We all know what it’s like to get caught in a Google whirlpool as we struggle to find the exact search terms to locate what we want before becoming distracted by something more entertaining.
When kids do research on the Internet, “they could search all day and find nothing,” says Explorer Middle School eighth grade science teacher Carola Montana.
Kids might use too general a search term, like “Stamp Act” if they are studying the American Revolution, or “polar bears” if they are studying the effects of global warming, and be confronted — and stymied — by millions of irrelevant results.
When searching for “homework help” on Google, you find lots of sites with advertisements, limited usefulness and often out-dated links. It’s also difficult to sort information by grade/age-level appropriateness. Coolmath.com has plenty of content but graphically it’s confusing and distracting. Kids (and parents) don’t need extra distractions online.
The best online homework resource I found was through the public library. Because I have a library card for the Phoenix Public Library, I went to Homework Help, which is for all ages and Make the Grade, which is oriented toward younger kids. The library’s homework help uses databases like EBSCOhost, Gale Science in Context, Searchasaurus and World Book Online, which feature full-text articles and books on a wide variety of topics. Most libraries offer free access to resources like these from home. All you need is a library card to gain access.
A nice feature of many library searches is the Lexile number, ranging from 200 to 1300, noted next to each search result in databases intended for younger kids. These numbers tell you the grade level for which the articles and books are most appropriate. For example, the Lexile numbers for third grade are 300-500 and for sixth grade 850-1050. You can click on the Lexile number for a chart showing the full range of numbers.
It would be helpful for a parent to supervise their child’s research and offer guidance to the appropriate resources, mainly in terms of readability and level of sophistication, otherwise hours could be whiled away with little to show for it. It’s no use for a fourth grader to end up on a high school level science page if they can’t understand the vocabulary. And of course, there are plenty of “resources” completely unrelated to homework you want your child to stay away from.
I got a press release from Curriki.org, which hosts free educational resources, but much of it was designed to be used by classroom teachers or parents homeschooling their kids. The company does have an excellent Algebra 1 class by the Khan Academy Math Group, with videos explaining, step-by-step the concepts for Algebra 1.