Ideas to implement in the Middle School curriculum
NOTE: A great number of the assignments and exercises outlined in the High School/College section of this site can be applied in Middle School courses as well. Be sure to check that section for additional ideas of use in many disciplines.
Hot-Issues assignment: Assign students to select a topic and search for and compile the best quotes about it in the section of the Imagining the Internet site titled “The Early ’90s Predictions Database.” The topic categories include such things as copyright, anonymity, censorship, crime, privacy, information overload, e-commerce, virtual reality and many others, and they can be found in the pull-down menus.
- Have students quote 10 to 15 of the best past predictions on the selected topic and note why they chose them and what they think about them. Have them focus on any moral/ethical implications and the future.
- Every technological breakthrough has its pros and cons. You can teach this by dividing your class in half and leading a spirited debate on the good and bad sides of the Internet. Ask one team to make a list of all of the good aspects of the Internet and ask the other to come up with a list of negatives. Examples: we can shop from the comfort of home; share our writing, photos and videos with anyone anywhere in the world for free; play in fantasy sports leagues and compete in multi-player games with people from every nation; VERSUS the fact that people can easily steal and make unlimited digital copies of a person’s copyrighted music, writing and other creations; terrorists and criminals can use the Internet to plan attacks and commit crimes; people are sharing dangerous information (bomb-making instructions and how to commit suicide) and pornography, etc.
Copyright/Fair Use assignment: Ask students to write about the importance of copyright in today’s digital, file-swapping society. Encourage use of the Early 1990s Predictions Database and other areas of the site to find what Internet stakeholders and skeptics have said in arguing this issue. Many interesting statements on this topic can be found by using “copyright” as a search term on the Imagining the Internet page.
- This is also a good chance to discuss other ethical issues (privacy, surveillance, anonymity, free speech, etc.). A list of these controversial topics can easily be found by using the pull-down menus under “Subtopic” under the “Advanced Search” headline.
- One good way to explore interesting social and political issues is in an essay assignment. Students can study a particular controversial topic and then write a 300-word essay in support of one side or another.
PSAT Practice: Writing skills are a key component of both the PSAT and SAT tests. Another way in which students can use materials on the Imagining the Internet site to buoy their writing skills is to have them to write a well-supported short essay on the future.
A Look Back assignment: Middle school students should understand the history of modern communications technologies, and they should be able to use search engines to find information. First, they should be assigned to use the “Back 150 Years” timeline section of the Imagining the Internet site to read a briefing about key inventors and inventions and select one technology to study. Next, students should be asked to find at least three to five sites on the Internet to use as the additional basis for their work and then assemble a brief research report, poster talk and/or PowerPoint or Keynote presentation about that selected technology and its influence on social, economic and political structures of human society. They should be required to include a section with citations that document all of the sites they used as resources.
A Look Ahead assignment: Teachers can employ the “Forward 150 Years” timeline and its branching pages to help students understand how the future may unfold. This section of the Imagining the Internet site offers a selection of the predictions that scientists and other experts are sharing now about what is to come in the decades ahead. You can assign students to write a descriptive outline of the key expectations for the future and accompany it with an essay in which they speculate about what these developments might mean for them and for their children in the years ahead. What will a typical day be like in the year 2030? What will our homes, businesses and tools be like? Students can compile their work in a research report, poster talk and/or PowerPoint or Keynote presentation.
Researching the Past: Assign your students to select an internet visionary and find and study a number of that person’s predictions about our future and write a thoughtful response with his or her personal opinion about how each of the predictions are unfolding and will turn out in the future. Using the “Early ’90s” section of the Imagining the Internet site and additional web resources, each student can write a three-page paper, put together a poster presentation or use PowerPoint, Keynote or other presentation software to create a piece of work that includes a number of predictions, their reaction to them and the visionary’s brief biography. This can also be accomplished as a group project. Many brief descriptive biographies for students to begin with can be found here.
Some examples, each with one sample quote included:
- Vernor Vinge, scientist, teacher and science-fiction author: “If we ever succeed in making machines as smart as humans, then it’s only a small leap to imagine that we would soon thereafter make – or cause to be made – machines that are even smarter than any human. And that’s it. That’s the end of the human era.”
- R.U. Sirius (AKA Ken Goffman), an editor of the magazine Mondo 2000 and social technology critic: “Who’s going to control all this technology? The corporations, of course. And will that mean your brain implant is going to come complete with a corporate logo, and 20 percent of the time you’re going to be hearing commercials?”
- Gordon Bell, computing pioneer and internet prognosticator: “Since we are all spending hours browsing, there will be info-way addiction. And that’s followed by info-way regulations … And then, 4D so we can do virtual reality.”
- Dorothy Denning, expert on issues of computer-security threats: “If encryption comes into widespread use on the information superhighway, this could seriously jeopardize law enforcement and the public safety. Encryption is also a threat to foreign intelligence operations, and thus can affect national security.”
- George Gilder, futurist and technology consultant; author of many books, including “Telecosm” and “Life After Television”: “Neighborhood children could gather in micro-schools run by parents, churches, or other local institutions. The competition of home schooling would either destroy the public school system or force it to become competitive with rival systems.”
- Esther Dyson, leading technology consultant: “Chief among the new rules is that ‘content is free’ … The way to become a leading content provider may be to start by giving your content away. This ‘generosity’ isn’t a moral decision: It’s a business strategy.”
- Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, longtime Wired magazine columnist: “When you come home, before you take off your coat, your shoes can talk to the carpet in preparation for delivery of the day’s personalized news to your glasses.”
- William Mitchell of MIT, author of the prescient book “City of Bits” (available free online and a great discussion tool): “Buildings will become computer interfaces and computer interfaces will become buildings … We are all cyborgs now. Architects and urban designers of the digital era must begin by reauthorizing the body in space.”
- Tim Berners-Lee, developer of the World Wide Web: “I had (and still have) a dream that the Web could be less of a television channel and more of an interactive sea of shared knowledge. I imagine it immersing us as a warm, friendly environment made of the things we and our friends have seen, heard, believe or have figured out.”
- John Perry Barlow, expert on people’s rights in the info age and lyricist for the Grateful Dead: “When cryptography is outlawed, bayl bhgynjf jvyy unir cevinpl!”
- Bruce Sterling, Wired magazine columnist and author: “Computers are a challenge and a threat, and they’re changing our society in ways that we can’t control and don’t understand. They’re not to be trusted.”
- Clifford Stoll, an astrophysicist, computer user and skeptic who warns that there are negatives to the technology revolution: “The heavily promoted information infrastructure addresses few social needs or business concerns. At the same time, it directly threatens precious parts of our society, including schools, libraries and social institutions. No birds sing.”