The Internet at Eagan High School
R. THOMAS F. WILSON, Principal and GREG UTECHT, Technology in Learning Coordinator Eagan High School Eagan, Minn. Unlike most of his classmates at Eagan High School in Eagan, Minnesota, Josh Plautz d'esn't have a driver's license, and he d'esn't seem to be in any hurry to get one. This 17-year-old senior already has a passport to the world and a ticket to the future. While some of his classmates are out cruising the roadways looking for something to do, Plautz is often behind the wheel of a personal computer, either at home or at school, "surfing" the electronic global village known as the Internet in search of his next exciting stop along the information super highway. In a matter of seconds, Plautz's fingers can take him to the gravelly back roads of his native North Carolina, to the concrete expressways of Los Angeles, or to just about any other spot in the world where there's a pathway to a computer network. It has even taken him to the files of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, to an electronic catalog of political and economic data on countries known as the CIA Fact Book. "It's public information, and it's perfectly legal to access it," says Plautz, an accomplished navigator of the "Net." "Mother of all Networks" Originated about a quarter century ago as a Defense Department research project to develop a military computer network capable of surviving World War III, the Internet was then further developed and funded as a project of the National Science Foundation. Though difficult to use, it soon found its way into universities across the nation, where a young generation of computer gurus were lurking, waiting to tap into its awesome potential. Today, this "mother of all networks" represents the largest electronic community in the world, and it's growing at a more rapid pace than ever before. Though no one knows exactly how many people are tapped in, it's estimated that there are some 20 million Internet users worldwide, and membership is said to be expanding at an astounding rate of 10% per month. Once the realm of scientists and computer experts, relatively recent developments that make the system easier to navigate have made the Internet accessible to almost everyone. One of the largest groups of new Internet users in the future promises to be those from the K-12 education community, who, until recently, were merely hitchhikers on the information super highway. Often praised for its use of state-of-the-art technology, Eagan High School, located in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul, is among the small but growing number of K-12 schools nationwide that are blazing a trail for the future. As principal of Eagan High, which is a new facility expressly designed for the future of learning, I feel strongly that we need to be a school that's setting the pace. We have been, and will continue to be, pioneers in technology. The Internet is the next step along the technology journey. When we saw its potential, we decided to seize the opportunity and move forward with it as quickly as we could. Indeed, Eagan High's teachers and staff are all extremely enthusiastic about the projects and the progress that we are making—both for themselves, as employees, and for the students we serve. The Internet's potential for K-12 curriculum applications is almost limitless, says math teacher, Len Bierlein, one of the staff leaders of the project at Eagan High. Whether it's downloading weather data from NASA computers, taking a "virtual" field trip halfway around the world, "chatting" with a pen pal in Poland or sifting through the Library of Congress, with the right training and a good road map, you can probably get there on the Internet. InforMNs Project Paves the Way Minnesota is among a growing number of states that have established education networks expressly designed to provide K-12 education with access to the Internet. With just a personal computer, phone line and modem, any school in the state can now link itself with the world through the Internet for Minnesota's Schools (InforMNs) Project. Schools must also pay a nominal annual fee of $240 for access. "We're providing the ability to show and tell some of the things the Internet is capable of, but it's a long way from full access," notes Roy Tally, technology specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education, a partner in the InforMNs Project. "We want to build a gravel road that can reach every school community in the state. And over time, we want to help the schools come up with the means to pave that highway and take full advantage of what Internet has to offer K-12 education," adds J'el Halvorson, instructional technology specialist with Technology and Educational Services (TIES), a Twin Cities-based "special" school district that assists schools with technology-related projects. Eagan Lays the Infrastructure At Eagan High and a handful of other Minnesota schools and districts that are leading the way, the pavement has already been laid. "Eagan is the next step up the ladder," Halvorson says. The difference lies in the physical connections used to link to the Internet. The dial-up access with which many Minnesota schools are now experimenting limits the number of users to the number of available phone lines and modems, and moves at a much slower speed. Eagan High, however, has a local area network connecting the school's 300+ computers that allows direct access to the Internet to as many as 250 users at the same time. To connect its local network, the school had to lease a telephone service called "frame relay," which serves as a pipeline to the gateway computer at TIES. With the existing schoolwide network and the purchase of a special router from Cisco Systems, the access for students was in place. "You have to have the local infrastructure in place," Halvorson states. "That is by far the most efficient and cost-effective way to develop that kind of access." As principal of Eagan High, connecting us to Internet was never the question in my mind, only "how" and "when." I know in the future of these students their world will be replete with technologies that haven't even been developed yet. If we can develop in them an attitude that it is all "pretty neat," instead of having sweaty palms about learning something new, we have already given them a head start. That's what we're always trying to do here. Islands of Learning Nobody knows the full potential of the Internet as a resource for K-12 education because it is still an emerging, rapidly growing, and largely unmanaged library of information, but educators nationwide are excited about the prospects. Already, teachers are using the Internet to share lesson plans, software and curriculum ideas; to connect students from different cultures in order to let them share their views and concerns about the world; and to download current information useful in the classroom from any number of free resource centers along the vast super highway. "What I'm looking for with Internet is more interactive learning—the global classroom—where kids are interacting with the real world," says English teacher, Bob Strandquist. "The Internet is an ocean and we don't know yet where in that ocean all those islands of learning are for teachers and students." Programs like Gopher already help guide Internet users to the information they're searching for with easy-to-read menus. But there's a lot of work left to be done in the area of indexing and cataloging information if the Internet is to reach its full potential, says technology specialist Tally. As more and more schools go online with Internet, others on the network will start paying more attention to K-12 education and will develop additional "islands" to meet the needs of that group, like bulletin boards detailing curriculum projects, he explains. "That's the biggest challenge—to develop the tools users need to more easily find information they can use." Using Internet in Specific Disciplines Perhaps one of the most easily identifiable "islands of learning" on the Internet for K-12 education right now—and the one most teachers and students experiment with first—is electronic mail. While e-mail is the first application, online research always follows closely on its heels. Thus most people utilize both capabilities for their projects. The following sections describe how Eagan teachers, students and staff are utilizing the power of the Internet for learning. English (and History, Politics, Etc.) At a recent conference of English teachers, Strandquist learned first-hand from a teacher in Seattle, Wash., about the power and potential of the Internet as a learning tool. "This teacher told me that his students were looking for a pen pal somewhere in the world, so they began surfing the Internet and landed in Tel Aviv, Israel, where they connected with Gabriel Goldstein, a teacher," Strandquist relates. "The students asked (Goldstein) what this problem between the Jews and the Palestinians was all about." Using e-mail, Goldstein responded to the students' question, giving them part of the answer but also instructing them to read additional background about the conflict, which would lead them to other parts of the answer. Strandquist said the class and Goldstein made such a strong connection that he eventually flew to the U.S. to meet the students. "Gabriel Goldstein, this man half way around the world, became their teacher," Strandquist says. "You can't duplicate anything like that in the traditional classroom setting. That is the kind of thing I envision with the Internet." Once he's comfortable using the technology, Strandquist plans to establish pen pal relationships for students in his English classes. "If a student can find an audience out there that is real and responds...the writing becomes the medium from which they communicate their message," he explains. "The laboratory of the Internet makes it more of a real experience for students." Work Experience Charlene Delaney, work experience coordinator at Eagan High, has been using e-mail to communicate with organizers of an English language camp in Torun, Poland, where she has taught the past four summers. "It's so fast and inexpensive," Delaney says of e-mail. "Third-world countries, and I include Poland in that category right now, have very limited communications. Air mail takes three weeks and surface mail can take three months. Now, with Internet, you can sit back at your computer and talk to one another almost instantaneously." Because of the tremendous speed advantage of e-mail, Delaney says the Internet's popularity is growing tremendously in Poland and other countries like it. E-mail is more convenient than a telephone call because of the time difference between countries; it beats the fax machine too because you don't have to pay extra for long distance. While Delaney is not the "techno-type," and would probably not be one to dive into new technology like Internet, she has seen how it can help her, and make her more effective as a teacher. She is now expanding her horizons by also using the Internet as a source for work-related information. Delaney feels not enough teachers at Eagan are currently using the Internet, perhaps somewhat intimidated by its size and complexities, but she expects that to change rather quickly as they are exposed to its potential as a learning tool. "I had to take a risk and say, 'I'm going to get on this road and see where it takes me,'" Delaney notes. "After awhile you get more comfortable with the scenery and the next time you say, 'I'm going to go a little farther down this road.' I remember watching my grandfather look overhead in awe at an airplane flying by. That's the way I feel about Internet. I'm kind of in awe over the whole thing. It's just amazing." Foreign Language Spanish teacher, Paul Saxton, has also gotten hooked on Internet, so much so that he says his wife now proclaims herself an "Internet widow." "I really get into it. It's like exploring," Saxton says. His students have already established pen pal relationships via e-mail with Spanish-speaking students outside of the U.S. His students send messages in Spanish and the Spanish-speaking students respond in English. "It's a cultural bridge to have an electronic pen pal," he notes. "It's like taking a field trip. We come to know each other for our different cultures, but we have a common language on the computer. I can say to the kids, 'Let's write a letter,' and we send it off and get a response almost immediately. The kids all of a sudden say, 'Wow, there is meaning...to verbs.' It's going to give meaning to learning." Saxton says it's also improving the quality of his students' work. "If they actually send something off on the information super highway knowing they are going to get a response, they are going to want to prepare better so they can be better understood," he explains. Business Law Business law teacher, Bethany Graves, hopes to take her students to the next level of the Internet learning curve. Graves has developed a new upper-level business law course at Eagan High that will require students to log-in (or telnet) to remote computers and retrieve or download (via file transfer protocol) information about actual legal cases. Graves said it was a student of hers who, while exploring on the Internet, stumbled across several valuable sources of current legal information, including the Library of Congress, law school libraries and news-paper articles. Graves said she hopes to begin offering the course this fall. Students will use the Internet to get information on court cases—the facts of the case, the date and location, names of the parties involved and the ruling—and will compare that information with precedent cases to come up with their own ruling. "Basically, they will be the deciding judge," she says. "The information available on the Internet is real life. It's not the basic stuff you get out of the book in most business law courses." Graves has explored the idea of offering a course like this in the past by subscribing to computer-assisted legal research services, but found that user fees would be too costly. "This information (on Internet) is free for the taking," she says. "And it's surprising how easy it is to use." Science Students in Denny Foreman's science classes at Eagan High School are already mining the Internet's resource-rich environment for things like current weather information and seismographic data. "It's instantaneous," Foreman says. "Whatever they are seeing is current, up-to-the-minute information. The Internet gives us information we can't get anywhere else." Foreman also hopes to use e-mail to link students in his astronomy course with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, which dedicates one of its 40-foot radio telescopes for use by teachers and students throughout the country. "We will be able to do some radio astronomy without having our own telescope to work with. It will let these students look at objects thought to be black holes, neutron stars, and pulsars—things that are higher radio transmitters than real light." The Internet, Foreman says, is enabling teachers to bring science to life for students. "One of the big pushes in science right now is to make it real to students," he says. "Internet makes it real because it is. I also feel students take more ownership in collecting the data for themselves (on the Internet)." Final Thoughts "We want to expose as many kids as possible to the Internet and get them in the type of learning situation so that they can walk out of here with the skills and technology that is available in the world today," explains Brian Johnson, computer science teacher at Eagan. Industrial technology teacher, Bruce Ness, agrees, "We are looking at this as part of the basic education package," he says. "As a ninth grader, you are connected globally." From that point on, of course, the possibilities are unlimited. n Tom Wilson, in his 18 years, has been a teacher, an assistant professor, and assistant principal then principal at two progressive high schools in Minnesota, including Rosemount High from 1979 to 1987. Since 1987, he has been principal at Eagan High School. Wilson has a career-long interest in technology as it applies to the teaching/learning process and management of schools. E-mail: email@example.com Gregory Utecht, a 24-year teacher, is in his 23rd year of using computers with students and teachers. He currently manages the computer networks and helps both students and staff members learn more about ways to use technology in education at Eagan High. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Products Mentioned: Cisco 2102 router; Cisco Systems, Inc., San Jose, Calif., (800) 553-6387 ComTalk HX router; APT Communications, Inc., Ijamsville, MD, (800) 842-0626 K-12 Home Page Sponsored Eagan High School has been named by Netscape Communications and JDL Technologies as the location for their K-12 World Home Page. "Eagan High School (EHS) is an ideal site for this home page for several reasons," states Thomas J. Lapping, president of JDL Technologies. "It has a rich environment for learning with technology as the core of its mission. The staff at EHS has a mature understanding of technology as it applies to the tasks of teaching and learning, and the large student population embraces technology." The goal of the K-12 World Home Page is to create a process for students across the curriculum to collaborate, gather and publish content. "It is not the published works which are important," says Tom Wilson, principal of Eagan High, "but the collaborative process that is developed with other schools and their students across the globe. Accomplishing the project will empower students to continue their education as they enter the work place." Eagan staff and students will work to develop processes and formats that can be replicated by other schools with Internet access and a World Wide Web Server. For additional information on the K-12 World Home Page, send e-mail to: email@example.com, or write to us at: K-12 World Home Page, Eagan High School, 4185 Braddock Trail, Eagan, MN 55123-1575.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.