ResearchWire - Homework!

Genie Tyburski is the Research Librarian for Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the editor of The Virtual Chase:TM A Research Site for Legal Professionals.

(Archived February 1, 1998)


The web of the world
has a magical string
And part of it
is in everything.
As the mysteries of
the world seem to unfold,
some people find things
man has never told.

by Alexander Haase, age 9

Last Friday my nine-year-old son, Alex, came home from school with a research assignment from his science teacher. It instructed him to identify a bird -- any bird -- and then create a fact sheet for it with appropriate illustrations. Since Alex fancies himself to be a future cartoonist, he chatted excitedly and endlessly about the pictorial component of the assignment.

The next morning, wanting to emphasize the importance of textual content, I suggested that later during the day, we go on Internet to find some resources about birds. He nodded agreeably and then dashed out of the house to attend his weekly art lesson.

Several hours passed. When next I saw him, he had taken over the kitchen table scattering art supplies, paper, and library books everywhere. Library books!? But I thought we (WE) were going to use Internet resources.

In my best South Philadelphia imitation ("Yo, Alex!"), I asked him how he had obtained the library books. With an expression that read, "Surely you must know how one acquires library books. You're a librarian!," he explained how he used the catalog, combined with browsing relevant sections of the library, to find several useful publications about birds.

Of course, my pride in his show of independence and skillful use of the library dimmed any momentary regret I may have felt for being excluded. But, still, I remained curious about what Internet would offer.

I began to dream. What if ... what if the dog ate the library books?! On the night before the due date of the assignment ... after the library closed its doors for the day? What then? Then I would have my way, by gosh! Then we would use the Internet!

Dear Reader, do you wonder what this has to do with research issues for legal professionals using the Internet? Well, if you happen also to be a parent, perhaps you will enjoy scouting Internet in a quest to find superior educational resources for kids. If you do not have children, but perform research wherever you work, you may acknowledge that occasionally, requests for homework assistance arise. A-hem. Moving right along, if neither category applies, join me next month for a discussion of Internet resources offering commentary on current legal developments.

Without delay, parents and homework helpers, let's venture forth into cyberspace to discover the world of knowledge available to children today. First stop: the Schoolhouse at Teacher/Pathfinder, a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Entering the library at the Schoolhouse, we find numerous "rooms" ranging from Business Reference Resources to Libraries and Book Information on the Web and from Electronic Magazines to News Sources. Opting to follow General Reference Resources, we discover the Free Internet Encyclopedia.

Any encyclopedia worth its salt has an alphabetical arrangement of topics or a useful index. Under the heading Birds and Birding, this encyclopedia offers more than 50 links to internet resources supplying excellent information about birds including approximately 20 links to resources about specific birds. We select BIRDNET, The Ornithological Information Source by The Ornithological Council in Washington, D.C.

Within BIRDNET, we find the Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter by the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. The Infocenter offers identification facts, migration, breeding, and nesting habits, breeding and winter distribution maps, photographs, songs, and calls of hundreds of birds.

Returning to the Schoolhouse armed with sufficient information to complete a project on birds, we enter the Social Studies classroom and opt to study geography. We open an interactive textbook, The GeoNet Game by Houghton Mifflin Company, and immediately encounter a test! Yikes!

Forging ahead, we do our best. The electronic "teacher" gives us the option of testing our knowledge of the northeastern or southern portions of the United States or the entire country. Feeling confident, we select the entire country and request the "hard" test.

Now we must choose one of six categories. We select "Places and Regions." First question! "Which is the only state with a working oil derrick on the grounds of its capitol building?" Possible answers include Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, or none of the above. The answer is Oklahoma. (I missed this point.)

Next question: "A single ridge of high ground runs from north to south along the top of the Rocky Mountains. Rivers on the eastern side of this ridge line flow eastward. Rivers on the western side of this ridge line flow westward. What is the name of this place in the Rockies?" The answer: the Continental Divide. (I'm doing better.)

Switching categories to "Human Systems," we risk one more question. "The United States cooperates with most nations in the world. A good example of cooperation between the United States and other nations is our trading with two countries that were once our enemies in war." Which are they? Answer: Germany and Japan. (As the song goes, two out of three ain't bad!)

Leaving the Schoolhouse on a positive note, we venture over to the American Library Association's (ALA) Great Sites. Here we confront classes like Arts and Entertainment 1, Literature and Language, People Past and Present 2, Planet Earth and Beyond, and more.

Entering the class on Literature and Language, we join the group working on Look It Up! We read that the ALA recommends the links in the group "for children from preschool through age 14, their parents and other caregivers." Perusing the annotated list, we discover links for a career database, Roget's Thesaurus, a sign language dictionary, a few grammar texts, an Internet information referral service for kids by kids, a resource on citing to Internet materials, an encyclopedia (different from above), several dictionaries, a collection of research paper ideas and assistance, and more.

Ready for a little science, we next connect to StarChild, a National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) service. Describing itself as "a learning center for young astronomers," StarChild provides a hypermedia publication for various ages on the solar system, the universe, and space. Features include hypertext, diagrams and other graphics to support textual descriptions, movies, trivia ("Jupiter is so large that all of the other planets in the solar system could fit inside of it." [see Jupiter: The Largest Planet]), pictures, and activities which include puzzles, myths, problems, hidden images, coloring books, mazes, and more.

Moving from star gazing to comprehending math, we access The MathMol Hypermedia Textbook by the New York University Scientific Visualization Center. Amazingly, this single text applies to grades 3 through 12. Imagine the money we'll save!

Clicking on grade 4, we receive a table of contents for information on matter and energy. Features include hypertext, graphics, problems and answers, a calculator, and the use of virtual reality to demonstrate dimensions, structures, compounds, and molecules. Remember when our parents bemoaned the advanced level of math taught in elemenary grades?

Doomed to repeat this history, I extend my thanks to the folks at NYU for including sage advice like the following. Prompted to look at a picture of gas, I click on the little hand pointing to gas. Nothing happens. I click again. And again. Nothing. Then, I see the explanation below the little hand. Gas is invisible. (Got me!)

Final stop: the American West as seen through the PBS multimedia guide, New Perspectives on the West. Originally an eight-part documentary series that aired on PBS stations during September 1996, the site allows users to experience again each episode of the series and offers images, commentary and research materials. We learn about the history of the West through 1914, its attraction to adventurers and to those forced from their homes, the mix of cultures that settled the land, the Indian culture already in place, the abolitionists and Civil War. We read about the people like Joseph the Younger, Chief of a band of Nez Percé Indians. We learn about his Indian name, its significance, and his role in the history of the West. We can even read some of his statements and speeches.

After reviewing the documentary, we may examine a timeline chart of significant events from pre-Columbian times to 1917, study an interactive map of the territory, use a biographical dictionary to learn more about the people, peruse the research archive to locate relevant primary materials, test our knowledge of the West via an assortment of games and puzzles, and finally, connect to other resources about the West via PBS' link page.

Words usually do not fail me; yet I have only one with which to sum up our experience. Wow!

We barely touched upon the growing wealth of knowledge available to our children via Internet. Imagine what yet awaits discovery! Below appears a chart of educational resources for children. It is by no means complete, but I hope it will serve as a starting point for those who wish to further their travels.

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Recommended Readings

American Library Association, The Librarian's Guide to Cyberspace for Parents & Kids, 26 November 1997. Online. Internet. Available WWW http://www.ssdesign.com/parentspage/greatsites/guide.html.

Center for Media Eduation, "Plugging in Parents: Web Sites to Help Moms and Dads," infoActive Kids, Fall 1997. Online. Internet. Available WWW http://tap.epn.org/cme/infoactive/f97.html.

Wendy Lazarus and Laurie Lipper, The Children's Partnership, The Parents' Guide to the Information Superhighway, September 1996. Online. Internet. Available WWW http://www.childrenspartnership.org/bbar/pbpg.html.

Jamie McKenzie, "The New 'Homework,'" FromNowOn.Org, The Educational Technology Journal, February 1997. Online. Internet. Available WWW http://fromnowon.org/feb97/teach.html.