The Internet is an
amazingly complex system of interconnected computers and networks.
It can send millions of packets of data, along different routes,
from New York to Japan in only a few seconds and then reassemble
those packets to form a picture on your screen. As much as I
use the Internet this fact still amazes me. As unbelievable as
the technology is, a lot of people do get frustrated when this
system has a temporary problem which slows their connection or
prevents them from accessing it at all. This is very
understandable but should not be reason alone to stop using the
technology, which is unfortunately how some people react to it.
This would be like you deciding to never watch your cable TV again
after it went out for a few hours. My point is that the
Internet is not 100% reliable but this should not be a reason to
stop using it or to be constantly worried that it will not be
available when you need it.
On the other hand, I
also understand what it means to have a room full of 30 7th graders
who all need to access CNN.com for that day's lesson and who cannot
get online. That is why I always stress the importance of
having a non-technology based back-up plan in case the Internet or
other equipment develops problems. Unfortunately, as much as I
stress the importance of having such plan many teachers see it as
time consuming and often tell me that they simply do not have time
to put one together prior to starting their project. I always
hear back from them the following year saying that they wished they
had developed one because as we all know it is not a question of
will the technology fail but when. On a final note, when you
develop your back up plan you will want to make sure that you have
everything you need ready to go at a moments notice. If you
have to photocopy papers or other work to get prepared you will
often not have the time to get it all done. Again, putting a
little time into developing a simple back up plan will definitely
pay off in the long run. So, here are a few ideas for back-up
plans that are easy to put together and which can be used at any
I used to have a small
library of videos that dealt with most of the subjects that I taught
all year. When we encountered a problem with the Internet I
would sometimes bring out one of the videos and would have the
students watch it instead. I also had some worksheets and
group activities that went along with the video that I would use.
This worked well because the videos were general in nature and
therefore could be watched at any point in during the project and
still make sense to the students.
We looked at a few techniques
for saving Internet information to your hard drive or disk.
This can be a good back up plan as well as it allows you to show
students Internet-based information even if your connection goes
down. This works well when there is a really critical need for
some particular Internet data on a given day. For example,
maybe you want the students to analyze the infrared satellite image
on a given day but are concerned that the Internet might not be
available. You could download the image, save it to a disk,
and then bring it in as a back up. This technique works well
but can only be used for that specific lesson. It would not
help you a week later when you are covering a different topic and
need a back up plan.
I often included a
research project with each unit I covered with my students.
This was usually on a topic they could select and was something they
worked on in their spare time and handed in at the end of the unit.
When the Internet connection went down I would often just give them
the class period to continue researching their topic. I had
several CD-ROMs that they could use as well as a range of reference
books. I usually set aside 2-3 classes for this research
anyway so if we used some of them as "backup plans" then I
would just have fewer scheduled during the unit.
Discussion or Debate
If the Internet went
down, I would sometimes use the class period for a class debate or
discussion. I would break the class into groups and have them
each pick out a position or question from a hat. The issues
related to the topic of the unit and dealt with ethical questions.
For example, I asked them if their were a farmer and they found an
endangered species of rabbits eating their crops, would they kill
it? What if they had to support their family and the rabbit was
eating the last of their food? The students had fun with this
activity and it provided some time to expose them to issues and
questions not normally discussed in my science class.