Schools gear up for Net Weekend Many students make full use of Web

September 26, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Erin Texeira contributed to this article.

Fifth-graders Wayne Chang and John Noh needed information about dragons -- those mythical creatures that have long inhabited books and children's fantasies. Now, those fire-breathers are coming alive in another medium -- the Internet.

"Dragons didn't really exist," says John, 10, a student at Centennial Lane Elementary School. "We found a Web site that was about Chinese dragons. Then we presented our project."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening will stop at Centennial Lane this afternoon in a series of visits to schools to kick off Maryland's Net Weekend.

A $1.35 million project in which 450 schools are participating, Net Weekend is designed to get schools wired to the Internet and update others that already are connected. A spokesman said most schools in Maryland should be wired to the Web by Monday, though it will be December before all Baltimore schools are hooked up.

"This year's Net Weekend will enable thousands more Maryland schoolchildren to benefit from Internet access in their classrooms," Glendening said. "With these connections in place, the possibilities for learning will be as limitless as a child's imagination."

Many experts agree that use of the Internet can transform education in a fundamental way.

'Dramatic change'

"This could be the most dramatic change in education resources in history," says Christine Franklin, director of the Educators' Technology Center in Indiana, which previews and demonstrates software for teachers.

"Books used to be the end-all [and] be-all of education. Now, we don't have to wait for encyclopedias," she says. "It's right there, online."

Centennial Lane Elementary School is at the head of the Internet pack in part because most children in this affluent district have computers at home and surf the 'Net frequently, often displaying more computer skill than their teachers.

Teachers and students say they use the Internet at school nearly every day, for everything from researching projects to playing math games.

Fourth-graders created a school World Wide Web site last year, with pictures and links to other sites. Their Web page (http: // will be unveiled today during Glendening's visit.


Students will compile data about butterflies and publish their results on the Web, said Principal Susan Goglia.

Many of the school's pupils use the Internet for homework -- gathering information on topics as diverse as pandas and PTC anti-gravity -- but others use it for more personal pursuits.

Fourth-grader Matthew Rossi, 9, wanted a bird that sits on his finger. But his father made him do research first.

"Dad got me into the Internet, and we looked up things about pets, then birds, then hand-fed birds," Matthew said.

New medium

Education experts say it is becoming important for students to have an understanding of this medium.

At Rockburn Elementary in Howard County (http: //, Sam Pollack's students wanted to learn more about Pfiesteria -- the microbe that has killed thousands of fish and sickened dozens of people in several Eastern Shore tributaries.

But the students couldn't find that in the library.

"That information isn't in books yet," says Pollack, a gifted-and-talented resource teacher. "They went online and pulled down some information from a couple of sites. This is going to drastically change the way we do things in education."

It's a change that can be seen across the country.


Kathleen O'Neill, director of instructional technology for the College of Education at Georgia State University in Atlanta, says that no longer are students simply listening to teachers and regurgitating facts and figures. Now, they're looking up megabytes of information on a wealth of topics and turning the tables.

"The Internet can bring an enriched blend of information to the classroom," O'Neill says. "Now the information flow isn't just what the teacher knows."

But O'Neill and other experts warned that having a computer in the classroom doesn't make the students better overnight. It takes training and time before teachers can use the tool to enhance education.

"It's a total waste of money if the equipment is only used for word processing," she says. "It's no good if the computer just sits in the back of the classroom and students get to use it for 20 minutes at the end of the day -- if they were good."

The Internet is also highlighting a a chronic problem in U.S. education -- the disparity of funds among districts.

In Howard County, all schools have Internet connections provided by the county school system's server. Net Weekend will provide some more computers and training sessions, according to school officials.

In Baltimore County, where every school also has at least one Internet connection, officials are hoping to use Net Weekend to upgrade 75 schools' computers with high-speed connection lines.

City far behind

But Baltimore school administrators are working to link the city's last handful of schools to the Internet, with at least one terminal connected at every school by December.

A smaller percentage of city students than suburbanites have Internet connections at home, making access to the Internet at school even more important, officials say.

"If they don't have it at home, then the schools need to provide it," says Michael Pitroff, Baltimore schools' director of technology, library and media services. "Our kids could get shortchanged."

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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