The other night I was settling in for a too short of a late summer nap when my son turns the light on and jumps onto my bed. Now he wanted my help with his upcoming U.S. History vocabulary quiz the next day. He told me about the quiz earlier in the evening and I asked him what era of U.S. History he was studying. He told me he thought it was the colonial era and the Constitution, a rather vague but normal answer from a 16-year old. I offered then to help him with his vocabulary since I was a history teacher once upon a time. He declined my offer because he wanted to do it himself. Another normal answer from my son but this trait comes from my side of his DNA pool. Getting back to the story, he asks me about various terms such as Shay's Rebellion, compromise (I am glad he did not ask Members of Congress about this one), Virginia and New Jersey Plans, and other terms about the time the United States Constitution was written and ratified (another one of the terms). I helped him as best I could then he threw his notebook at me and asked me to go over the terms with him.
As I looked over his work I noticed what he had written was not quite right but not really wrong either. The problem was his definitions did not fit the context of U.S. History. I asked him where he got his definitions from. My son replied, "Dictionary.com." Huh?! No wonder things looked disjointed. I told my son that while Dictionary.com could define words, he needs to find a history site that would give him the definitions he needed for class. In the past I had students turn-in such work and I gave partial credit because the work did not encompass the historical topic we were studying. However, in those days, students who had Internet access was not very common.
This past Friday night I saw my son's U.S. History teacher, an old friend from when we taught together, and relayed the story about the study session with him. His hope was that the students were using their textbooks. News flash for all of you who think students really use textbooks at home or involved in the argument about virtual textbooks! Students stopped using textbooks at home years ago. The things are too heavy, get destroyed by rain at sports practices (who uses lockers), and too big a pain to use for students to use. Guess where they go? That's right, the Internet. You probably could tap into the browser histories of some of your better students and you would have your online textbook ready to go. However, there are students like my son who will make an honest effort but often go to the wrong website for information. I told my friend he might want to find a history website that would have the information he wanted and share that with his classes. This is something we all should probably do. It occured to me that students are now driving the innovations with our input or without it. Which way would you want it?