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Friday, February 27, 2009

Madison Schools Putting Collaborative Web to Work

When I first saw Chuck Clement's headline, "Use of Computer Technology Grows at Elementary Level," I felt a little queasy. More computers in the elementary classroom? Do little kids really need that technology more than some quality time with books, crayons, and monkey bars?

But I read on and found hopeful signs that Madison Central's CIO Rob Honomichl is spreading some good Web 2.0 gospel. In a 15-week workshop he's conducting for about 40 teachers in the district (and St. Thomas!), Honomichl is emphasizing the use of collaborative Web technology like Google Docs and wikis. Fifth-grade teacher Susan Hageman is already putting the technology to work:

Susan Hageman, a fifth-grade teacher at Madison Elementary, said her students have used Google Docs to complete homework. As an example, Hageman created a survey for her students in which they answered questions about books they had read. She also had students write reaction papers about the presidential inauguration.

Hageman said that students have few access problems since the Google Docs are available for use free and can operate with different generations of Microsoft software [Chuck Clement, "Use of Computer Technology Grows at Elementary Level," Madison Daily Leader, 2009.02.24].

Free always gets my attention, especially in the classroom where teachers can add value without spending additional tax dollars.

More important is the pedagogical point. The Internet is a huge learning tool. But the Internet isn't a one-way information suuperhighway, and learning isn't a passive process where we plug a cable into a kid's head and pump in knowledge ("I know kung-fu!"—if only!). The value of the Internet is that it's not like TV, which does all the work while kids slump glassy-eyed in their seats. The Internet rocks not just because of the knowledge we find there but more because of the knowledge we can build there (read up on constructivism; your teachers have). Kids need to learn that the Internet (like the government) is what they make it. Using Google Docs, wikis, blogs, and all these other interactive tools (even Facebook!) can help prepare kids to use the Internet not just as a video game but as a network, a place to connect with other people and ideas.

Of course, I hear from teachers at some schools that they can't even access Google Docs or blogspot.com, because their local administrator or the state filter blocks any site that offers even a remote chance of students encountering naughty words or communicating with each other. Heavens forfend!

Elementary students can probably get just as good an education if they never touch a computer and just interact face-to-face with their teachers (and the rest of us adults in their community). But we do have an obligation to prepare students to use the learning tools available. Using the Internet means teaching kids a new media literacy in which they learn to communicate and collaborate, not just flip a switch and passively receive. More schools need to follow Madison's lead and open the doors to a more interactive Internet.


  1. Hats off to Madison for a progressive program that will help kids! My experience is that some teachers are way ahead of the technoloy curve, but other unfortunately lag behind (regardless of the classroom availability). As more teachers routinely integrate technoloy into classroom learning, hopefully we'll see a shift toward all teachers becoming proficient.

  2. Schools have an obligation to stop access to sites that parents would object to. By making these moral judgments, schools are stopping inappropriate content to be viewed by children. A filter is a necessary tool that allows educators to use the internet.


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