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Taking New Approach to Education

April 26, 2001|SUSAN McLESTER | smclester@cmp.com

Although Apple's ubiquitous advertising slogan "Think Different" has raised the ire of more than one language arts teacher--shouldn't it be "Think Differently" or "Think 'Different' "?--the premise is right on target.

Technology is changing the way we think and giving us new ways to solve old problems. Nowhere is this more important than in education.

We tend as a nation to think of school as separate from real life, to board up and enshrine the nostalgic notions of quaintness, simplicity and tradition we like to associate with school experiences of the past. Unfortunately, forcing education to conform to the little red schoolhouse image comes at great cost to the future of our children--and of the society they will one day lead.

Rather, let's dare to take the Apple challenge and open our eyes to new ways of learning. One man with some very good ideas is David Warlick, author, educator and director of Landmarks for Schools. At http://www.landmark-project.com, educators can read articles, link to helpful Web sites, acquire tools and templates for online use, receive tutorials and practical tips and find lesson plans for integrating the Internet into their study units.

I heard Warlick speak and observed how his vision, mixed with practical information, can open young minds to new possibilities. Warlick's suggestions for encouraging new ways of thinking in education include the following:

* Keep up with what interests students and where they're going online. The Lycos 50 Daily Report, at http://50.lycos.com, keeps track of the top 50 Internet search words for a given week. The top few for a recent week included: Final Fantasy, 'N Sync, Jennifer Lopez, Pamela Anderson and Pokemon.

* Create an online group. Educators can use http://groups.yahoo.com to build an e-group that might include the parents of the kids in their classes.

* Turn textbook content into work sheets that kids can write on. A good place to start is the University of Oklahoma Law Center's site at http://www.law.ou.edu/hist, which contains the complete text of numerous historical documents. Cut and paste the Declaration of Independence into a word-processing file and sprinkle your own questions throughout. Another great site for work sheet material is http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/mcchtml/corlst.html, which lets users read a petition for bail from accused witches circa 1692 and other documents.

* Educators with extra-powerful computers can take advantage of Kenjin to put together entire units of study or to research areas of interest. As you read a document on your word processor, Kenjin reads with you, looking for groupings of topics to identify themes. It then goes out on the Internet to find pages related to each theme. It can be downloaded free at http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/reviews/0% 2C6755%2C2522348%2C00.html.

Quibbling about Apple's use of the word "different" misses the point. It's the word "think" we need to pay attention to.

*

Susan McLester is editor of Technology & Learning magazine.

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