If you want to a see a blank look on students’ faces, ask them about the Dewey Decimal library classification system. For better or for worse, the Internet has become the alternative to a library card catalog for browsing and locating resources. But how do you navigate that system, and how can you trust what you read on the web?
"Frankly, this is my main concern, along with stumbling onto inappropriate material," admits Bonnie Marks, a mother of two. "Just because someone publishes something on their home page, it doesn't make it gospel—many kids don't know this."
Learning how to find the information you need on the Internet, and how to evaluate and appropriately use the information you find, can be challenging for both parents and students. The following is a look at some of the most comprehensive—and reliable—educational websites a student can bookmark and use to research school projects and homework assignments.
Web literacy and general reference
All students—no matter what age—need help navigating and evaluating the ever-growing store of information available on the web. This University of Idaho site is an information literacy primer that will quickly turn any half-hearted or random searcher into a savvy Internet detective. It guides students through a series of modules that teach them how to distinguish different kinds of information on the Internet, search for and select research topics, search databases and other collections, locate and cite sources, and evaluate the sources they find.
A merger of the Internet Public Library and the Librarians' Internet Index, this site is a comprehensive source of "information you can trust." Thousands of volunteer library and information science professionals created and maintain the site’s reference collections—sets of links to websites on U. S. presidents, author biographies, museums, research and writing, literary criticism, and many more topics. The Ask an ipl2 Librarian reference service, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, provides individualized help finding authoritative, free online sources for specific topics.
Checking facts in Internet sources is one of the key ways to evaluate them, and Refdesk.com, which stands for "reference desk," simplifies this essential step. Since 1995, Refdesk.com has served as a one-click springboard to many of the web's top dictionaries, encyclopedias, calculators, atlases, news headlines, and search engines. The site also includes a handy Homework Helper section (under the Help and Advice column on the lower right of the page) that provides help in all subjects to students in every grade.
For younger students who are not quite ready to navigate Refdesk, Fact Monster from Information Please is the tool to use. The Reference Desk on this site features a layout that is designed for easy fact-finding and includes timelines and an almanac, atlas, dictionary, and encyclopedia, as well as a Homework Center. Students can also search by visually identified topics or by typing in keywords. Check out fun features such as Biographies of the Presidents, the Geography Hall of Fame, and the Tallest Buildings Slideshow.
Consider the Microsoft Download Center your ultimate file repository. It links to tens of thousands of downloadable free or shareware programs. These include updates, utilities, applications, and extras for Windows, Macintosh, and other platforms; Internet tools; security essentials; developer resources; mobile devices; and, of course, computer games. You can search for what you need alphabetically, by product family, by download category, or by typing in a keyword. The Microsoft Worldwide Downloads site enables you to download files in more than 80 different languages.
This site is the cool place for the technology leaders of the future. It offers student resources, helps students stay connected through its newsletters and technology clubs, and provides a career portal and Students-to-Business program. The links to scholarship competitions and to TechStudent—a site for website builders, designers, and software developers in training—encourage creativity and skill development. The Student Experience site also links to DreamSpark, which enables students not only to download professional software such as Microsoft Visual Studio, SQL Server, Visual C++ Express Edition, and Robotics Developer Studio for free but provides free training for using these tools as well.
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Perfect for language studies, this handy website automatically converts text from one language into another, such as English to Simplified Chinese or French to English. You can type and paste up to 10,000 characters (about 1,800 words) into the search window and then select the desired language. Or cut and paste a web URL to convert the entire site.
As every parent and student knows, books that are required reading are not always available, or if they are, students may misplace their copy before they finish the assignment. Project Gutenberg to the rescue. This site enables you to download more than 30,000 free electronic books to read on your computer, iPhone, Kindle, Sony Reader, or other portable device in a variety of file formats. You can search by title and author or browse their collection of classic works, many of which are available in audio editions as well.
This site, sponsored by Fordham University and edited by Paul Halsall, provides older students with access to a collection of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts for educational use. It includes collections of primary sources in ancient, medieval, and modern history, as well as history of science, women's history, African history, and others.
The web's answer to those black- and yellow-striped Cliff Notes is Novelguide.com, a reliable and free source for literary analysis of classic and contemporary books such as Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground. The site offers character profiles, metaphor and theme analysis, and author biographies.
This website can be filed in the "where was this when I was a kid?" category. On this aptly named site, visitors can read every play or poem from the world's most celebrated writer and, more importantly, make some sense of his works with free analysis, Old English language translations, and famous quotes.
This site provides help in a number of mathematics-related subjects, including basic grade-school math, calculus, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics. Practice exercises are automatically graded—and this free site also features a glossary, calculators, homework tips, math games, and lesson plans for teachers.
Science classes—including the ubiquitous science project—aren't as easy for some to grasp as they are for others. At Science Made Simple, elementary and middle school students can get detailed answers to many science questions, read current news articles related to science, get ideas on school projects, and take advantage of unit conversion tables. Users can also find out if their school's textbooks pass the test.
Ever wanted to know why earthquakes happen? How CD burners work? What the sun is made of? These questions, and many others related to computers/electronics, automobiles, science, entertainment, and people, are all answered at this award-winning website. Simply type a query into the search window or peruse the topics by category. Extras include free newsletters, surveys, and printable versions of all answers.