Diane Teal is a very smart teacher.
The grade six teacher at McCormick Middle School in Boston knew her students were spending hours online every night sending each other instant messages. After all, which teenager with access to a computer and the Internet isn't doing this? But rather than moaning about "Kids not spending time doing homework," or "What is this world coming to?" Teal decided to use this new technology to her advantage.
"I told all the kids that I knew there were spending lots of time online each night," she told me after we met at a school supplies store in a Boston suburb. "So I paired them with another student as a 'study buddy' and told them they had to help each other, online, with the work assignments. If they didn't, I would tell their parents that they were wasting their time online."
Teal then went one step further. She signed up for instant messaging and logged on each night to answer students' questions.
As a result, Teal said, students' marks improved. Some dramatically.
Sad to say, Diane Teal is the exception, rather than the rule, according to "The Digital Disconnect," a new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. According to an earlier Pew Internet survey, 78 percent of middle and high school students use the Internet (probably a conservative figure), and that 94 percent of that number had used the Internet as a major research source for a recent major school project. The new report says the "most Internet-savvy among them complain that their teachers don't use the Internet in class or create assignments that exploit great Web material."