Adventures in cyberspace;Essential guide to the Internet;Interview

28th May 1999 at 01:00
Martin Whittaker talks to five teachers about their online travels

Sarah Page, Spanish and French teacher, Monkseaton Community High School, Whitley Bay Before I came to this school in September I was at a school where I didn't use any IT. I wouldn't be without it now, not just for teaching but for personal research and access to information.

It has been a baptism of fire here, but the kids are all so used to using the Net that they can teach you a lot. All the IT is centrally based, so every curriculum area has access to it. It's a focal point for the school.

I use e-mail and I also log on to a language teachers' discussion forum. You can pick up ideas -there are a lot of teaching tips sites out there. The Net is good for up-to-date news in French and Spanish. You can get today's edition of Le Monde, which is just brilliant. Otherwise you'd have to go to the one and only newsagents in the north-east that sells it.

You can get the children to look up tourist information about a particular town in France or Spain, and they can find out genuine information for themselves rather that just seeing it in a textbook. And everybody comes up with something different because they're all going via different routes. If you sent them to a library, you know they'd all end up with the same one or two resources.

One negative is that we find the server very slow. If the whole class logs on at once then that does slow things down. I tend to restrict it to four or five at a time.

We don't have censorship problems because we've got a filter system. The slightest hint of naughty words and it doesn't happen. The motivation of kids is far higher when they've got IT than without it. It gets them involved in a way they weren't before and it gives them an added perspective. They can enjoy themselves using the computer, but they're doing some language work as well.

Some staff are not prepared to use IT and you feel they're missing out on so much by not taking the plunge and getting involved.

Sonia Crisp, teaching head, Welford amp; Wickham CE Primary, Newbury I have been using the Net in school for five years - we must have been one of the first. I'd just got the headship and put PCs in and we got online with one telephone line.

From the start I thought e-mail would be an excellent way of getting children thinking globally. We set up links with a school in Alaska. It tied in wonderfully with our geography and science, and obviously the writing skills were there. Once we realised we could get a nice dialogue going we decided to set up a Web page.

We've got just 37 children in the school. There are two classrooms - infants and juniors. I have 17 in the junior class and we've got five computers in that classroom, all networked with an ISDN line.

Children are told clearly from the start that what is on the Web is not necessarily true. In a book you tend to expect most of the facts to be true, but a website could have been written by anybody. So we do a comparison of what children have found from books with what they've found online.

E-mail is used daily. Our website has been around a long time and the children design their own Web pages.

We must get between seven and 14 e-mails a day. I screen it by downloading the e-mail at home every day first, but in all the time we've been online we have not received a single strange message.

There's all this hype about protecting our children, but all we've had so far are absolutely wonderful letters - you get elderly people, mainly in the States, who write and tell us about their grandchildren.

The children have made so many friends round the world. We have an exchange school in Norway but we'd never have met them if it wasn't for e-mail. They come to us one year, then we go to them. It's become a community thing.

Mark Martin, head of science Warminster School, Wiltshire.

The school put in an ISDN line in the last year and I have been using the Internet since. One thing I'm looking at is schemes of work appearing on the Net, particularly key stage 2 and 3.

There are some good science-related sites. One of the most useful is provided by the Association of Science Education which contains addresses of other useful sites. There's a lot of good stuff there for biology.

One of the modules I teach is food and health which has an element on genetically modified foods. I can access lots of sites on this which are useful in lessons. You've got to balance them, of course - the Monsanto site is going to be very different from the Friends of the Earth site.

I don't use the Internet a lot in lessons yet. But I could do - it's a question of time. You need the time to find suitable sites. You need to check them out to make sure the information is valid, and you then need to put them into your own schemes of work.

The next thing is to put a package together on paper to guide pupils around using the site. You can't just say "here's the address, go and have a good time". You have to design a series of questions to focus their thinking.

There are many talk groups available. There's a biotechnology one run by Reading University which keeps you up to date on ways to teach biotechnology at A-level. And there are forums you can use.

I'm lucky enough to have a PC in my own room, which I find absolutely invaluable. I have my own directory on a central server within the school, so everything I do gets saved on to that directory. It means I can access all the information immediately from wherever I am.

Malcolm Summers, head of English, Duffryn High School, Newport, Wales A few years ago a friend was showing me the Internet, and one of the things we stumbled on in our experimenting was a wealth of resources for newer A-level texts. There are more and more modern texts coming on, but there isn't the critical heritage to go with them. So a pupil couldn't go off to a bookshop and buy simple notes on such and such.

One of the texts I was working on that year was Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. As an experiment we keyed in Ishiguro and hit a site in an American university. They had put the papers the students had done online. That was a very valuable resource and it gave us a few more ideas to work with.

There is one note of caution. There's such a wealth of information you can draw from the Internet that there's a danger it might lead pupils away from the text.

One of the things we keep on reinforcing to students is to keep going back to the text.

It's a two-edged sword, really. There is the possible danger that lazy students who are looking for a short cut, who want to get through the exam with a minimum of effort, will use it instead of the text.

I don't use the Internet to anywhere near its full possibilities, partly because I don't have the time. I go on there quickly, do what I have to and get off. Much as I'd like to spend longer fiddling around, I never seem to find the time.

Mike Bevan, head of Cam Woodfield Junior School, Gloucestershire We haven't used the Internet yet, but we're preparing to. We've just had 10 computers and an ISDN line installed.

There are obvious concerns. The first is about kids getting hold of the wrong material. At the moment we are looking round at service providerswho are educationally biased and will provide some filtering service.

We think that e-mailing will stimulate literacy for boys, and we want to get kids writing to each other. The national literacy project stresses not only reading books but other media, including ICT stuff. So I think it will increase the amount they write and they will see a purpose to what they're doing.

Gloucestershire is quite an inward looking place - a lot of the kids don't travel very far. I think the first step is just lifting their eyes above the parapet a little bit by making contact with schools in Gloucestershire and then in the rest of England and so on. I think the main frustration will be slow typing. You've got to build in time for typing skills.

I was very lucky - I got a multimedia portable through the National Grid for Learning. I use it for research for teaching, and there are plenty of sites.

The potential is endless. For instance, Year 5s were doing Earth and space, so we set my laptop up on the phone line and I had three kids at a time looking at live pictures from a satellite. It's highly motivating, highly relevant and the kids like that.

But what I've learned in speaking to other teachers is that kids can end up wasting an awful lot of time going down blind alleys, or getting too much information.

There are lots of opportunities, but it's not a panacea. And done badly it would be horrendous. That's why, although we're very keen, we are going to build it up slowly.

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