Searching the Web may seem an easy task. Just type in your terms and look at all the results—until, of course, you are engulfed in your hits, drowning in the inevitable consequences of a bad keyword search. A more efficient, viable alternative is to search combinations of superb free Web directories/portals and free/fee-based vendor resources, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. This article will assist in your important, continuing quest to develop stimulating additions to traditional K-12+ science curricula.
Numerous, free quality Web sites exist covering many K-12 subject areas and offering suggestions for teaching and learning. One subject area well covered on the free Web is science, with many sites offering information and resources for general as well as specific branches of science. Students and teachers could use general-purpose Web search engines, such as Google, MSN, or Yahoo! Search, to find some of these free quality science sites—if they are willing to wade through the thousands of hits that result from a keyword search. But, honestly, no one really has the time or patience to do so.
GUIDE FOR EVALUATING WEB SITES
The essential features for evaluating a Web site can be summarized by determining the answers to six questions. The answers should be readily available on the site.
1. Who is responsible for the material published on the site?
2. What is the scope of the site's material?
3. What are the sources of the site's material?
4. Does the site give copyright information for the material?
5. How easy is it to search and retrieve the material?
6. How old is the information on the Web site?
Applying these criteria to a Web site containing instructional aids and curriculum resource materials on the various areas of K-12 science enables a student, teacher, or parent to judge whether or not to use the material offered by a particular site.
Students looking through the search results would have difficulty recognizing a good site from a bad or mediocre one. And general search engines do not evaluate or annotate their content. (For those who do choose to search via a general search engine, we've constructed a simple evaluation guide that will help them decide on the worthiness of a site. See the "Guide for Evaluating Web Sites" sidebar at right.
Of course, there are other efficient, effective methods available for finding quality information on the Web. We believe using general and specialty directories and portal sites can be a viable alternative to search engines. If you have a broad topic; want access to selected, evaluated, and annotated collections; and prefer quality over quantity, then begin your search with one of our favorite general and specialty science directories, portals, and Web sites that we review below. We believe you will find them useful in your quest for free, quality science information on the Web.
General and Specialty Science Directories, Portals, and Sites
BUBL Information Service
Geared for high school and above, BUBL provides access to many resources, including full-text articles and mailing lists. The BUBL Link category contains Subject Menus where you can choose "Science" and find topic links under Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Life Sciences, Plants, and Animals.
Educator's Reference Desk
This site contains extensive materials collected on the award-winning AskERIC site during the past decade. It provides free access to ERIC—the world's largest database of information on education research and practice—including free, full-text expert digest reports. Excellent for every K-12 subject, we recommend the "Teaching" link, and "Science" and "Health" subcategories under the "Subject" link, which provide evaluated, annotated links to lesson plans, archived responses, Web sites, online communities, and organizations concerning science and health.
ENC Online: Science Topics Web Links
The Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education has collected effective curriculum resource sites and created high-quality professional development materials to improve K-12 math and science teaching and learning. This is great for students, parents, and educators. Check out the "Student/
Classroom" and "Reference Sources" sections, too.
Eric Weisstein's World of Science
This superb public service science education site contains free full-text "encyclopedias of astronomy, scientific biography, chemistry, and physics ... assembled over more than a decade by Internet encyclopedist Eric W. Weisstein with assistance from the Internet community."
A free interactive site from the San Francisco Exploratorium Museum of Art, Science, & Human Perception, it focuses on "investigating the science behind ordinary subjects and experiences of people's lives ... and also looks at historical/social issues surrounding them, providing a context for scientific exploration."
FirstGov for Kids: Science & Math
This site provides subject links to federal kids' sites along with excellent kids' sites from other organizations. Check out the "Homework," "Health," "Plants/Animals," and "Space" sections of the site, too.
Internet Public Library
Known for its interactive reference desk, IPL also has "Computers," "Health," and "Science & Tech" subject collections. In addition, kids can explore KidSpace [http://ipl.si.umich.edu/kidspace/browse/mas0000], which provides "Science & Math" and "Health & Nutrition" subject collections, and a "Science Fair" special feature. Teens can check out TeenSpace [http://ipl.si.umich.edu/div/teen/browse/gh5000/], which provides "Health" and "Homework Help: Science" sections and more.
For high school and above, this provides access to MEDLINE, including links to full-text articles and related resources. Explore PubMed Central, an e-archive of free, full-text articles from life sciences journals, as well as Bookshelf, "a growing collection of [full-text] biomedical books that can be searched directly."
For high school and above, this is a "gateway to the best scientific research news sources," providing selective access to area-specific research news in the Biosciences, Health Sciences, Physics/Chemistry, Earth & Space, and Engineering fields, as well as links to "locate prime research tools and resources."
Science Teacher's Resource Center
This award-winning Web site is for grade 9-12 science teachers to share ideas in the areas of biology, chemistry, physics, and life sciences, including advanced placement.
Interactive Web Sites Covering Specific Branches of Science
Automotive Learning On-line
An interactive and educational view of the automobile, this site contains graphics and illustrations with animations and descriptive links. It is searchable via a keyword search feature, image, animation, and text.
This American Chemical Society site provides information for professionals, educators, and students at all levels with access to publications, chemistry news, jobs, lesson plans, a "Molecule of the Week" feature, and an interactive periodic table. Check out the "Educators & Students" tab, with its K-12 sections, including "WonderNet" for elementary kids.
Constellations and Their Stars
This site explains what constellations are, lists stars and constellations alphabetically, by month, and by catalog number. It also includes interactive star charts, a bibliography of star myths from various cultures, and a brief explanation of the myths behind the names of constellations.
"The Consumer Health Information Task Force of the UMDNJ Campus Libraries developed this site to meet healthcare information needs of consumers." The "Just for Kids" and "Reference Desk" sections are relevant and helpful.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute: BioInteractive
This international award-winning site allows you to be the scientist, providing fully interactive biomedical laboratory simulations, including bacterial identification, cardiology, and neurophysiology labs.
Human Genome Project
This is an award-winning U.S. Department of Energy site that disseminates information about worldwide Human Genome Projects, offering "a wealth of general research information on genetics and bioethics." It includes a "Genetics 101" introduction, a glossary of terms/acronyms, and an "Ethical, Legal, Social Issues" section linking to journal articles on court actions.
This online encyclopedia provides authoritative conservation information on 55,000+ plants, animals, and ecological communities" in the U.S. and Canada, with in-depth coverage for rare and endangered species.
Internet Plasma Physics Education Experience
This site's goal is to get middle and high school students excited about science using interactive pages on matter, fusion, electricity, magnetism, and energy. Questions can also be e-mailed to Ask a Physicist.
Neuroscience for Kids
An interactive site dedicated to improving knowledge of the nervous system, it provides interesting tutorials on the brain and the central nervous system along with experiments and activities for all students.
Virtual Courseware for Earth and Environmental Sciences
This California State University site contains Web-based labs that can enhance learning and teaching of environmental sciences in high school and college. The Virtual Earthquake, River, Dating (geologic time), and Global Warming labs are interactive so "students learn by 'doing' and not just clicking and viewing."
Much of the information in the above section came from our nationally recognized Sci-Math World site [http://library.rider.edu/scholarly/rlackie/sci/]. More interactive Web sites on anatomy/biology, animals/insects, botany/
nutrition, environment, genetics, marine sciences, and physical sciences can be found at our web site.
Still, although this and many other free, quality Web sites can provide a great deal of information on teaching, learning, and researching science, many other important resources, such as professional magazines and scholarly journals on science and teaching, are not freely available on the Web. These resources can be accessed only through commercial vendors' fee-based subscription databases. Sometimes, however, if you review and explore these vendor sites, you can also find some free full-text or abstract databases there.
Commercial Database Vendors
EBSCO [http://www.epnet.com] offers a large number of fee-based subscription databases containing science resources geared for grades K-12, including the following:
• Health Source: Consumer Edition, for grades 9-12, provides access to full-text, consumer health periodicals, reference books, and fact sheets.
• Encyclopedia of Animals, for elementary schools, provides articles about mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, dinosaurs, and other prehistoric animals.
• The Marshall Cavendish Science Reference Center contains distinct encyclopedias on earth/physical sciences, environment, life sciences, technology/applied sciences, and scientific biographies.
• The Marshall Cavendish Wildlife Reference Center provides access to three distinct encyclopedias on dinosaurs, mammals, and endangered wildlife/plants.
• General Science Collection contains full text for general, popular science publications.
• Auto Repair Reference Center provides general and repair information on most major manufacturers of domestic and imported vehicles back to 1954.
EBSCO also offers packages containing assorted combinations of science and nonscience databases for elementary through high school levels, such as Primary Online Package, Middle Online Package, and MAS Ultra (School Edition). EBSCO also offers a Professional Development Collection that might be of interest to science teachers since it accesses the full-text versions of high-quality education journals.
In addition, EBSCO offers two free abstract databases for teachers and librarians: Library Reference Center offers indexes and abstracts from library titles, and Teacher Reference Center offers indexes and abstracts of the most popular teacher and administrator trade journals, including Childhood Education, High School Journal, Journal of Educational Research, Physics Teacher, Science Education, Science Teacher, and Science Teachers Journal.
Elsevier offers nine fee-based subscription databases geared toward college and university students and researchers. Of these databases, EMBASE [http://www.embase.com] and ScienceDirect [http://www.sciencedirect.com] are useful for upper-level high school students. EMBASE provides access to biomedical and pharmacological information, while ScienceDirect provides peer-reviewed academic journals covering all branches of science.
Elsevier also offers Scirus [http://www.scirus.com], a free Web search engine for scientists, researchers, and students. Search results are drawn from science-related pages, including university sites, author home pages, company home pages, government sites, and databases such as ScienceDirect, MEDLINE, and BioMed Central. A more in-depth review of Scirus and other science Web tools for higher-level high school and above can be found in the Nov./Dec. 2003 ONLINE magazine sci-math article [http://www.infotoday.com/online/nov03/index.shtml].
Many subsidiaries of the Thomson Corporation offer fee-based subscription science databases. One subsidiary, BIOSIS [http://www.biosis.com], provides BasicBIOSIS for students new to research in science, providing citations from science and health publications, as well as general newspapers and newsmagazines. BIOSIS also offers BiologyBrowser [http://www.biologybrowser.org], a free Web site service that enables you to access unique high-quality online resources in the life sciences, featuring an "Index to Organism Names" and a "Guide to the Animal Kingdom for Students and Educators."
Another subsidiary, Thomson Gale [http://www.gale.com], provides Science Resource Center, a new, curriculum-oriented science database for high school and above with content that's directly correlated to national and state science curriculum standards. It accesses reference resources, primary documents, full-text journals, multimedia, and links to science Web sites. Science Resource Center leverages the considerable Thomson Gale resources, including Gale Encyclopedia of Science, Macmillan Science Library, and UXL Encyclopedia of Science, along with 40 additional proprietary reference titles.
The West Group subsidiary of Thomson offers Findlaw [http://www.findlaw.com], the most popular legal Web site and it's free! Findlaw is great for finding legal information, including case history, statutes, and codes on healthcare, and medical malpractice. In addition, Findlaw can easily lead you to superb free databases for various subject areas, including health and education. Just click on the "Browse by Practice Area" under the "For Legal Professionals" section on the first page and choose the "Health Law," "Education Law," or other practice/subject area of interest. Then, find the "Databases" link under the "Web Guide" section, and you will see an alphabetical, annotated listing of quality databases and statistical sites on your subject.
ProQuest [http://www.proquest.com/] produces or distributes numerous fee-based subscription databases. The Wilson General Science Abstracts database, of interest to teachers and students, is found at this main site. However, it is under ProQuest K-12 [http://www.proquestk12.com/], where the K-12 community will find more relevant products and resources. While several general databases, such as eLibrary and SIRS Discoverer, provide science sections, the ProQuest AP Science database, located under the Special Collections heading, specifically focuses on science and health study supporting college-prep and advanced placement coursework for high school. In addition, under the Teacher & Curriculum Resources heading, ProQuest K12 offers the Professional Education Library database for professional development, research, and continuing education on science education and other K-12 topics.
Note that ProQuest recently also announced "dynamic standards-based searching" in its K-12 databases, allowing educators to locate resources in eLibrary, eLibrary Curriculum Edition, and the SIRS suite of databases by content standard and benchmark.
Although ProQuest provides no free databases, you can find many excellent, free, full-text hands-on resources (Excel, HTML, PDF, and Word formats) under the "Curriculum Support," "Homework Help," and "Funding Guides" links on the entry ProQuest K-12 page. K-12 students, teachers, and librarians will like the "Scientific-Based Research," "Prevent Plagiarism," "Internet Resources for Students," and "Lesson Plans & Teacher Toolbox Links" resources, among others.
We have mentioned only a few of the quality free and fee-based Web resources that exist. More are out there on the Web. Other resources you might consider exploring for curriculum resource materials will be discussed in the Internet@Schools West 2004 Session S101: "Finding Free Education Resources on the Web for Teachers and Librarians." The PowerPoint & online article will be available on the Internet Librarian 2004 Collected Presentation site in late November 2004
[http://www.infotoday.com/il2004/presentations/]. We would recommend reading the annotations on and exploring the Gateway to Educational Materials, BlueWeb'n, Kathy Schrock, and EdSelect portals, among others there, to search for quality science sites. For instance, when reviewing EdSelect [http://edselect.com/] you will find that the entire comprehensive Ontario, Canada "Science and Technology," "Earth and Space Systems," and "Health and Physical Fitness" Curriculum Areas for Grades 1-8 are freely available—an invaluable curriculum resource for elementary and middle school science teachers.
Again, we hope that you find this article to be useful for effectively and efficiently locating pertinent, quality online free and fee-based science resources for your K-12 community. Unless you are an experienced searcher, we suggest exploring the resources mentioned within this article, rather than merely wading through general-purpose search engine's results.
Lackie, Robert J. 2003. "Science and Math Web Resources for the Higher Education Community." ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals 27.6 (Nov./Dec. 2003): 35-39.
Lackie, Robert J. 2004. "Sci-Math World." Rider University. Retrieved 4 August 2004 [http://library.rider.edu/scholarly/rlackie/sci/].