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May/June 2000
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911 Homework Help!
by Linda C. Joseph, Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools, Library of Congress

[Editor's note: URLs mentioned in this article appear in the chart that follows.]

Picture this scene. A family is driving home from soccer practice when suddenly Jane remembers that she has an assignment due the next day that requires some research. The library is the logical place to begin, but it will be closing in a few minutes. Suddenly panic strikes. Then, mom remembers reading an article in a magazine about homework sites on the Internet. She suggests trying out the new computer Jane received for Christmas. Up to this point Jane has used it for playing games and e-mailing her friends. To everyone’s relief, they find a treasure-trove of Web sites that will not only help Jane in her research for the next day’s assignment, but also for future projects.

How many times have you heard a scenario similar to the one above? In the past 5 years, publishers of encyclopedias, almanacs, and other reference materials have rushed to tap into the online market. It will be interesting to watch how instant access to information will evolve during the 21st century. In the meantime, you can help students determine whether the information they use from the Web is reliable by having them look at the author and source. Several Web page evaluation guides are available with checklists for critically reviewing a site [see the Web Evaluation Guides table below].
 

ASK A LIBRARIAN

KidsConnect
Sponsored by the American Library Association, students can access this Web site to ask questions or browse through resources. Volunteer library media specialists suggest resources where students might locate the answer. They reply within 48 hours. For instance, one student asked, “What does the word stroobly mean?” She had read “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George, who described the down of a falcon as “stroobly.” When no one could figure out where to send the child for the answer, Jean Craighead George was contacted. She graciously provided the answer for the young girl. It is an Amish term that means disheveled, or, in the context of the falcon, speckled.
 

Citing Resources
As use of Internet resources by students has increased, the question being asked is, “How do I cite this information in my reports?” There are a number of ways being circulated in print and on the Internet. It is important to cite the author, date (if known), title, source, medium, and how the information is available. MLA and APA styles are the most popular.
 

Bibliographic Formats for Citing Electronic Information
A variety of examples, based on the book Electronic Styles: A Handbook by Xi Li and Nancy Crane, are provided for citing electronic information. APA and MLA formats are followed, with additional features added for electronic resources.
 

NoodleTools
NoodleTools is a dynamic site that students will love. One of the goals is to instruct students how to be smart researchers and use information effectively. There will be four parts to the Noodles Suite once it is fully developed. NoodleQuest is an interactive wizard that allows students to fine-tune search strategies by answering a series of questions. NoodleBib is an absolutely awesome tool for creating and storing bibliographies. First create a login and password. This allows you to save your bibliographies. Next create a new bibliography by giving it a name. Then, using pull-down menus, select the type of entry to add. Fill in the fields with information and create the citation. A list of Works Cited will be returned in the correct MLA or APA format. NoodleNotes and NoodleProbe, currently under construction, promise to be essential tools for student research.
 

HOMEWORK SITES

B.J. Pinchbeck’s Homework Helper
B.J., a 12-year-old student, and his dad started this site in April 1996. They have created over 570 annotated links by subject areas. Although this is a great undertaking, the items are not listed in any kind of order. You will have to scan through the list to find the help you need.
 

How Stuff Works
Have you ever wondered how a microwave heats food or why a phone can still work when the electricity goes out? Find the answers to these questions and more at How Stuff Works. Marshall Brain, author of 10 books, writes illustrated explanations of complex subjects. In addition to Brain, other writers have been enlisted to add articles to this growing collection of interesting subjects.
 

IPL Reference Center and Youth Division
At the Internet Public Library Reference Center, check the Frequently Asked Questions section first, then the Pathfinders, both of which may save steps in finding answers to your questions. Frequently asked questions are questions that have been asked several times. Pathfinders are guides to resources in specific topic areas. Suppose you are looking for information about fairy tales. If you were to choose Fairy Tales: Reading and Research, you would discover all sorts of references to full-text documents and illustrations on the Web. If you cannot locate what you are searching for via these two mechanisms, then browse or search the subject index. Switch to the Youth Division for lots of annotated links that are appropriate for the elementary and middle-school level. The Internet Public Library is the first public library for the Internet community and strives to serve the public by finding, evaluating, selecting, organizing, describing, and creating quality information resources.
 

Ready Reference—Lakewood Public Library
The Lakewood, Ohio, Public Library staff has organized a collection of Ready Reference sites according to the Dewey Decimal System. Those who are familiar with this system of organization will feel right at home. Descriptions of the listings are very thorough and updated regularly. It is one of the best reference collections on the Internet.
 

RefDesk
An astonishing array of links to information can be found on the front page under Facts-At-A-Glance. The Facts Search Desk includes quick access to Webster’s Dictionary, a Thesaurus, Britannica, weather, stock quotes, and the RefDesk site. Clicking on an index item will return an annotated list of Web sites related to that topic. Current News contains links to news organizations within subcategories. Although there are daily top stories and a calendar, it is not clear how often the site is updated. Younger students may find the choices a bit overwhelming, but high school students will find the site very useful.
 

Research It!
Look up all sorts of items from word meanings to ZIP codes. The preconfigured topic areas will help students narrow the search. This is a handy online tool for anyone who needs a quick answer.
 

StudyWeb
One of the coolest features of Study Web is the pop-up menu of colorful icons linking to ready-reference resources. Just clicks away are a variety of tools, from dictionaries to converters to the latest news. Comprehensive lists of Web sites categorized by subject area have been reviewed, rated in visual content, and include the grade level.
 

Your Homework.Com
This “grass roots” site is free for teachers. The main objective is to provide teachers with a simple, organized space for posting homework on the Web. Teachers receive free e-mail and a Web page. Once they have registered, teachers can put class assignments on their page and manage the information. Students and parents can access the page and read the homework assignment and related materials. Subject, grade level, and keyword can be searched through a library of reviewed Web sites.
Homework helper Web sites are a boon to this generation of students who have more access to knowledge than any other generation in history. Guiding them through the research process is even more important than ever before, especially with regards to evaluation, plagiarism, copyright, and citing resources. As it was so aptly put by the Webmaster of cheater.com, “If you cheat, you go down and not the ship.”
 

Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools Home Page (http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools) with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee (http://www.cyberbee.com) for a reference scavenger hunt, more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff.


Web Evaluation Guides

CyberGuides
http://www.cyberbee.com/guides.html

Kathy Schrock’s Critical Evaluation Surveys
http://school.discovery.com/schrockguide/eval.html

QUICK: Quality Information Checklist
http://www.quick.org.uk/menu.htm
 

Ask A Librarian

KidsConnect
http://www.ala.org/ICONN/kidsconn.html

Citing Electronic Resources

Bibliographic Formats for Citing Electronic Information
http://www.uvm.edu/~ncrane/estyles/

NoodleTools
http://www.NoodleTools.com/

Homework Help

B.J. Pinchbeck’s Homework Helper
http://www.bjpinchbeck.com/

How Stuff Works
http://www.howstuffworks.com/

IPL Reference Center and Youth Division
http://www.ipl.org/

Ready Reference—Lakewood Public Library
http://www.lkwdpl.org/readref.htm

RefDesk
http://www.refdesk.com/

Research It!
http://www.itools.com/research-it/

StudyWeb
http://www.studyweb.com/

Your Homework.Com
http://www.yourhomework.com
 

Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educator’s Guide to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson Street, Columbus, OH 43211; 614/365-5277; ljoseph@iwaynet.net.
 
 

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