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Lesson 1 : Networks

Updated: May 6

Learning Objectives


By the end of the lesson, students will know and demonstrate understanding of:

  • the concept of network; 

  • different types of networks (social networks, computer networks, community networks, family networks, mycorrhizal networks); and 

  • that the Internet is a network of networked computers. 


Overview of Ontario Curriculum Connections


A: Literacy Connections and Applications

  • A2.4: Forms, Conventions & Techniques

B: Foundations of Language

  • B1. Oral and Non-Verbal Communication: apply listening, speaking and non-verbal communication skills and strategies to understand and communicate meaning in formal and informal contexts and for various purposes and audiences

  • B1.1 use effective listening skills, including asking questions to encourage a speaker (partner) to elaborate, and responding to the contributions of others in group discussions, in formal and informal contexts and for various purposes

  • B2.2: Vocabulary

C: Comprehension  

  • C1.1 read and comprehend various texts, using knowledge of words, grammar, cohesive ties, sentence structures and background knowledge

  • C3.2 make local and global inferences using explicit and implicit evidence to extend their understanding of various texts

D: Composition

  • D1.4 select and classify ideas and collected information, using appropriate strategies and tools, and sequence content, taking into account the chosen text form, genre and medium 


Background Knowledge for Teachers about Networks

The Concept of Network


What is a network? Understanding the Internet requires students to understand the concept of network. Simply defined, a network is a group or system of interconnected things. The interconnected things could be people, or computers, or trees in a forest. Importantly, the connections among all of the things can be social or physical. Computer networks are connected by wires, routers, modems and technological protocols. Trees in the forest are connected by mycelial (fungal) threads that run horizontally and vertically under the ground’s surface, connecting all of the trees in a forest to one another (Simard, 2021). Networks of people are connected by common, shared experiences, and by the relationships that develop among them.


Example of a Network. All of the people in your school form a network. Teachers know one another; students know one another. Teachers know students, and students, of course, know teachers. Within the network, there will be some “nodes” with many connections; others will have very few. Some teachers and students will know everyone in the building (e.g., a teacher who has been at the school for a long time; the president of the student council); some teachers and students will know very few people (e.g., because they just started in their job, or recently moved to the community). The school network connects to the network of local community associations, and to the network of local businesses. And of course, the school network also connects to the many family networks represented by each person who comes to the school to work and learn every day. For more information, visualisations of networks and information about social network analysis, teachers might be interested in this Wikipedia Article or in this brief Medium article by Dima Goldenberg.


The Internet is a network. In the simplest terms, the Internet is a network of networked computers. And what’s interesting is that the applications we use on our computers and phones – websites, search engines, social networking platforms, news aggregators – are all built on the logic of networks as well. This is important for students and it is a core idea in Seeking Draven. Built on a networked technology, everything that is created because of it, and through it, is inextricable from its structural affordances and limitations. This is what Canadian Philosopher Marshall McLuhan (1964) meant when he famously wrote, “the medium is the message” because “it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (p. 2).


The concept of Network in Seeking Draven. One of the central themes in Seeking Draven is network. The protagonist, Teagan, loves mushrooms and fungi, some of which create networks of fibres beneath the forest floor that connect plants and trees. These mycorrhizal (fungal) networks provide nutrients to trees and plants. They also facilitate the exchange of chemical signals that enable the forest to function as a connected organism to environmental conditions (Simard, 2021). At different moments in the book, fungal networks are used as a metaphor for three other kinds of networks – family networks, online social media networks, and self as network. In the book, Teagan’s brother, Draven, disappears, leaving a huge hole in Teagan’s family. She tries to find him using social media networks, and in the process, she gets pulled into situations, interactions, and behaviours that leave her with a spectrum of emotions.  These lessons are designed for teachers to help their students in grades 4-6 contemplate both the opportunities and the risks associated with online networks. 


Lesson 1 Activities

1A: Exploring students’ background knowledge of Networks

  • B: Foundations of Language

  • B1.1 Listening

  • B2.2 Vocabulary

  • C: Comprehension

  • C1.1 Read and comprehend various texts

  • C3.2 Make local and global inferences

  • D: Composition

  • D1.4 select and classify information


Materials: Scraps of Paper, pencils, tape


  • Think-pair-share to explore what students know about Networks This can be used as a diagnostic assessment opportunity that will inform revision to the pacing and the content that is appropriate for your students.

  • Think: On a piece of paper, invite students to draw “a network.” 

  • Pair: Invite students to share their drawings with a partner. 

  • Students Discuss: What is the same between your drawings? What is different? 

  • Follow up questions: Can you find a consensus view? Can you draw your agreed-upon understanding of what a network is? What are the key features of your networks?

  • Share: Each team sticks their agreed-upon image on the white board or on a wall. 

  • Together, they describe to the class the features of networks and the types of networks they know. 

  • Teacher keeps track of the key ideas expressed by the teams during presentations and provides a synthesis of the frequently occurring ideas in students’ drawings and explanations of networks. 

  • These key, synthesized concepts could be projected or written on a whiteboard. Ideas that might come up in students’ network drawings include: connections of things/connected things; links, relationships, groups, information sharing, resource sharing, social networks, computer networks, communities. 

  • Students might already know different types of networks. Be sure to keep a list of the different types of networks that students identify.


Important: The summative assignment in this unit plan invites students to create a map of their personal networks. This Lesson 1 activity is students’ first opportunity to explore the idea of network and to consider the types of networks in which they themselves are nested. They will draw from the ideas generated during this first lesson later in the unit.  


1B: Different Types of Networks: Connections to Seeking Draven, to Plant Science and Digital Literacies


Curriculum Connections

  • A: Literacy Connections and Applications

  • A2.4 — network as the foundational structural form of digital texts

  • B: Foundations of Language

  • B2.2 Vocabulary — e.g., networks, fungi, mycorrhizal, world wide web, woodwide web

  • C: Comprehension

  • C1.1 Read and comprehension various texts

  • C3.2 Make local and global inferences using explicit and implicit evidence to extend their understanding of various texts


FUNGAL (Mycorrhizal) NETWORKS & COMPUTER NETWORKS (The Internet)

The main character in the book, Seeking Draven, is a 10-year-old girl named Teagan. Teagan loves fungi. From the first poem it is clear that she is fascinated and drawn to them. 


Read the poem The Day I Got Lost (1 of 4) with students.  


The Day I Got Lost (1 of 4)

I was hunting.

Late August, a day after rain,

The woods around our cottage popping with mushrooms.

All sorts, for my fungi sketchbook.

Don’t go too far, Dad said.

You’re only ten, he said.

Not old enough for off the path.

Draven’s chopping wood—

Your brother and me both, too busy.

Yes, I promised.

I’ll just stay close.

I was a fungi detective, seeking suspects,

Following the clues like

Who they hung with,

Where they hung out,

When I caught a glimpse of colour,

Like fairy gold.

I hoped it would be

Chanterelles, those tasty trumpets,

Growing under oaks and pines, in groups,

Like families.

I had to check,

And stepped into thorns, picking through to find—

—Nope.

My fairy gold looked just like orange peels.

But there!

A little farther …

I checked.

I had to check.

The dark woods weren’t so dark    yet.

And I took out my sketchbook. 


Follow up: 

  • After reading the poem with students, teachers can invite students to identify the dimensions of networks that the author integrates into this poem (e.g., “…who they hung with / where they hung out / growing under oaks and pines in groups / Like families…”)

  • Ask students to describe features of any mushrooms that they have found outside, in the woods, or in the parks, or in places in their communities

  • During the discussion, the teacher can capture students’ knowledge of mushrooms on a whiteboard, chart paper or digital document. 

  • It is important to include information here about safety—about how some mushrooms are safe to eat, but others are poisonous, and that foraging requires training and adult supervision.


Information for Students (can be presented organically as students discuss their own experiences of observing mushrooms or as a more direct, formal presentation using slides or a paper-based resource) 

  • Certain types of fungi pass information and sustenance (water, nitrogen, carbon and other minerals) along long fibres or corridors that run horizontally and vertically across the forest floor. This creates a network that connects plants and trees to one another.

  • The German forester Peter Wohlleben was the first person to suggest that the network of connections within a forest floor was like the Worldwide Web, coining the term the Woodwide Web



 

Question: How is this fungal network like the Internet?

  • Show students this image, or other images of fungal networks. 

  • Invite students to share their thoughts about the similarities between the Wood Wide Web of fungus, and the Internet. 

  • During discussion, explain to students that the Internet is a very, very big network of millions of connected computers that store information, send information, and receive information from one another. You might consider sharing images from the Mozilla Developer Network to support students’ understanding of what a computer network looks like. 

  • And, just like mycorrhizal networks, the Internet is mostly underground. There are special wires (called fibre optic cables) running all over the planet, even under the ocean. The wires travel over mountains and through valleys, under our streets, and even under our school yards to connect computers together so they can share information. 

  • If we live in an area where the Internet wires have been put down under the ground, then, we can connect to the Internet with our computers in our classrooms and at home. We connect our computers to a special computer called a router that links us into the Internet, and makes sure that information we send goes to the right place, and that we also receive the information we have requested. 


Outdoor connection: If your school is located in a place where students might have easy access to a grove of trees, a forest or a park with trees, this lesson could also be adapted for the outdoors. The exploration of networks of connected organisms might also be an opportunity to invite local Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers with whom your school community has relations to lead a discussion about Indigenous ways of thinking about Networks. 


What about Cell Phones? and Cell Towers?


  • Our cell phones are computers too. Cell phone towers connect to the underground Internet wires. Their job is to turn the information travelling along the wires (which is a form of light) into radio waves (sound waves) that can be sent to and then read by, your cell phone. Metaphorically, we can think of the Cell Towers as mushrooms – the fruiting bodies of fungal networks. They pop out of the ground and spread spores (mushroom seeds) that travel on the wind. This extends the mycelial network even further.  

  • Fun Fact for Curious Kids: There are waves circulating everywhere all of the time. How does information not get all mixed up? Every cell phone and every computer that connects to the Internet has a unique name – a code called an IP address that is a long list of numbers. Everything we send or receive is associated with our unique IP address – so our emails and web browsing history are all attributable to the machines we use. 


1C. Formative Assessments


Curriculum Connections

D: Composition

  • D1.4 Organizing Content; Select and classify ideas and content

  • D2.1 Producing Drafts: draft texts of various forms and genres


Invite students to complete this table in which they organize their emergent knowledge and understandings of computer networks and fungal networks. The first row is completed here as a way to support students’ understanding of what information to look for and how to respond. 


Computer Networks

Fungal Networks

How they connect to one another?

through cables that run underground

through mycelial threads that run underground

What/who do they connect?



How they grow?



Where they can be found?



What they transmit/share?




Lesson 1 Reflection 

This lesson introduced the concept of networks and how the internet works. 

In what ways do the students consider themselves part of a network?


Teachers could invite students to write a paragraph in response to this prompt, or draw a first (draft) picture of themselves as being part of a network. Both of these compositional options will prepare students for the final (summative) assignment.



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