Exhausted…

Nov 22, 2006 by

…and then some. I’ve been running around for the past week and a half trying to laminate the fifth grader’s Explorer Card projects so they can take them all home before Thanksgiving (which doesn’t appear is going to happen now), attending the monthly MACUL Board meeting, and making time to prepare for some of the classrooms in my building to communicate online via e-mail and message boards. Needless to say I wasn’t exactly perpared to walk into our district’s technology advisory group meeting last week to hear that the Tech Coordinator and Assistant Superintendent for school improvement are planning on blocking student access to every major search engine. No, not just blocking Google and Yahoo, I’m talking about no student access to MSN, Yahoo, Dogpile, Ask.com, Google, etc. If it isn’t specifically and unequivocally a search engine designed for kids then it isn’t going to get through the filters. Which means every student from Kindergarten to grade 12 would be using the likes of Yahooligans, Kidsclick, and other “kid safe” search sites, with the possible exception of teachers who are working closely with a small group of students that need access to a more robust search engine for their work on a more challenging project.

I didn’t have the energy to mount a worthy defense during the meeting, and will definitely be doing my homework over Thanksgiving break. I’m planning on scouring the Internet and Edublogosphere about the use of search engines in school as well as providing differentiated learning experiences and ways to teach our state technology benchmarks dealing with ethics, multiple search engines. I really don’t want to walk into the next meeting with more than just the typical anecdotes and analogies (using “kid safe” search engines for all searches, no matter what level or age group is often the equivalent of using a ruler to draw a circle). I need some cold hard evidence that we would be doing our students a diservice in preparing them for the real world by limiting their searches at school to sites that aren’t typically used in…well, the real world. When was the last time you saw your middle or high schooler going to Yahooligans to search for something?

This really isn’t meant to be a flame post, or a complaint, merely a way to gather my thoughts about what’s on the horizon, and what I need to do in order to preserve the best learning environment possible for all the students in the district, not just my building. I’m also hoping that the new Internet search that we’re trying out might be worth replacing access to some of the more “rest of the world” oriented search engines. We currently have a trial account for NetTrekker D.I., which is proving to have excellent learning resources and well categorized websites, but is severely limited in other areas, not to mention the fact that we would have to pay for every student to have access. While I love what NetTrekker does, I’m hesitant to say it should be the student search engine of choice for what it doesn’t do. Namely, provide a robust search of images and local information, something that we could get for free on other search engines and/or local media sites. Perhaps this break is just what I need to recharge the batteries, think about the direction of censorship and filtering in schools, and look more deeply into what NetTrekker provides.

Sorry there isn’t something more inciteful or useful today, but i thought it would be best to leave for the Turkey day break, and a break from blogging, with something to ponder.

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8 Comments

  1. I don’t even know what to say to this, but several expletives jump to mind. If this happened in my school I’d have to encourage the kids to save their internet searching for when they get home.

    I get so tired of all the blocking of sites. Why can’t we be allowed to teach our students the appropriate use of this amazing tool? Schools are already required to block the “bad” content students might find with a search engine, how do they (the administration) expect blocking the search engine will help?

  2. rick

    This is one of those baby and bath water things. I can’t tell you just how I would react to such nonsense. These folks related to Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska or something?
    Let’s face it, the filtering aspect of things is a pain anyway. Even our second graders learn how to do image searches in Google for their various print and web projects and, quite frankly, we have little trouble. I can see how high school would, of course, be more difficult but that is when they really need good search tools lest they get to college or the work place and would be incapable of sorting through the vast amount of information available through the commercial sites.
    I could not justify paying a company for search functions especially when you don’t know exactly what they are censoring.
    It all rather sounds like China, doesn’t it?

  3. Ben

    My thoughts exactly Rick, my thoughts exactly. Sure, we need some censorship; there is a lot of content and information out there that needs to be blocked at school, but blocking the tools that allow you to find and search for that information should not be limited. I can’t become too emotional about this, because I would hate to be discounted out of hand for speaking from my feelings and limited teaching experience. However, I do need to remain passionate enough to gather both reasonable evidence and some standards-based support for keeping access to our search engines open.

    I’m fairly confident that if I remain level headed and approach this from the standpoint of increased student awareness and emphasis on aggresively integrating our new technology standards, there really isn’t much of an argument left for blocking most search engines. Because really what it comes down to is preparing our students to compete successfully on a national and world scale. If they can’t use the tools that are being used in the real world while at school, then we’ve already crippled their education before it’s started.

  4. Tom

    We’re currently blocking the words blog, chat and games (not game) in all URLs not explicitly white listed. It’s odd the choices that are made at that level.

    I know our district pushes all the searches to google safe search for both the main search and the images. Maybe you could talk them into that. It certainly doesn’t block everything but it helps and compared to nettrekker or yahooligans you’re better off.

    We’ve got nettrekker for our county and it’s ok. I’m not a huge fan as the material is not too extensive and if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary you’re out of luck.

    I hope things turn out ok for you.

  5. rick

    A couple of other words of note that may or may not support your position. We can assume that a commercial search engine like Google would give one access to a larger, more varied group of resources and that many students would be able to use it and others like it at home.
    The first point is, of course, that public schools are expected to teach students a variety of subjects regardling safety etc, at school so that they carry on to the home environment. Dropping those search engines from school certainly makes it harder to help the parents teach their children how to use the net responsibly.
    Around here we also have to be real careful that we try to keep things as equal as possible for the students and their access to technology. It is a fact of life that some students have more resources at home than others. Some may not have access to any computer at all. Many will not have high speed connections. It is a failure of the public education system to actully deny students an equal opportunity to learn and do research. I feel it is our biggest responsibility to make sure that those “without” learn everything possible in school. That is what makes it “public education”.
    Do we take a dictionary away from our students because we may not approve of some of the words?

  6. Ben, you might want to check out a recent report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. It looks at how Americans learn about science. The findings indicate that most internet users rely on online sources for information about science; past, present and future.

    I haven’t had a chance to read through it yet, but there may be some good data you can use.

    http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/191/report_display.asp

  7. Susan

    I totally agree with you on both points. There are a lot of students that do not have the opportunity or resources at home to learn or research and that in order to prepare students for the life after school, public education needs to make those resources available.

    Internet safety is something that parents should be involved in at home and administrations should take their input under advisement for their schools. Limiting the teacher’s ability to teach technology and safety, however, should be one of the things that administrations use as a last resort.

  8. Ben

    I just found those articles starting to pop up myself about science Steve. I’ll have to look into it this week to see if there’s any useful data.

    We had the first group of teachers in my building use Net Trekker today, listing their pros and cons, and the one thing that I appreciated coming from our building’s Curriculum Director (not the dsitrict wide director), was that limiting access to the other search engines would severly limit our ability to teach internet safety and ethics. We started a conversation about this awhile ago on the forum , and while ethics isn’t the best word for it, debating about the usefulness of internet sources and what is appropriate for school is a strong reason for not blocking the search engines.

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