World class sites

Wandering around the Web, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into the greatest library ever created. There, at the touch of your fingers, is the answer to everything. Today’s students can bypass dusty reference books and trudging home with heavy backpacks for a quick online search.

Not so fast. While there’s no denying the Web is a great resource for students, care must be taken when using it as a research tool. Web sites can be published in no time for a fraction of the cost of researched and fact-checked textbooks, by just about anyone — qualified or otherwise.

In most cases you’ll find knowledgeable sites, but sometimes a search will turn up misleading information. Even more disturbing: sometimes misinformation is intentional and the result of sites running an agenda, rather than just amateurs outside their depth.

It’s also easy to be overwhelmed by the huge number of sites out there for a particular topic. Search Google, for example, for Shakespeare’s Hamlet and you’ll turn up over 1,200,000 results; you’ll get over 95,000 for “ancient Rome”.

The problem of information overload can mostly be overcome by helping kids develop good search skills (it can also help avoid inappropriate content) — see our tips on page 40 for advice on getting the best results from search engines.

Solving the problem of which sites to trust can be a bit trickier. Strategies could include building a list of sites run by organisations you trust (and comparing dubious information with these sites) as well as using the Net as just one tool — and checking any material with information from trusted sources like teachers and textbooks.

Oldies can take heart, then. Homework hasn’t yet become as simple as point and click.

SITES FOR STUDENTS OF ALL AGES

The Why Files

This well-designed — and blissfully buzzword-free — site takes the news as its starting point in explaining science developments. This is a great way to get the story behind scary tabloid treatments. The archive is easy to navigate, with topics like health, environment, plants and animals, and sport. Interesting and topical stories include global warming and biological weapons.
http://whyfiles.org

National Geographic

This quality site will be of interest to nearly everyone. The great photos and easy navigation also make it a breeze to use — with separate sections for students and kids.
www.nationalgeographic.com

SBS World Guide

Need some population data for India? Some background on the sovereignty of Gibraltar? SBS’s World Guide has a simple-to-use, updated guide to countries around the world.
www.theworldnews.com.au

Classics for Young People

This site has links to online resources for classic literature — including full-text versions of such classics as Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.
www.ucalgary.ca/~dkbrown/storclas.html

AAA Math

The tools at AAA Math are designed to be used as learning aids rather than lessons to set kids to on their own. You’ll find quizzes that immediately show if answers are right or wrong — so you can make sure you’re heading in the right direction. The site caters to kids from kindergarten to year 8 (ages 5 to 13).
www.aaamath.com

ABC Learn Online

The ABC has pages for kids of all ages! From Bananas in Pyjamas to the salinity problem facing Australia, you can find resources for a variety of topics, easily navigated by age or subject.
www.abc.net.au/learn

Australian Museum Online

This site is a great way for kids too far from Sydney to visit the museum to experience its natural history collection. The spiders Web site and palaeontology collection site are outstanding, but there’s loads more to interest kids and parents alike.
www.amonline.net.au

EdNA Online

No, not the ‘Dame’ in the purple wig! This site, run by Australian governments, acts as a portal to other material and sites for Australian students, parents and teachers. As well as being helpful for school students, the site also has information on vocational training, adult and higher education, and reviews of sites and educational software.
www.edna.gov.au

Macquarie Dictionary

There are loads of dictionaries online, but sometimes you end up with American spellings or they lack words in use here. Like the published edition, the online version of the Macquarie Dictionary is designed especially for Australians. You can look up words and there’s a good section on slang.
www.macquariedictionary.com.au

ONLINE ENCYCLOPEDIA WORTH PAYING FOR

This site (www.britannica.com.au) is the closest thing I’ve seen to a real-world version of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Britannica switched to a pay site in late 2001, and now it provides only a small portion of its extensive online encyclopedia for free. My subscription ($129 a year) gives me ad-free access to the full Encyclopedia Britannica, the Concise Britannica, the Student Britannica, and the exhaustively researched Britannica Atlas. I’m also able to peruse the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus (a much thinner version of the company’s Unabridged dictionary), and a searchable index of historical video and audio recordings.
- Andrew Brandt



YOUNGER KIDS

BBC Schools

Although designed for British kids, BBC’s Schools site has lots of useful resources for kids. The site is structured well, so you can get to age-appropriate areas and topics of interest. The 4-11 section stands out as the most useful — as the preschool part seems to focus more on TV shows, and the older sections are targeted towards the UK curriculum. There are also stories for parents with ideas on how to help kids learn.
www.bbc.co.uk/schools

NASA Kids

Space is always a fascinating topic for kids and NASA’s site is well-designed and deep with content. You’ll find games and articles on all sorts of space-related topics, as well as a great section on astronauts, with details on living in space.
http://kids.msfc.nasa.gov

Time For Kids

Just like the regular magazine Time, Time For Kids is a serious news site — there’s even a news ticker. As well as ‘age-appropriate’ news, there are stories by kid reporters and games — and lots of Harry Potter content when we visited!
www.timeforkids.com/TFK

OLDER KIDS

Yahooligans

This baby brother to Yahoo is a Web directory and search engine designed especially for kids. Just like regular Yahoo, the directory arranges sites by topic but, in this case, links are confined to the kid-suitable.
www.yahooligans.com

Cool-reads

Created by two UK teens, Cool-reads hosts book reviews by kids and is aimed at the 10- to 15-year-old set. Clever use of icons (so you can find books of interest) and star ratings are features of note at this site. Why not post a review of a favourite book?
www.cool-reads.co.uk

ExamsClub

Kids anxious about serious exams like the HSC in NSW may overcome nerves through practice exams. ExamsClub has some you can download in PDF format.
www.examsclub.com.au

ASX Schools Sharemarket Game

Enliven economics studies with a go on the sharemarket. The Australian Stock Exchange has a game designed to show kids in years 7 to 12 how the sharemarket works. Students compete in syndicates with a hypothetical $50,000 to trade their shares over a 10-week period. Registration for the first game of 2003 ends 5 March 2003.
www9.asx.com.au/game/choolInfo?id=441

Careers Online

Older kids may already be considering their career options and there are loads of sites designed to help them make some choices. Careers Online’s Job Seekers workshop is a great place to start thinking about what job would suit — it doesn’t give answers, but aims to spur clear thinking. There are also sections on creating a résumé and finding a job.
www.careersonline.com.au/jswindex.html

Discovery School’s Webmath

This site can help if you’re stuck with a maths problem. It has lots of ‘solvers’ — type in the problem and it will give a solution along with an explanation of how it works out. As the site points out, however, Webmath won’t be around come exam time so it should be used wisely rather than as a homework cheatsheet!
http://school.discovery.com/homeworkhelp/Webmath

The Nuts and Bolts Guide of College Writing

Although this site is written for American college kids, older high school and new university students will find help tackling essay writing. It provides sensibly structured and clearly written advice for expressing yourself better in essays, including sections on research and mechanics for producing your document (margins, fonts, etc.).
http://nutsandbolts.washcoll.edu/nb-home.html

GENERATION IM

Today’s teenagers are more likely chatting using instant messaging apps than they are tying up the family phone — whether it’s swapping homework advice or dishing the day’s gossip.

IM has several distinct advantages that attract teenagers (and office workers, it must be said). IM lessens the chance of being overheard and can be freer — especially for shy youngsters — than face-to-face communications. IM isn’t only used for communication with friends, either. Teenagers around the world have found it’s a great way to make friends in far-flung places.

Parents, on the other hand, may feel some disquiet about their teenagers contacting and being contacted by strangers. Like Web surfing, some basic practices to protect privacy are a good start in helping kids learn safe Web conduct. Discuss what you think they should keep to themselves and what you feel happy for them to divulge. Most IM apps have tools to build buddy lists and block unwanted contact.

Finally, IM and SMS could have other consequences on a kid’s education: we’ve seen reports of teachers up in arms over SMS-speak creeping into assignments. It seems kids use SMS and IM so often that it’s becoming second nature, and they don’t even notice they’re using it in formal writing. Somehow we don’t think an A will be the likely result of an essay on the Rz n fll ov Rmn mpi.
PCs CAN BE HABIT-FORMING

Just as your kids are learning exciting new things online, they can be forming some pretty bad work habits. Now is the time to help them prevent developing practices that can cause problems later in life, with some focus on ergonomics.

Office furniture and equipment such as keyboards are usually sized for adults rather than kids, so the issue is even more complicated than it is for grown-ups. HealthyComputing.com has a specially-designed section for ergonomics and kids that addresses this issue along with other topics such as backpacks and gaming.

Familyeducation.com has some tips along with a discussion of the issues at and you’ll find a useful illustration of what to look out for here. Think of ergonomic training as equivalent to choosing the right shoes for your kids.
SUPER SEARCH TIPS

Get to the information you need quickly with these methods for better searching:

Play favourites: if you choose two or three search sites to use most often, familiarise yourself with their advanced search rules. The more you use them, the better your results.

Quote me: putting quotation marks around a search phrase often works magic.

Be a task master: you can often locate what you want by entering a description of the task you want to complete into the search field.

Brush up on Boolean: try the Boolean command AND first, to see links with all search terms, as in Intel AND memory. Make a date: if you want links that relate to a particular time, include the date or year in quotation marks. Example: “Olympics and 2002”.

Learn your lingo: if you’re searching for specialised material, make a note of the specific phrases that others use in the field.

Think before you click: avoid wasting time on irrelevant sites and pages. Scan the search results blurb for the context in which your terms were used, the URL, the identity of the publisher, and the date (if available).

Stop it now: it’s important to know when to stop Web searching. Depending on your query, sometimes it might be faster to ask parents or teachers.

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Deanne McIntosh

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