Madam Chair, Members of the Committee:
My name is Doug Johnson. I am the District Media Supervisor for Mankato Public Schools, and I am here speaking for the Minnesota Educational Media Association, as well as my district’s staff and students.
Thank you for inviting me to visit with you today about how Mankato Schools are using the Internet.
Before we get started talking about specifics, I’d like to share an analogy about computers and networking which has influenced my thoughts.
Pretend for a moment that you are member of a primitive tribe who happens to come across a brand new Buick sitting in the middle of your jungle, miles from any road. But I’ll bet you would find lots of ways to use that car:
you could store your belongings in the trunk
you could sleep in the backseat, and keep dry when it rained
you could even honk the horn and scare away wild animals
You could find lots of uses for that Buick, but until you actually saw the car speeding along on a road, you would never know the power and real purpose of a car.
Some folks would say that we are still primitive people when it comes to computers. We see a computer sitting on a desk not attached to a network, and we can find lots of ways to use that machine:
we can make into a typewriter
we can use it like an address book or an adding machine or a grade book
and in schools, we could even use it like a fancy workbook
But until we hook that computer up to a network, and use it to communicate with people around the world, and use it to find information on the millions of other computers connected to the Internet, we will never know the power and real purpose of that computer.
The Mankato Schools have started to get a glimpse of that power.
Our district has had direct Internet in all its buildings since the beginning of this school year. When I say direct access, I mean that when students or teachers sit down at a networked computer, they are connected to the Internet and can use search tools and e-mail for an unlimited amount of time without having to take turns using a modem. We have the capability of giving all our students and staff e-mail accounts. By the end of this summer, we will have the network wiring pushed into each classroom, although we are far from having a computer in each room.
The Mankato Schools have spent about $500,000 in capital outlay money over the past two years installing the building and wide area networks for our 14 site, 7500 student district.
Our networks have three purposes:
- to improve communication and efficiency within district
- to improve communication and cooperation with other agencies which also help our children and teachers, and give families a new way to communicate with the school
- to improve the educational process for our students by giving them access to “real-world” informational resources, and guided practice the skills needed for using those resources effectively
I’d like to give you a few concrete examples of how, in just the past 6 months, we have been starting to use the networks for each purpose.
1) Improving communication within the district, making the district more efficient
The use of e-mail and file transfer by the staff has been very heavy, and we anticipate it will grow as more staff get training and convenient access. We predict the use of e-mail will result in reduced transportation, long-distance phone, and printing costs.
Teachers have been using e-mail in a variety of ways. An East High School social studies teacher perhaps summed it up best by saying:
The positive ways in which I am using the Internet are: communication with a federal official involved with the new crime bill from DC on a weekly basis, education for myself on the newest information on a particular subject, the wonderful opportunity to relay messages to colleagues about items of interest, and sharing conference materials.Teachers are learning to contact maintenance, custodial, and technical staff through the networks. We keep the latest version of software in one directory for the entire district to access
We are e-mailing notices of meetings and sending files of policies, agendas, and minutes. District media specialists get notices, agendas, and budget information only by e-mail!
When I e-mailed a request to our district’s teachers asking them to tell how they are using the Internet, I received over 35 responses in 3 days!
Good communication, both up and down the school hierarchy, creates effective organizations. My idea of the success of this project is when the first Mankato second grader sends our superintendent a workable solution to a problem.
Don’t be surprised to find some e-mail yourselves from our students!
2. Cooperating with other agencies and families
The Mankato Free Press has received over 120 student essays via e-mail for its Brainwave section. Students honed writing, computer and e-mail skills with the activity.
The Superintendent’s office communicates via e-mail with Blue Earth Country Officials and the local media. We are experimenting with sending reports to the state department using the Internet to connect us with Quicklink.
A first grade class at Hoover Elementary School has been writing notes to the student teacher from Mankato State University who will be working with them spring quarter.
Our World Wide Web site allows parent and other community members access to a staff directory, school board and PTO minutes,as well as a way to see their children’s work in a virtual open house and on-line science fair anytime they wish.
Our parents are excited about how we are using technology, especially the networks in the schools. Just this year, our PTOs have donated over $50,000 worth of new equipment to our schools. Parents have adopted schools as mentors in helping them create WWW pages, install networks, and run labs.
Community education uses our labs for the popular Internet classes it offers to the adults in the community on evenings and weekends.
3. Curricular uses (here’s the long list)
An East High School teacher uses the Internet with AP English classes to get literary criticism. She writes, “I have been teaching high school English for 25 years. This is the single most powerful tool (along with the computer) that I gave ever had the good fortune to offer these bright young people.”
The West High School business teachers uses the network in Office Practice classes to communicate with business students at East High School. This will soon be expanded to include other area schools’ business classes.
An East Junior High science teacher is creating an interdisciplinary unit which uses the Internet to study genetics.
The Garfield Elementary school media specialist reports that for the first time, all her 6th graders found information for their “country of origin” papers - using the Internet.”
Kennedy School students tour the White House using the World Wide Web and gather information about the planets from the Internet.
An elementary student wrote Dr. Michael Osterholm (and President Clinton) to express her concerns about the meningitis outbreak in Mankato.
Roosevelt 4th grade students are participating in a project called Journey North. They will be tracking the migration of falcons, butterflies, and caribou this spring.
The journalism teacher at West High School uses the Internet to find newspapers from other countries.
A music teacher at Dakota Meadows Middle School has her students search for and download MIDI music files. “There is a gold mine of sounds available on the Internet,” she says.
An Eagle Lake first grade teacher has had her class write to the White House, and has her students read items of interest on “Uncle Bob’s Home Page.”
A Dakota Meadows math teacher is setting up keypals for his students for joint problem solving, and does math curriculum research on the Internet.
The principal of Dakota Meadows relays this information from the kids in her office: We need Internet access because:
it makes us computer literate
we can talk to people all over the world
it saves on postage stamps
it’s easier to talk to our friends
it educates us for the future
it helps us learn keyboarding skills
we are able to do what our parents do in their businesses
A West global studies teacher is setting up a world-wide keypal project for his students with other students in Japan, Greece, India, Nepal, and China. He says that this is first time in his 20 years of teaching “global studies” that his students have been able to get outside the four walls of the classroom.
Dakota Meadows 7th graders play the “geogame” on the Internet - guessing locations from clues given by other students form 20 cities around the nation, and providing other players clues about Mankato.
First graders at Hoover School have taken field trips to Japan. At the time of Kobe earthquake, the class traveled there on a daily basis, saw maps and news reports about the area, and used the information to discuss the importance of water and communication during a crisis.
The Dakota Meadows media specialist has created a WWW homepage which directs her 8th grade students to information about the Holocaust.
Second graders at Kennedy School wrote e-mail letters to Santa (and got a reply) and are now writing to other second graders with the computer.
Second grade classes at Eagle Lake are working with the 5th grade class observing signs of spring to share in an interdisciplinary project on the Internet. This includes adopting area lakes, and keeping track of “photoperiods.” “My students are learning so much and so excited!” one of the teachers writes.
An English teacher at West High School says that one of her students learned about “source credibility” after a Vietnam veteran whom she had been using as a source for her term paper told about his wife’s exciting adventures as a fighter pilot in Vietnam! (No female fighter pilots in Viet Nam!)
State teacher incentive grants given to other schools have projects using the Internet to create statistical data about the children of Minnesota, study AIDS issues, collaborate with the University of Mississippi on experiments with clams, communicate information about the Mississippi River with 4th graders in other states, publish 200 student written books, and create a “keypal” program among American Indian schools across the country.
The messages that comes through again and again from teachers is “We are just beginning and we are excited!” As one first grade teacher put it, “The possibilities [for children} are only limited by their teacher’s ignorance.”
We are seeing signs that the Internet is helping teachers move away from the teacher-centered, textbook-driven classroom. They are beginning to echo Jacqueline Brook’s belief that “schooling must be a time of curiosity, exploration, and inquiry, and memorizing information must be subordinated to learning how to find information to solve real problems.”
Our district is interested in this bill because we are currently hampered by a lack of computers and slow network connections. Additional funds could help us solve both these problems.
We would also like to see other schools add their human and information resources to the network. A network is a curious thing. It is not like a pie or pot of money that the more ways it must be divided, the smaller the pieces get. A network increases in value with every additional user adding his or her perceptions and ideas.
Our children need good networks so that they can learn the kinds of skills they will need to compete in higher education and business. Teachers need network access so that they can improve their teaching practices. And all of Minnesota residents need Internet access if they are to remain informed, responsible citizens.
Please think about what John Goodlad, in his book A Place Called School, said as you debate this funding bill:
“Futurists have a tantalizing way of describing the year 2001 as though being there has little to do with getting there. The future simply arrives full-blown. But it is the succession of days and years between now and then that will determine what life will be like. Decisions made and not made will shape the schools of tomorrow.”