Recommended Age Groups: Early elementary to adult
The Internet is a way to reach information stored on computers all over the world from your own computer. It is the greatest research tool ever invented.
There is much more information out there than in any set of encyclopedias—more, even, than in any library. But because there is so much available, it can be hard to find exactly what you are looking for.
The information on the Internet can come from anyone; it is often more opinion than fact. Just because you find it on the Internet, that doesn’t make it true. You must judge very carefully the source of information before deciding whether you can trust it.
No one owns the Internet or can control what goes on it. You very well may run across things you find offensive or upsetting.
When several computers are physically connected by wires or cables, they form a network.
Networks at schools, businesses, and other organizations can be connected with each other through “backbone” wiring or cabling—letting any two computers among them connect with each other to share information.
The whole collection of networks and backbones is the Internet.
Even computers that are not on a network, such as home computers, can connect to the Internet through a modem, telephone wires, and an “Internet provider.” Today, many can connect through their home television cable systems—a much faster connection than by modem.
The Internet began less than 30 years ago as a way for researchers at universities and government labs to share information and ideas.
Today, tens of millions of computers and hundreds of millions of users are connected to the Internet.
Electronic mail (e-mail) can be sent through the Internet to anyone with access to an on-line computer.
E-mail comes not to a particular place or computer but (through an Internet provider) to a person, who needs a password to retrieve it. This means I can send or receive e-mail from a computer at home, at school, at work, or in a public library—as long as that computer is on line.
Learning to use browser software
Learning and refining techniques to search for information efficiently
Evaluating the reliability of sources
Digesting and extracting relevant information from large amounts of data
Communicating observations and findings
Make certain ahead of time that your Internet connection is good. Things can and do go wrong with hardware and software. Check to see whether you can in fact connect to the sites you plan to visit and/or have alternates in mind, since the servers that host Web sites can be temporarily off line.
Do not eat or drink at the computer.
Rehearse what to do if you reach a Web site that offends you, upsets you, or just makes you uncomfortable: simply click on the “back” button to get out of it immediately.
Occasionally, the “back” button will not take you back. If this happens, either go to the menu bar at the top of your browser window and slide from “Go” back to an earlier site or simply close your browser window by clicking on the square in its upper left corner and starting over in a new window.
What is the Internet?Listen to and guide their thoughts on what it is, how it originated, and how it works. Share the concepts, principles, and facts outlined above.
How do you access and use the World Wide Web?Introduce the term “Web browser” and point out the basics: the URL (address, location), the “back” button, the hyperlinks, how to shrink or enlarge the window, how to use the scroll bar.
Today, we are going to find out where we can “go” on the Internet and how we can find specific information through it.
On the globe or map, point out where you are physically located. Explain that your computer is connected to others all over the world, allowing you to do many things:
Communicate - With e-mail, you can write to people all over the world. You may find a key (as opposed to pen) pal in Norway or ask questions of a meteorologist in Oklahoma or write to your sister away at college. You can communicate with people from different places and with different backgrounds.
Explore - The Internet connects you to the rest of the world and lets you explore places and ideas on line. Have you ever wanted to see what England looked like? Or to visit a famous museum in Italy? Or to take a look out in space at our solar system? These are places that you can “visit” on the Internet.
Seek and find - Do you need to research a topic for a school paper? Are you looking for help on a science fair project you plan to do? Would you like to find out when and where to look in the night sky to see the International Space Station or the space shuttle go by? You can do all of these things by using search engines to look through the Web.
Since you will be leaving this site for the activity, you will want to print out this lesson for ready access to the directions on what to do next. Or, if you have a large enough monitor, you could open a second browser window to this address to keep the directions handy.
We will begin today by visiting someplace else to find out what the weather is like there right now. How is the weather at Disney World (Orlando, FL), or at your grandma’s house, or in the city where you used to live, or in Honolulu (etc.)? At the Weather Underground site, we can find weather information for any city in the United States.
Have students type the URL (uniform resource locator) for the
Weather Underground in the box for URL or address.
Type: http://www.wunderground.com/ and hit return.
Explain that the URL is like a telephone number or an address: it tells your computer where to look to find a certain site.
Once the page has completely downloaded, click on the U.S. map in the state you are interested in. You will get a list of cities and their weather right now. [Some may have a little exclamation point inside a gold warning sign under "Warning"; you might want to click on that warning to see what it is—heat wave, tornado warning, etc.] Scroll down the list and, if the city you want is there, you can click on its name for even more detail, such as sunrise and moonrise times. If not, click the mouse in the white box under “Find the Weather for any City, State or Zipcode, or Country,” type in the city and state, and click on the “Fast Forecast” button.
Have the students read to you, to themselves, or to each other (if two are sharing a computer) the weather report. Compare it to your local weather. [This might be a good time to show participants how to open a second browser window, so that they can switch back and forth.] Allow students to investigate two locations; have them use the log sheet to record their findings and comments. [Note that this is a generic form for them to record their Net-cruising results on. Not all questions will be appropriate for the Weather exercise.]
It is interesting to note that you can look up historical conditions for that location. There is actually a minute-by-minute recap of conditions on the day you request, going back to 1994. This could be very helpful in planning a family reunion picnic, for example. While the past is no guarantee of future weather, if it has always rained on that date, you may want to choose another!
Partway down the page, there is a link to “Add this sticker to your home page!” You may want to do just that, when you build your own Web site. That way, when people visit your site, they can see, with a little Weather Underground logo, what the weather is like where you are. A variety of self-updating banners, stickers, and “gizmos” is available. [Many flash the temperature first in Fahrenheit and then in centigrade—a good way to get a feel for the system you are not used to.]
Next, we will learn to find specific information using search engines. There are two main kinds of search sites: hierarchical ones that organize information by subject like a card catalog or an outline (starting with very general categories and moving down to ever more specific ones) and those that search for particular words or phrases on Web sites. Which one you use depends on what kind of information you are looking for.
Suppose you are looking for a college Web site. You could use a hierarchical searcher like Yahoo sites. Have students type in the address, http://everything.yahoo.com/, or simply click on the link within the underlined word “Yahoo” above. Click on “Education” in the top menu bar, then select the “State” tab under “Directory of Schools,” then choose your state and you will see an alphabetical list of every college and university Web site in your state that Yahoo knows about. Click on one you’ve heard of and check it out. Someday soon you may want to go there!
Next, imagine you want to research a topic for a school report. For this, it would be more appropriate to use a search engine that literally searches through all the sites in the world and catalogs them by words and phrases within them. Suppose you want information on carnivorous plants such as the Venus Flytrap.
Originally, you had to be very careful about how you phrased your request, as a search for carnivorous plants might bring you a million or more “hits” for every Web page with either word, tens of thousands of hits for sites containing both words, or merely thousands for sites with the phrase “carnivorous plants.” Today (the year 2010), however, most search engines guess at what you mean to ask and refine your search for you.
Even if you don’t have time to explore today, you can see how improving your aim by adding more specific directions to a search will really save you time. New search engines are being created every day. To check out the latest, see the Best Search Tools from InfoPeople.
Once you find information, you need to think about how to judge its reliability. Can you trust the information it presents to be accurate?
Apparently not, as
A new meaning for the
Here are some ways to judge the quality of information you find on the Internet:
Does the author identify him- or herself?
What credentials does the author have? (college degrees; sponsorship or connection with colleges, businesses, or other organizations; recognized authority on a subject—as from authorship of a published work on the topic)
Does the author request or accept comments from readers?
Are there obvious factual errors that make you suspicious about the reliability of the rest of the material?
Does the tone (use of sarcastic or angry words) imply that the author is very opinionated? If so, the site may contain more opinion than fact or the “facts” may be distorted to support a particular point of view.
Has the site been recently updated? Does it have too many “dead” or expired links? In some cases, this is not important but, in others, currency correlates with accuracy.
You may wish to look through How to Evaluate Web Pages, an excellent overview from the UC Berkeley Teaching Library.
At the end of your first exploration session, ask the guiding questions again:
What is the Internet?
How do you access and use the World Wide Web?
Listen for comprehension, to see what has and has not been understood. Your most important objectives may vary from those of others. Parents and educators may want to know more about filtering software that attempts to block access to objectionable sites. Many Web sites have information on this; a good one to start with is Safe Kids Online, but they still need to know about the impossibility of absolute control over the Web and its content. Supervision is important! Also, you need to be aware that filters eliminate a great deal of valuable information without any guarantee that they will catch all the bad stuff. For more on this, see Faulty Filters, a report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center on how content filters block access to kid-friendly information on the Internet.
Children and adults may need more specific help in finding particular kinds of information quickly. An excellent source on refining searches and understanding the different search services is provided by The Spider’s Apprentice. Other good resources are the Best Search Tools and Search Tools Chart from InFoPeople, which will tell you which engine to use for which purpose and how to phrase your requests.
Learning more about Web exploration really ought to be done on the Web! Here are some places to begin your explorations.