Chips are down as schools retool Classroom technology: For schools ready to invest, the information superhighway offers dazzling vistas -- but at frightening speeds.

The Education Beat

April 03, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

LOST in the technological revolution? Confused about access to the Internet? Does the jargon go in one ear and out the other, leaving you with the impression that wonks who can't speak English have taken over the world?

Then pity the educators. Here they are at the beginning, or maybe it's the middle, or maybe it's near the end of a revolution in progress. There's considerable pressure from students, parents and colleagues to "get on line," but that's expensive. What if they go with Brand X, and Brand X goes out of business next week?

At professional meetings they've seen evidence that the new technology has stunning educational possibilities. They've seen "real time" scientific experiments across continents, a "virtual high school" in Maryland, students chatting with others around the world by e-mail, publishing their own documents on the World Wide Web.

They've heard President Clinton declare that "every classroom in America must be connected to the information superhighway."

But how to get teachers trained to employ a technology with which their students -- even at the elementary school level -- have more facility than they?

And how to make sure that poor districts share in the revolution? Not surprisingly, the degree of technological sophistication among Maryland school districts is directly related to wealth; Montgomery, Howard and other comparatively wealthy subdivisions are way out front. Dozens of schools and students in those counties -- and very few in Baltimore -- have access to the Internet, many with their own "home pages."

"There are three levels of training," said Barbara Reeves, who directs technology education for the state Education Department. "The first is essentially how to turn on the equipment. The second is how to use telecommunications software to get on line. The third, and most important, is how to use the technology effectively in instruction. There are enormous gaps in Maryland schools, and we're trying to move everyone to the third level."

Neil Kleinman, a communications technology authority at the University of Baltimore, agreed. "Right now everyone is in the glitzy electronics mall and just thrilled with the gadgetry all around," he said. "Everybody agrees they should hang out there, but no one knows exactly why they're there. The challenge for schools is how to get us out of the mall. That means how to integrate this technology into the curriculum."

The University of Maryland Computer Science Center in College Park has acted as a facilitator for Maryland schools, providing technical assistance, free access to the Internet and e-mail accounts for teachers.

Through the Computer Science Center's own Internet address (http: //, anyone can read the Web pages of 34 public and private schools in Maryland; read the captain's log of the England-bound Pride of Baltimore II via an "electronic field trip" sponsored by Maryland Public Television; or follow Ashley Campbell, a Delmar, Md., fourth-grader, as she learns about the Oregon Trail via e-mail to and from students, teachers and principals across the nation. Or plunge into Montgomery County student newspapers.

And these are a few of many Internet addresses in one site at one computer center in one state university.

The information available on the Internet seems virtually limitless, and that bothers educators like Richard Weisenhoff, technology curriculum coordinator in Howard County.

"There's a whole lot of useless material on the Internet," he said. "The thing we need to teach students is that just because it's there doesn't mean it's accurate. They need to be discerning knowledge users, to know the difference between information and data, to know what's accurate."

Growth in vegetarianism challenges school cafeterias

School cafeterias are having to cope with a new challenge: the growth in the number of vegetarians. Vegetarianism is no longer considered cultish, according to an article in the American School Board Journal, and some districts are trying to educate and nourish young "meat-restrictors."

The magazine says a poll conducted for the Baltimore- based Vegetarian Resource Group found that 11 percent of girls between 13 and 17 say they don't eat meat. This compares with 7 percent of adult females, 5 percent of male teens and 5 percent of adult males.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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