Net Ed

How the Internet is revolutionizing K-12 education

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In the summer of 1995, a group of students at the Minnesota New Country School (a public charter school about an hour south of Minneapolis) discovered some deformed frogs on a field trip with their teacher to a nearby marsh. Since the school has a full Internet connection, their immediate reaction was to post a report about their findings to several Internet mailing lists, including The Teacher Scientist Network -- a project of a national Internet program called Access Excellence,which connects high school biology teachers, scientists, sources of new scientific information, and other teachers.

The discovery -- and the fact nearly 40 percent of the frogs in the area are deformed -- prompted a wide-ranging online discussion about the possible causes, and now research scientists at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) are involved in the quandary. Soon students will conduct soil and water tests, investigate parasites and mutation as possible causes, dissect frogs (an age-old science lab project that seldom yields such tangible results), create an area on the school's Web site where they'll post their written updates as well as MPCA findings, give talks to area civic groups, and conduct interviews with the pesky media.

It's rare for a school (even innovative ones) to engage students in real-world science, or real-world anything for that matter. It's rare that students are involved in projects that can makes a difference in the world -- a motivation that we as working adults often take for granted.

That's why it's great that in the last ten years a growing number of teachers and parents have discovered the power of computer telecommunications to provide real audiences for students' work, and opportunities for collaboration on actual problems in need of solutions. And now that the Internet is increasingly accessible to large number of schools and homeschooling families, online learning activities for students (also sometimes referred to as distance learning or classroom telecomputing projects) are available for a wide range of curricular areas and student ages.

Original to Utne Reader Online

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