Best new instructional resources on the internet

Bookmark this Twain site for your literary lessons

Mark Twain is one of the most celebrated–yet controversial–figures of American literature. Though his works are widely canonized, some K-12 schools leave Huckleberry Finn and others off their reading lists under charges of racism. This interpretive archive by Stephen Railton, an English professor at the University of Virginia, puts the writer and his works into a historical context and can help students decide for themselves whether Twain portrays Jim as “character or caricature.” The site is built around five of Twain’s full-length works and includes contemporary reviews, original illustrations of the texts, promotional materials for his novels, and even sound files of Mark Twain’s speech.

“Discovery Channel School” has a new look

This popular site, which serves as a bridge between the Discovery Channel’s educational programming and the K-12 classroom, has been completely revamped to include more lesson plans, suggestions, and forums for discussion. The site is structured around the themes addressed by the channel’s programming. Themes for this fall are astronomy, ancient Egypt, history of science, American Revolution, and world in conflict. Each theme includes lesson plans for using the Discovery Channel episodes pertaining to it in the classroom (you can tape them copyright-free for one year) and also a discussion board where teachers, students, and invited guest experts can converse online about the topics.

“Virtual Laboratory” is a real physics treat

The University of Oregon physics department created this site, which uses interactive Java applets to demonstrate concepts of physics. The applets are grouped into four categories–mechanics, energy and environment, thermodynamics, and astrophysics. An applet in the section on mechanics, for example, fires a cannon at a stationary target. You can adjust parameters like the angle of trajectory, velocity, and wind speed to see how they affect the cannonball’s flight. The applets can be viewed by themselves or accompanied by a lesson plan. Many require an advanced browser, but some can be viewed with older browser versions as well.

“Fog of War” explores Operation Desert Storm

In conjunction with the eighth anniversary of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the Washington Post has produced this online analysis of the 42-day air war the United States waged with Iraq in 1991. The site uses interviews with Post journalists and U.S. air commander Gen. Charles Horner, descriptions and maps of targets, photographs and video clips–including never-before aired footage of Saddam Hussein touring a burning oil refinery during the war–and a collection of declassified documents to examine whether the war ultimately was a success. In exploring this site, students will be encouraged to define for themselves what a military “success” is.

Create a sense of space with “Build a Solar System”

Produced by Ron Hipschman, webmaster for the Exploratorium, this site gives students an accurate sense of how vast our solar system is by helping them create a scale model of it. Students can enter the size they would like the sun to be in their model, and the JavaScript calculator automatically fills in the scaled sizes and distances for all the planets. The site can also compute the distances to other stars and galaxies and the relative sizes of different stars. Hipschman includes links to other great astronomy sites as well–check out the “Astronomy Picture of the Day” link for some fascinating photos of stellar phenomena.

Borrow a lesson from the American Memory Fellows

The American Memory Fellows is a year-long program during which educators study techniques for using primary sources in the K-12 classroom. Nine of the lessons developed by the 1997-98 Fellows are available online at the Library of Congress’ American Memory web site. The lessons are based on primary sources from the American Memory collection but include other online and print resources as well. Lessons include “America Dreams Through the Decades,” which challenges students to investigate what the American Dream means and how it has changed over time, and “The Great Depression and the 1990s,” which examines the historical significance of government programs like social security and welfare and asks students to evaluate the current need of such programs.

Field trips you can take from your schools’ computers

Created by Tramline Inc., a New Jersey company that develops and licenses software for building interactive web-based tours, “The Virtual Field Trips Site” offers free online nature tours designed for use in K-12 classes. The site’s current field trips explore deserts, volcanoes, salt marshes, hurricanes, sharks, and natural wonders of the world, and there are 16 additional tours in development. Each tour includes a rich array of images and information, plus a list of teacher resources for developing lesson plans to accompany it.


Research and management resources for the K-12 decision maker

Catch the latest college rankings at “U.S. News Online”

Now in its third year, the U.S. News & World Report web site is a good example of how a print publication is using the internet to supplement and improve the delivery of its content. The publication released its 12th annual “America’s Best Colleges” rankings in August, and you can view them here online. You can also search the rankings by state, specialty, value, scholastic record, and other personal preferences, and you can re-sort the schools according to your own specifications. (Try doing that with the print edition!) New to the site this year are a directory of community colleges, a database of scholarships, and an interactive college comparison worksheet to help students in choosing a school.

Looking to refine your searches? Try “Searching the Web”

Anyone who’s ever used a search engine knows how frustrating sifting through a slushpile of superfluous responses can be. That’s why the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education developed this instructional guide to finding information on the web. Novice and experienced web users alike should find its advice useful, as there are three different modules ranging from the basics to advanced searching techniques. The modules include examples that clearly demonstrate the processes that broaden or narrow web searches.

“LD Online” offers an interactive guide to learning disabilities

A service of the Learning Disabilities Project along with the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilites, LD Online is widely regarded as the leading web site on the topic. The “What’s New” section highlights the latest information in the field, from research reports to exclusive articles to political news. “Where to Find Help” is a comprehensive list of resources, including national and state agencies and organizations. The site also contains audio clips of learning disability specialists, an “Ask the Expert” feature, and a forum for learning-disabled students called “Kid Zone.”

“Teachers.Net” hosts online forums for educators

This site has been recognized by the Los Angeles Times and Teacher Magazine for bringing thousands of educators together for online meetings, discussions, and forums. Teachers.Net includes job listings, a “lesson bank” where teachers can deposit (and borrow) sample lesson plans, a calendar of upcoming seminars and conferences, a mentor support center, and several chatboards. In addition, the site hosts frequent online discussions with well-known educators and authors, like Parry Aftab and Kathy Noll. Two of the site’s latest forums target administrators as well as teachers–one a chatboard, the other a mailring.

Expand your limits of knowledge with “New Horizons for Learning”

New Horizons for Learning is an international nonprofit network of thinkers and educators who support an expanded vision of learning. The New Horizons web site is modelled after a skyscraper, with each floor pertaining to a different topic in education–Early Learning, Special Needs/Inclusion, Restructuring K-12 Education, Technology and Learning, Multicultural Education, and many more. Each topic includes essays written by leaders in the field of education, plus links to people, projects, and other web sites. Navigating the New Horizons site can be tricky at first, in part because there are an overwhelming number of resources–but it’s well worth finding your way around.


Special internet events you won’t want to miss

“Global Learn Day II” will connect educators around the world

October 10 – 11

Sponsored by the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Global Education, Global Learn Day II will be “part expedition, part exhibition, part experiment, and all conference,” according to the Institute’s Linda Riddell. The event’s mission is to extend distance learning to the far reaches of the globe by bringing together leaders in distance education, training, conferencing, internet technology, and public service. Educators from nearly 240 countries are expected to participate in the online conference, and real time audio and video presentations from ports in 21 locations (including six U.S. states) are planned.

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