Here’s a column’s worth of Web treasures

Computing - October 2005


 
 

Jane Huth

 
The kitchen of my new house has an important feature I’ve been missing for a long time: a junk drawer. It’s a place to stow those odd but valuable items that don’t fit anywhere else.

My office lacks a junk drawer, alas, so valuable items get buried. Fortunately, our recent move forced me to clean out my office and I unearthed a pile of wonderful Web sites I’d been saving.

Here are a few of the treasures I found. They’re good for finding answers to the questions kids ask, for help in writing that first research paper or just for having fun on the Web. Some are great, all are good, and each deserves a look.

ANSWERS.COM, www.answers.com.

This summer my 6-year-old daughter wanted to know what that huge bug was doing clinging to our screen door.

I could tell her what it was called, but then she started asking more questions: Why does it make that loud noise? What does it eat? Where does it live?

I simply logged onto Answers.com, typed in "cicada" and found the answers: Only males make that noise, which has been measured at as much as 100 decibels (really, really loud). They live in the ground, eating juices from roots, and emerge in late summer. Some cicadas live as long as 17 years underground, and they burrow as far as 8 feet into the earth.

The material I found on cicadas came from free online sources, such as the Wikipedia encyclopedia and WordNet. But instead of searching through these sites individually, Answers.com puts the information on one page.

For kids writing reports, the site lists citations at the bottom of the page. Click on the "Web" box for links to other sites with information about the topic. For cicada, I found links to about 100,000 pages, including Cicada Mania and Cicada Central. The Answers.com page is fine for kids reading at about third grade and above, but the links are not screened, so parents should sit with children if they are clicking on links to outside Web sites.

The site has ads and a shopping link (want to buy Cicada magazine?) but nothing flashes so they don’t bother me. However, parents should explain to their kids what a "sponsored link" means so kids don’t get confused and click on them.

THE FREE DICTIONARY, www.thefreedictionary.com.

My Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which I’ve owned since I was a freshman, disappeared during the move. Not a problem since this Web site offers an online dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopedia. Type in a word (penurious) and presto, you have the definitions (1. stingy, 2. barren, 3. destitute) as well as synonyms, antonyms and examples of the word used in classic literature.

If you misspell a word (by a letter or two) the site asks if you mean another, correctly spelled word. The site uses the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia and other reference works. The site uses some of the same sources as Answers.com, but it’s primarily a dictionary and thesaurus, while Answers.com is primarily an encyclopedia.

The site has ads, but they are fairly unobtrusive.

DR. LABUSH’S LINKS TO LEARNING, www.netrox.net/~labush/Stulinks.htm.

I stumbled across this Web page—a set of direct links to great kids’ Web pages—and bookmarked it immediately.

Created by a Florida educator, the page is part of a larger Web site for teachers, parents and students. It offers quick access to dozens of kids’ Web pages. All of the pages have been pre-screened.

While I didn’t check every page, most of the links I looked at have few or no ads, and all, such as a cheerful Web site that shows kids how LEGO toys are manufactured, were interesting and fun. Here kids will find links to Harry Potter sites, kids’ encyclopedias, Smithsonian magazine’s kids’ page, the New York Philharmonic’s kids’ page, a site explaining how sound is created in movies, and on and on.

Kids can spend hours exploring these great pages. The student links page is divided into categories including games, arts and crafts, reading, general information and geography. Even a great site like this can’t screen every link, so parents should always sit with children—even the most experienced Web surfer—when they are online.

DESIGN A HOUSE WITH FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, www.architectstudio3d.org.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust created this site, where kids can design a house using the master’s principles (see Kids’ corner, page 23, for a kid’s perspective on this site). Kids with a fast computer and Internet connection can walk through their design in 3-D, an option not available with an old computer or a dial-up connection.

First, kids select a client, each of whom has specific needs. I chose Maria, an author who wants a library, home office and spare, streamlined design. She also wants a place to garden, so I had to think about her needs when selecting a site, a floor plan and a height for the single-story house. I chose a quiet woodland setting and a simple design. But figuring out where to put bathrooms, kitchen, bedrooms and everything else Maria wanted was a challenge.

Kids can design as many houses as they want, then submit their designs to the Preservation Trust, where they are rated and the best are displayed on the Web site. (Mine did not make the grade.)

3 PUCK CHUCK, www.pbskids.org/zoom.

The public television show "Zoom" is a favorite in our house, so a visit to the Web site is a must. In addition to instructions for games and activities on the show, the Web site recently added 3 Puck Chuck, a variation on billiards that my kids love.

After a brief training session, kids (who can play alone or with a friend) whack pucks into a goal. Sounds simple, but as kids progress through each of seven levels, it gets harder. The pucks get slowed down by gum or goo, fall into holes or get trapped on a rug, for starters. The challenge is to get the puck into the goal using the fewest pucks and the fewest shots.

It took me quite a while to get the hang of it, but my 9-year-old son quickly got the hang of bouncing the pucks off the walls of the arena while avoiding the traps. Even so, it took him a while to play through all seven levels. He liked the game so much, he played it again and again.

Jane Huth lives in the north suburbs with her husband, a second-grader, a kindergartner and a baby.

 
 







 
 
 
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