Reading, writing, and arithmetic have been the foundation of the American public education system for hundreds of years. One would think that, after all of this time, there would be few significant changes to how the fundamentals are taught. After all, math is math: You memorize the basics and do repetitious drills until it sinks in.
At least, that was my opinion until my youngest son mentioned that he was the “Player of the Week” for his elementary school’s interactive online math game, Suntex’s FirstInMath.
The way he is learning math is a lot different than the way I did. It’s interactive, entertaining, and it’s a competition. The course is online, available whenever and wherever, and it allows him to compete with his classmates, his schoolmates, and other schools nationwide.
My kids’ school also uses the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project's Everyday Math to teach math. The student textbook is available online to the students and parents, which is helpful when I need to learn the new methods of how math is taught.
If the Internet can change the way math is taught, how else is it influencing education?
It’s certainly changing the way we read. My family still uses the public library, for example, one of America’s greatest assets, but not in the same way I did as a kid. I remember walking to our local branch once a week and asking the librarian what new books had come in and where I could find them. If she were unavailable, I’d have to find the book using the card catalogue system. Not a lot of fun!
My kids will look online before they leave the house and reserve the books they’re interested in checking out. The books are waiting for them at the front desk. If they decide they want a book while at the library, they can look it up and check out whether it’s in stock. If not, they can check other branches and place a request for it using the county library’s online catalogue.
The boys are also able to determine books based on their reading levels. Their teachers know the boys’ reading levels based on assessment tests administered online at school. Then, using an online guide at the Lexile Framework for Reading at Lexile.com, their teachers can recommend books for the boys based on that. Additionally, this same online guide allows my wife and me to determine whether certain titles are appropriate for the boys’ reading levels.
I sat down to write this just as I did back in elementary school, using a pen and paper. My kids bring home lots of schoolwork on paper, so how much can writing have changed? As soon as I wrote the last sentence, I immediately remembered that I wasn’t concerned with spelling or grammar. When I type it up, the software will flag errors and I can go to the Internet for my thesaurus and dictionary. My kids own dictionaries, but I can’t remember the last time I saw them open one.
Researching a paper has also changed. No longer does a research paper require a trip to the library and hours of finding the right books, finding the information you need, and making notes. My kids will use a search engine and have all of the data they need for their paper in minutes.
The Internet has already made a positive impact on the American public education system. It is providing more access, more options, and more opportunities. The next time you drive past an elementary school, it may look the same on the outside, but thanks to the Internet, things are different on the inside.
— Harold Pollard has worked for over 20 years in information technology after graduating from The Citadel. He is director of systems support for Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina.