DECEMBER 27, 1995
High technology in the classroom. Is it an asset, or a liability? Is it the way to prepare the nation's school children for the 21st century? Michael Lemonick of "Time Magazine," prepares a special report.
ED GREAVEY, Science Teacher: All right. Let's go.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: These high school freshmen are going on a scavenger hunt, a search for information, and they're going all over the world.
ED GREAVEY: Instead of leaving the class and going out and getting things, you leave the class through the computer, go out on the Internet and see how many of these things you can find.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: This is a typical science class at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey. This is not a typical high school. At this high-tech high, students and teachers are using the latest technologies as powerful new tolls to open the world of information. And with those new technologies have come big changes. Rather than just passively absorbing the information the teachers give them, students say they are becoming self-directed learners.
STUDENT: (talking to other student) This would be the definition right here.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: And rather than just fill their students full of information, teachers say they are becoming the students' guides to getting that information on their own.
ED GREAVEY: So what I've given them is a series of places to go out on the Internet and find objects, and I set it up ahead of time so that these are places that should exist with specific objects, like the name of a volcano, the most recent earthquake in San Diego, or something like that.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: Students and teachers have plugged themselves into a vast network of information, and together, they're becoming knowledge navigators, excited by the joys of discovery.
STUDENT: Oh, oh, that one--Stocktonboro.
FELLOW STUDENT: Stocktonboro.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: There was a time in American schools when knowledge came almost exclusively from textbooks and teachers. From them, students learned what they needed to know to get jobs in the factors and workplaces of the industrial age. That time has passed. There's been an explosion of information in the world, more information than anyone could help to learn in a lifetime, more than a teacher can teach, so now students need to know where to find that information, how to access it, and how to use it. At Hunterdon Central, computer technology is making that possible. This school is about as plugged in as you can get. The entire campus is wired into the school's computer network, a bulletin board system which can be accessed from any classroom and even from home.
STUDENT: (demonstrating) You call up and they'd ask you to log in, give your name and a password, and they would tell you if you have any mail, and then ours is, it's set up like floors, and on each floor, you would, there would be different things, like games and chat and message bases, and you can talk to other people in the community, anybody that calls you, or you can even send messages out over the Internet.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: The school has turned outdated wood and metal shops into prototype science and technology classrooms.
TEACHER: When the reaction is finished, we have a white powder.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: Video monitors have replaced blackboards, and the teachers use computer software to write their own lesson plans and classroom presentations.
TEACHER: The general reaction shows element A combining with element B to produce compounds AB.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: Students can dial into machines that hold a vast library of educational CD- roms, disks that store pictures, text, sounds, and moving images. And the regular library is plugged into the Internet and databases around the world. All this frees up students to study just about anything they want from almost any room in the school at their own pace, in their own time.
STUDENT: I'm trying to find information on an article about the Missouri Compromise for a social studies project.
STUDENT: We've got an online magazine on here, and I'm just reading one of the short stories that's printed on it.
STUDENT: Right now I'm using our Internet services to navigate the Web.
STUDENT: I'm just researching on welfare for a project in history.
SPOKESPERSON: We have an art class down here right now. There's two social studies classes later on. There will be English classes down, science classes. This is just another laboratory. It's an extension of the classroom.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: Ray Farley is the superintendent whose goal was to lead this school out of the industrial age and into the information age.
RAYMOND FARLEY, Superintendent of Schools: You need the technologies to make all this happen. If you want students to be directly involved in their learning, they have to have the tools. And the tools can't enter the classroom door. Those tools have to be available to them at home, in another classroom. They have to be able to seek information whenever they need the information.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: Farley set out to prove that he could improve the education of his students with new technology. So, with existing surplus funds, he turned under-used and outmoded industrial arts shops into new technology labs. In these prototype classrooms, he demonstrated his ideas about self-directed learning, showing that he could excite and empower both students and teachers.
RAYMOND FARLEY: We're not just talking about technology. We talk about technology as the new pedagogical tools. What we're saying here is that we want to empower the people who are involved in the learning process.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: The teachers especially were given whatever they needed to understand and embrace the new technologies.
TEACHER: What you need to be able to do is get around, move around on the Web, and find stuff out there that you can bring to the classroom, or that you can bring in for your own personal use. And that's hopefully what I'm going to show you how to do.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: The school has started a teaching academy, where the teachers can learn how to get and use information, in this case from the Internet.
TEACHER: It has helped change the way I teach already in my ability to find resources for my classes, in order for me to get up-to-date information, in order for me to do a lot of research right online. It's been really good.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: At this school, the teachers are also encouraged to take risks and come up with innovative ways to use these new technological tools.
JOHN LIVECCHI, English Teacher: You can go to the library and you can check this out just like you check out a book.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: English teacher John Livecchi got support and funding from the school to write a CD-rom tutorial on Homer's Odyssey, a difficult work that for 26 years he taught mostly to advanced students.
JOHN LIVECCHI: Click on that little lightning bolt, and it's going to show you the path that Telemacus took from Ithaca down to Pylos.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: With his multimedia CD-rom, he now teaches it to students of all ability levels.
JOHN LIVECCHI: Multimedia offers unprecedented tools for opening up very difficult works, so the student can work at his or her own pace. All right. This thing never tells the kid what is the right way to work, what is the wrong way to work. It's very patient. The kid is directing it, so when the kid directs it, that means that the kid is in charge of it, and making the kid in charge of it makes the kid feel powerful. And I think that that enhances learning.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: In Florence McGinn's poetry class, the students are using technology to learn from each other.
FLORENCE McGINN: "Metallic blood drips to my tongue, where I taste its"--now here's an unusual thing--he's put red on a line all by itself. What do you think, Kim?
KIM: I'm liking it. No, I think it's got good tone. I like the way he puts in "red" for a noun and you can taste it.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: Students have the chance to publish their works in the school's electronic magazine called "Electric Soup," and whenever they want, they can chat online with their peers who have read their work.
FLORENCE McGINN: Robey's one of the contributors to our electronic magazine, "Electric Soup," and he's got a free-write in the magazine, and right now he's getting some feedback from his editors, as well as from students that are in other rooms that have read his free-write.
ROBEY: And it was kind of about how love is a really great thing that has been commercialized because it's been used so many times over the millennia. So many people have been in love and felt compelled to write that poetry about it that it gets a little over-used.
FEMALE STUDENT: Robey can really write well, I think, and it's a really good example of free- write. Like he, there's not like a specific form or structure. It's not like an essay, you know, and like the topic that he writes about, which is like how like love is over-used and like played out.
FLORENCE McGINN: The teacher isn't your one source of evaluation in judgment. You learn to begin to think for yourself so that your tools as a thinker and as a writer are expanded and you get various feedbacks, and you no longer feel that there's only one right choice, the choice that's going to please your teacher and generate a specific grade.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: Computers are freeing up students to perform experiments that they never could in the past. This physics lab is another sophisticated classroom, built from an old industrial arts shop.
LARS WENDT, Physics Teacher: The kids are sliding down these blocks down the inclined planes and using the computers to determine the acceleration. From that, we're going to go backwards and figure out what the coefficient of static and kinetic friction is.
RAYMOND FARLEY: It allows the students to take off on their own. No longer are they captive to just an instructor controlling the environment, and that's the big difference. Now the teacher can move into a new role of facilitator and can move around and work with students on an individual basis, which is the ideal we want for all our kids, and the computers literally free us up to do that.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: That's what it comes down to, freedom. Students have the tools to freely explore the entire world of information, and teachers have the freedom to use those tools as they see fit in their classrooms.
JOHN LIVECCHI: We find that the kids are really retaining what they learn because it's self- directed learning. You know, learning on your own is a real pleasure, and when you discover the pleasure of learning something for yourself, there's no replacement for it.
RAYMOND FARLEY: The environment we're creating is changing the role that the teacher, the student, the attitudes in the classroom, those are the powerful things that are really happening here, and things that students can take with them after they leave school.
MICHAEL LEMONICK: That will be the real test of success, how well the graduates keep up with the job market where the Labor Department says new workers will likely change their jobs five times in the course of their careers.