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HOMEWORK FOR KIDS AND BIG KIDS

If you have Internet access at home, your kids probably spend a lot of time on line, chasing free music and games. However, there is also a wealth of information that is useful for homework, and as we...


August 1, 2001
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Topics

If you have Internet access at home, your kids probably spend a lot of time on line, chasing free music and games. However, there is also a wealth of information that is useful for homework, and as well as a source of encyclopedic information for adults.

One of the best places to start looking is www.refdesk.com, a site which specializes in links to reference sites. This will lead you to anything from US Zip codes (based on street address) to the bible or Encyclopedia Britannica. Although it is US-based, it has a useful number of Canadian references, including phone numbers and Postal Codes. The Homework Helper link on the site is aimed directly at the kind of problems that parents have to solve when helping kids with homework.

People used to make a living selling Encyclopedia Britannica door to door, at a price so high that many buyers had to pay by monthly installments. Now you can consult it on-line at www.britannica.com which is supported by banner advertising that obstructs your screen to some extent. Full access to Britannica is currently free, but they have announced that a subscription will be required shortly for a full, advertisement-free, service, with limited access continuing to be available at no-charge. You can also buy a hard copy of Encyclopedia Britannica for $US750, or CD-ROM of DVD versions for $US50 each. The CD version has more information than the 32-volume paper copy, and the DVD version has 15,000 illustrations compared to 4000 in the paper copy. The CD and DVD versions allow a student to create graphs etc, and copy pictures to word processing files, as does the on-line version. Britannica do not release sales data, but tell me that sales of CD copies substantially outnumber paper copies..

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Other encyclopedias are available in a similar fashion, and can be found on www.refdesk.com. Those without home access can use Internet clubs, or the school computers still have much better access to encyclopedias than was normal ten years ago.

Several dictionaries are on line, including the well-known comprehensive ones as well as a number of specialized volumes. Guides for grammar, and thesauruses in English and other languages are available

SEARCHING FOR

INFORMATION

There are approximately 1.5 billion pages available to the public on the Internet, which probably contain more information than there is in all the libraries in Canada combined, so finding the right page for your needs is a challenge.

There are two approaches to searching for specific information on the Internet: “keyword searches”, and “categorized searches”.

The keyword approach is based on the entering one or a few keywords, such as “newsprint” or “bleached kraft pulp”. The search will return a listing of all pages mentioning these words.

Categorized searches let you pick from a subject of interest, and then narrow down the field by repeated choices until you find what your want. Yahoo.com and refdesk.com, discussed above, are good examples.

To search by keyword, use one of the many no-charge search engines. I prefer www.google.com, since it is much faster than www.AltaVista.com, which used to be the mainstay. All these search engines are based on keywords and are very easy to use. All have a “help” link that provides all the details on how to use the software.

Although the public search engines make no pretense at providing full bibliographic searches of the scientific literature in the pulp and paper industry, it is surprising how much can turn up on specialized subjects. http://www.tappi.org is the best no-charge service for pulp and paper specific searches, particularly for TAPPI members.

AltaVista is more powerful than Google in many respects, although slower. AltaVista provides simple language translation for foreign sites in most of the common languages. While the translations are usually comprehensible, they are far from well-written English. The translations into French are often erroneous or incomprehensible.

Kids Search Tools at www.rcls.org/ksearch.htm is designed for schools, with a focus on educational issues while avoiding inappropriate material.

A SUCCESSFUL

SCHOOL EXAMPLE

Two Quebec teachers, Bob Colvil and Lynn McKelvie, at Knowlton Academy in the Eastern Townships, have set up a site for their elementary school that is a great example for others at www.etsb.qc.ca/knowlton/default.htm. It can be used directly by most schools, elementary and secondary. One premise behind it is that the kids should not have to spend time searching the whole Internet. The Knowlton site includes a reference desk aimed at kids which leads into suitable search engines, and pages on specific subjects being taught in school. For example, a teacher working on a fables in Language Arts has relevant material put on the site, thereafter updates it as necessary, providing kids with tools to help study, while also leading them into effective use of the Internet.

One site that the above will lead you to is the US Central Intelligence Agency, at http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html, where you will find basic information on all countries in the world.

LOST YOUR

PHONE LINE?

One problem with increasing Internet use from the home, is that most of us have only one phone line, so it can become busy all evening, every evening. The obvious solution is a second line, but it is often better to look at the phone company’s High Speed service (ADSL) or a cable TV connection, if available in your locality.

An ADSL service provides a much faster connection to the Internet than a normal phone line, and allows the phone to be used for normal calls while also on line to the Internet. However, it is only available in certain areas, and the level of technical support from some of the phone companies has been poor. Cost is attractive, since a fast Internet connection plus a normal phone line is generally cheaper than two phone lines.

The more forward thinking cable TV companies offer Internet connection for costs comparable to ADSL. Each has its well-publicized technological advantages, but they are much less important than the quality of local service. If you are lucky enough to have the choice of both, then check a neighbour’s experience to decide which is best in your area.

A third alternative being promoted is to use your TV satellite receiver. Ours has been “Internet ready” for years, but there is still no service. I am not optimistic about this being useful, since it looks like we might be forced to use AOL, and also to having the phone on-line for outgoing data streams, since the TV-satellite equipment is receive-only.

Of course, you can have your own two-way satellite connection from home, but the cost is likely to be ten or more times that of the other solutions discussed above, so is unattractive to most home users.