Net Ed

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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