130,000 Web addresses used by Colorado middle- and high-school students who claimed to be using the Internet for research. With the help of two media experts, he reviewed a random sample of 500 of these sites to determine their reliability for academic research. The result: an astonishingly low 27 percent of the sites were considered reliable sources of information.