Thursday, March 8, 2018

Demystifying the Internet

By: Briar Sauro and Camille Harrison
Berkeley Carroll

A few years ago, we realized that our Lower Schoolers (and colleagues) took the internet for granted and had no idea that it was an actual physical thing - not magic. We know how important it is to raise people who question the world around them for deep understanding and clarity. Plus we were tired of their constant misuse of all tech vocabulary (“I was hacked!” “It’s glitching!”)! We set out to work on technology knowledge and vocabulary as part of our regular social studies and research lessons. What is the internet? What is the Cloud? How does Google actually work? Our goal is to create responsible citizens who use information efficiently and ethically; understanding how the internet works is an integral part of that.
From the first year that we had iPads and Google Drive in grade 3, we started to teach kids about The Cloud and to clarify whether files were stored there or on the device. We developed lessons around this in which we explain server farms and cloud computing, including this favorite Frank the Dog video that kids often remember from year to year. It’s helpful that in 2nd Grade, kids use a common set of iPads for the whole grade and must remember their iPad number to work on their Book Creator projects. They know that the reason they work on the same iPad each time is that their work is stored on that iPad. The contrast to Cloud Computing is clear once we start to contrast the two.

We try to use clear, consistent vocabulary such as browser, search engine, and website and we use Quizlet Live to have fun reviews of these terms. We have different decks for tech terms, library terms, and a combo set for “research terms.” Kids beg for this game no matter how dull the vocabulary is!

Another series of lessons helps with understanding who writes the information we use. We use this curriculum on All About Explorers, having morphed it over the years into three lessons: the “trick” lesson where the message is to always check the About page of a website, another where we focus on how many results you get from Google vs an encyclopedia, etc, and another where we talk about the endings of websites (.com, .gov) and what they mean.

In Fourth Grade, we continue to clarify where information comes from by diving into Wikipedia. Once kids know that it can be changed, we challenge them to find articles that are in Wikipedia but not in Britannica to illuminate all the non-academic ways it can be fun and useful. We also show them that good Wikipedia articles include footnotes to better sources that can possibly be used for school purposes.

We also spend some time talking about how Google search works. We want kids to know that there are people behind the algorithm but not behind the results they get, that no one is checking to be sure the information is accurate. We show this video to show that Google indexes much but not all of the internet, and that it returns results based on popularity.

Finally, our latest series of lessons is called, “What is the internet?” We do a bit of a pre-assessment for this by asking them to “Draw the internet.” They do look at us like we are insane, but we insist they draw whatever they think the internet looks like. We then show them a series of videos that blow the minds of kids and adults alike, revealing the fact that the Internet is a series of cables connecting us around the world, including under the ocean. There are many, many great videos on this, but the one we use most is Journey to the Bottom of the Internet. We also like to include this one from Khan Academy - it’s advanced but we feel it helps them understand how we use the internet from wireless devices.
We want our students to be efficient, ethical researchers who understand where information comes from. Our hope with these lessons is that students understand that the internet is not magic, that the systems we use everyday are physical and made by people with great ideas. Hopefully these notions will take root and help inspire some future computer scientists in thinking about the next great developments.

A note about the pictures: The first two pictures were made by students when asked to draw the internet before the "What is the internet?" unit. The last two pictures were made by students after the "What is the internet?" unit. 


Briar Sauro joined the Berkeley Carroll faculty in 2004. She is the Director of Libraries and Research, the librarian for Grades 3-4, and works closely with the classroom teachers and STEAM Integrator to inject research and technology skills into class curriculum. As library director, she oversees the research scope and sequence for the school, PreK-12th Grade. She also creates the Lower School schedule. Prior to arriving at BC, Briar worked for five years at Friends Seminary in Manhattan. She has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.L.I.S. from Pratt Institute.

Camille Harrison is the STEAM Integrator and Materials Librarian for first through fourth grade students at the Berkeley Carroll School. In this role she introduces students to technology that supports research. She also helps them use technology to present and share what they have learned. Camille builds students’ coding, tinkering, and creative problem solving skills through integrated, multi-disciplinary projects and activities. In addition to her teaching schedule, Camille maintains the Lower School STEAM Hub space and curates the Materials Library both of which are available to students and teachers in PreK through fourth grade. Camille holds a master's in library and information science with library media specialist certification from Pratt Institute and a B.A. in graphic arts and sociology from Syracuse University.

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