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How the Internet is changing the fourth grade
(IDG) -- Plymouth, a freshly sown suburb west of Minneapolis, is like many wealthy communities in the heartland. The lawns are trim, the homes big, the roads straight. As in many such towns, Plymouth's citizens take their schools seriously.
Consider Greenwood Elementary on Medina Road. Where years ago stood a farm, now there's a school with 673 students, broad playing fields out back and, in the media center (formerly known as the library), 31 new special-edition iMacs.
This morning Virginia Williams' fourth-grade class is taking its weekly turn on the computers. The kids scramble into the room, leap to their assigned seats and quickly get to work. The class is studying Asia; each student has chosen a country, and they've been given a list of 20-odd research topics -- food, music, art and so forth. They have one hour to surf the Net and get some answers.
Eli Greenberg -- who, like 22 of the 25 kids in Williams' class, has Internet access at home -- is already off and running. He's researching Taiwan, and he's soon pointing other kids to worthwhile Web sites. "Try Taiwan.com," he tells one boy nearby. In short order, Eli has checked off half a dozen of his topics, even hitting upon a site that plays traditional Chinese music. He's soon got other boys tapping into the same site, and the chords of a guzheng begin echoing through the room.
"Next year, I'm making my own Web site," says Eli. It's not an idle boast -- every fifth-grader at Greenwood builds his or her own site.
With its roomful of iMacs, Greenwood is in the vanguard of schools bringing computers into the classroom and putting students on the Internet. Driven by politics and unprecedented levels of funding, Greenwood and other schools across the country are hoping to integrate the Net into everything they do.
Likewise, a host of companies are hoping to ride the Internet into schools. According to Quality Education Data, $6.7 billion was spent wiring classrooms in the 1998-1999 school year, up 25 percent from the year before.
What's most remarkable about the presence of the Internet in schools is how flagrantly experimental it all is. There's no proven pedagogy for incorporating the Internet into the classroom, and yet school districts are falling over themselves to do just that. All of which prompts one very big question: What's it all mean to the kids?
To read the unabridged version of this story, click here.
y: Web raises new questions about what kids need to learn
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