School's in - online

Although it seems like much of the education content on the Net now comes with a price tag - as sites struggle to make money - a great deal of Web material for students is still available for free. To help you prepare for the new school year we've gathered together a wealth of resources for primary and secondary students, as well as some sites that offer information that will appeal to students across the age spectrum.

Of course, the other issue for kids using the Net for help with schoolwork is how to find the right information. To address this issue, we've included some tips for advanced searching. However, the question still remains of how to work out what to trust on the Net. Just as there's great homework help online, there's also information of dubious quality - sites run by white supremacists denying the Holocaust ever happened is just one example of the danger in the Web free-for-all.

Many kids already know that they can't trust everything they see on the Net, just as they learn to be sceptical about what they read in newspapers or see on TV, but it still pays to warn them to test the info they find online before using it in their studies. Comparing suspect information with that found at trusted sites (such as those run by organisations like the CSIRO) and text books, as well as asking teachers for clarification, are good first steps.

Something else to keep in mind when encouraging your kids to use the Net is privacy. New regulations have just come into effect for Australian sites, but those operated in other countries may not offer the same protection. Kids (and many adults, too!) are often not immune to the call of free stuff and give away too much detail in the hope of winning something. Help your kids protect their privacy by explaining what information needs to be kept private and what you're happy for them to tell sites.

SITES FOR STUDENTS OF ALL AGES

EdNA

Education Network Australia's site (www.edna.edu.au) is a great first port of call on the Net for information on all types of training and education. The section on school education is easy to navigate, offering links to information for parents, teachers and students. Parents, for instance, can review the current issues and priorities of the education system, while kids can access information on curricula and exchange and scholarship programs. Using the 'Key Learning Areas' tab you can find links to other useful sites on education topics that fit with school studies.

Discovernet

Billed as a gateway to Australian museums and galleries, Discovernet (www.amol.org.au/discovernet) has good resources for students. Check out the Study Booster section for links to the online outposts of museums around the country. Many are high-quality multimedia presentations - great for children who live outside the major cities and can't make regular visits to major museums. There's also a museum locater and a directory of museum Web sites.

StudentNet

StudentNet (www.studentnet.edu. au) was created by Australian educators to help parents, teachers and students find Web resources that relate to what is taught in this country. You have to register, but doing so gives you access to topic-based forums (for both primary and secondary classes), search facilities and chat rooms that let kids talk to other students.

National Geographic

Besides being a great site, National Geographic's online offering (www.nationalgeographic.com ) comes with a privacy policy for children as well as adults. There's a kids' section, but everyone will find the general resources like maps, photo galleries and stories of adventures interesting.

Free pics for assignments

Add some spark to major projects with some pictures taken by professional photographers. FreeFoto.com (www. freefoto.com) has easily searchable pictures that are free for non-commercial use.

Kid-friendly search tools

The Web is a great source of information for students of all ages - but where do you find the right information? Engines like Google are a good place to start, but there are purpose-built tools for kids. Visit Kidsclick (www.kidsclick.org/ksearch.html) for an aggregation page of educational- and student-oriented search sites, including Ask Jeeves for Kids and several vetted resources. Also see "Search tips: the tricks of the search trade" on page 52 for more tips on searching.

PRIMARY SCHOOL

Games (they're "educational, really!)

US site The Learning Planet (www. learningplanet.com) has resources for members, but non-members can play a selection of educational games. Games are grouped by age and topic. Funbrain is another source for educational online games (www.funbrain.com).

How Stuff Works

Curiosity is a good thing - but what happens when you don't have all the answers to your kid's questions? A quick visit to How Stuff Works (www.howstuffworks.com) should help. There are loads of explanations for science and technology, as well as everyday stuff (how the caffeine in coffee affects us, for instance). There's also a section for current affairs that explains topical issues.

Webmonkey

Kids are never too young to start building their own Web pages - plus, it could be a great way to produce an A-grade assignment. Webmonkey for kids (http://hotwired.lycos.com/Webmonkey/kids) has lessons on designing and building a Web page, as well as step-by-step projects (including one on how to make an online report or assignment) once the basics have been mastered.

Double Helix and Scientriffic

CSIRO runs a number of education sites for students of science: Double Helix is its science club, while Scientriffic caters for kids under eight. Visit the Double Helix site (www.csiro.au/helix/index.html) for info on experiments and news on upcoming events as well as back issues of the club's magazine, The Helix. There's also a store selling books, clothing and experiment kits.

HIGH SCHOOL

Study tips

This site (www.unc.edu/depts/unc_caps/TenTraps.html), maintained by an American university, has advice for preparing for exams and avoiding common pitfalls. For more tips on listening in class, taking notes and improving reading skills, visit www.how-to-study.com. This site is also US-based but it provides practical, straightforward advice for getting more out of school - primary, secondary and even tertiary students may find the ideas for building better study skills useful.

To be or not to be.

At some point during high school, a kid is bound to come across Shakespeare. A single site is not going to inspire great love for the Bard in your kids, but this one (http://library.thinkquest.org/19539) created by students has some interesting sections. The puns and insults section is particularly good.

Science central

Goscience (www.goscience.com.au) does a great job of hiding some really useful content within a fun, well-designed site. Kids thinking of working in science might want to take a look at the careers section to see what kinds of jobs are available.

Australian Libraries Gateway

Behind the bland front page (www. nla.gov.au/libraries/path.html) of this site is a wealth of great information from libraries around the country. You can use this site to click through to picture, oral history and historical document and manuscript collections - all valuable resources for students of Australian history and social science, as well as other subjects. Don't miss the Picture Australia Collection (www.picture australia.org), which helpfully provides 'Paths' on subjects like Aboriginal art, bushrangers and the Olympics.

Art history resources on the Web

Maintained by a US art history professor, this site (http://witcombe. sbc.edu/ARTHLinks.html) has links to resources on just about every art genre there is. Easy navigation and an exhaustive listing of topics (countries, museums, traditions, and so on) make this a good example of what an online directory should be. The sheer number of links to other sites is staggering.

Departments online

Visit the site of your state's department of education for information on classes and curriculum, new programs and for details like term dates.

New South Wales: www.schools.nsw.edu.au.

Queensland: http://education.qld.gov.au.

Victoria: www.deet.vic.gov.au/deet.

Northern Territory: www.education.nt.gov.au.

Western Australia: www.eddept.wa.edu.au.

Tasmania: www.education.tas.gov.au.

South Australia: www.dete.sa.gov.au.

ACT: www.decs.act.gov.au.

Commonwealth site: www.detya.gov.au.

Search tips: the tricks of the search trade By Scott Spanbauer.

Knowing how to quickly find the information they're after will help students get more out of their time on the Net - and avoid inappropriate content. Here are some tips for getting the most from your queries:

Read the instructions

Most search sites tell you how to get the best results using their engine, so read before you search.

Be specific but concise

Include sufficient search terms to get the links you want at the top of the list. Too many terms can push the page you want to the bottom, however. Start with a few terms, then add or replace them one at a time to get better results.

Go Boolean

The Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT let you include or exclude pages based on their content. For example, searching for "Sopwith AND Camel AND Snoopy" yields only pages about the Peanuts character's escapades as a World War I flying ace; Sopwith AND Camel NOT Snoopy blocks out most Peanuts-related pages - provided the engine recognises the NOT operator.

The Google advanced search page automatically includes the AND operator in its 'with all of the words' field, the NOT in the 'without the words' field, and the OR in the 'with any of the words' field.

Some search engines, such as AltaVista, Lycos and Fast, replace AND and NOT with + and -, respectively. To find only pages that discuss both the Dalai Lama and Bill Clinton, for example, you'd type "+Dalai +Clinton" (with a space between Dalai and the second +).

Add quotation marks

To find pages that mention W.C. Fields but not water closets or farmland, put quotation marks around your search term: "W.C. Fields". This instructs the engine to treat multiple words as a single term.

Use field specifiers

Some search engines support field specifiers - keywords that tell the engine to perform specific kinds of searches. For example, typing "site:pcworld.com.au" limits the results to pages on PC World's site; "link:microsoft.com" will give you pages on sites that link to Microsoft's site. Using "url:weasel" will produce only sites that contain the word "weasel" in their Web addresses. To see which specifiers a particular engine supports, read the site's advanced search instructions.

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Deanne McIntosh

PC World
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