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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Review: In search of ...


I don't know how people homeschool without the internet. I really don't. In-hand resources are the backbone of our school experience but the online stuff is what rounds out even the most mundane topic.

Case in point: on Tuesday, we wound up what was supposed to be a week-long look at the life of a silkworm. Sonlight' s Core 5 includes what seems at first blush to be a very random book on the little creatures. (Turns out that it's not random at all, but I'll save that for another post.) At any rate, a single paperback book in no way satisfied the curiosity of my three little learners. Oh, no. This book was enough to whet their appetite, but in reality, it was the source of more questions than answers.

What does a silkworm farm look like?
How large are most silkworm farms?
Do they still use the same techniques that they started with, or has technology come into play?
Do silkworms ever come in other colors?
What other parts of the world were silkworms in originally?

And on and on.

Being a homeschooling mother with a fairly speedy internet connection, I turned to google and began the process of finding age-appropriate resources that answered the questions being lobbed at me by the peanut gallery. I also found some vacation photos that a tourist with a great eye for light took while touring a silkworm farm. Within an hour, I had a whole slew of new info on silkworms to mull over with the crew.

But here's the rub that I find each and every time that I begin the process of researching on behalf of my children: you just never know what you're going to pull up once you start asking the internet for answers.

I'm not talking about the difference between "amer*cangirl.com" and "amer*cangirlS.c*m" here. (PLEASE don't hit the last one!!!) I'm talking about the subtle nuance that separates a great grown-up resource from one that is actually useful for a child. Not to mention the zillion duplicate-type hits that your average search turns up.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who struggles with some frustration in this area. The last time that I was at a gathering of homeschool moms, several of us compared notes on how much better we'd become at zeroing in on what we were looking for. More direct search terms, knowledge of specific sites and a set of go-to links were our saving grace in crunch times, we all said. One newbie mom, in particular, looked on in awe. What she wanted, she said, was a spot where someone had already done all the work.

Little did she know that someone already had.

HelpMe2Teach.com is an online search engine that specializes in k-12 curricula resources. Printables, online games and informational websites are their specialty. This subscription-based site functions as a one-step-up-from google type of engine; all of the sites that it returns are ranked according to age-appropriateness (PreK-2nd grade, for instance) and are accompanied by a brief description of the site that is visible
before you click on it. Over 2,000 sites are currently in the system, with more being added.

HelpMe2Teach.com lists resources in every subject area. This is not a Christian company and does not link to sites with express religious information.

Clearly, a warehouse of 2,000 sites is by no means exhaustive. A quick search for the term "silkworm" yielded no results; a broader search for "ancient China" returned 12 sites. Of those, approximately 7 were websites that I would consider "high interest" in terms of the search criteria I had provided. The other three were only vaguely linked to the topic. All seemed to be ranked correctly in terms of age appropriate content and all were described accurately in the blurb on the search page.

In time, I think that this resource will become a valuable part of many homeschools. For now, it seems to be a great source of links for those who aren't confident in their ability to wade through the limitless supply of information that a general search engine spits back on any given topic. Newbie homeschoolers will be comforted, too, by the at-your-fingertips grade levels and the fact that this site could easily be used to whip up a single-topic unit study in just a few hours time.

For the more experienced homeschooler, I suggest sticking to the tried and true search and sort method. While a subscription to HealMe2Teach.com might give you a few dozen more bookmarks to your repertoire, it isn't likely to be worth the $29.95/year price tag just yet.

2 comments:

Luke said...

I've heard of plenty of websites that are just slightly different from legitimate sites. Ugh. It's really not cool.

Thanks for the review. ...my thought is: A search engine that isn't free!? [smile]

~Luke

mary grace said...

I am right there with you, Luke. Search engines are, in my mind, *free.* Personally I have no use for one that isn't, just as I have no use for the myriad sites that offer worksheets on every imaginable subject. I have contact with plenty of new homeschoolers, though, who revel in such things. To each his own.