Going places via computer

EDUCATION BEAT

Thinkport: An Internet `super site' developed by MPT and Johns Hopkins opens a virtual world to teachers and students.

January 07, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ONE AFTERNOON just before Christmas, Michelle Antkowiak took an archaeological field trip to the state's earliest settlement, believed to have been established about 900 along what is known as the St. Mary's River in Southern Maryland.

Michelle, 9, didn't venture beyond a computer lab at her school, Harford Hills Elementary in Baltimore County. Her fingers tripped easily across the keyboard as she studied the Yaocomaco Indian tribe.

"This is funner than a book," said Michelle of the exercise. "Books are just lines. This way, you're always moving around, typing and reading, too."

Welcome to Thinkport, an Internet "super site" for students and teachers developed by Maryland Public Television and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education.

Virtual field trips are among the sexier features of Thinkport. The site (thinkport.org) houses a rich collection of lesson plans, projects and student activities, video clips and the online field trips. Teachers also can build lessons and share them with other teachers anywhere in the world at any time. They can take online courses and share ideas and assignments with students and parents. There are thousands of links to educational resources.

It's a one-stop Web site, or so it's advertised by the folks at MPT, who are trying to find a role for public television in Maryland education.

"How cool is that, catching a video on the computer?" said Trista Johnson, a special education teacher at Harford Hills who was monitoring the "exploring Maryland's roots" lesson with fourth-grade teacher Rick Wright.

I had seen many children learning on computers, but it was awesome to observe the way the fourth- and fifth-graders at Harford Hills take to technology like frogs to a pond. Michelle told me she'd begun learning to type at age 3, and that learning on Thinkport was a lot like playing computer games.

"The kids are comfortable with computers," said Wright. "Some of them are more used to the keyboard than they are to pencils. And some of them are quite adept at working interactively on the computer. Things interactive hold and keep their attention."

Thinkport, meanwhile, is making slow progress, registering about a tenth of Maryland's 53,000 teachers. In part, that's because it was launched on the day the United States invaded Iraq and hasn't had a lot of publicity, in part because it hasn't been formally recommended by the State Department of Education, which has some questions about how well its curriculum is aligned with state learning standards.

And in part, too, it's because when it comes to technology, children know more than many of their teachers. The near ubiquity of e-mail notwithstanding, older teachers are not nearly as friendly with technology as the kids they teach. Nor are these teachers about to give up books in favor of the marvels that MPT officials see as the next frontier in technology.

Every adult I talked to about Thinkport spoke of the ease with which children adapt to the world of technology. "These kids are weaned on computers," said Myrna Dyson, who uses Thinkport to teach mathematics at Decatur Middle School in Berlin. "It just makes me wonder what's going to be there for them when they get to be our age."

Thinkport made me think of Wordsworth's famous line, penned without a computer, "The child is father of the man," and of Gerard Manley Hopkins' (also computerless) pondering:

"The child is father to the man.'

How can he be? The words are wild."

No Child Left Behind Act uncelebrated at school

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act, an event that Frank Britto Jr. isn't celebrating.

Britto is the father of Sabrina Britto, 7, a second-grader at Leith Walk Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore.

In the city school budget crisis, Britto said, Leith Walk has lost all of its lunch aides, more than an inconvenience at a school with 960 children.

Leith Walk also has lost three teachers and three of four workers in the principal's office. A teacher on maternity leave won't be replaced, and Britto expects more layoffs as early as next month.

"This isn't a matter of no child being left behind," Britto complained yesterday. "It's a matter of all children being left behind."

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