As schools' Internet use takes advantage of the explosive growth in complex digital content, schools need Internet access that can support rich interactive multimedia and real-time applications. Therefore high-speed Web connectivity is rapidly becoming the new school standard. For example, the Technology in Education 2001 report from Shelton, Conn.-based Market Data Retrieval shows that 63 percent of schools now access the Internet through T1 lines, a growth of 7 percent from last year. The use of all other types of connections decreased for the same period, and dial-up connections dropped to 18 percent. The survey also found that 83 percent of schools offer some form of dedicated Internet access, including 56Kb connections, T1 or T3 lines, cable modems or digital satellite. Highspeed Internet access among schools also varies by state, ranging from a high of 100 percent in Delaware, to a low of 38 percent in Vermont.
But while high-speed access is becoming increasingly common in schools, of crucial importance is how the technology is used to support teaching and learning. An MDR study published last March-Professional Development & Standards-Based Education-reports that most teachers use the Internet for reference and to search for classroom resources, but only 22 percent of teachers use it to deliver instruction. MDR also found 12 percent of schools subscribe to fee-based online curriculum content-ranging from $5 per student per year for unlimited access to curriculum libraries to more than $400 for each student per course per semester. This represents a 1 percent decrease from the previous year. Although subscription-based options continue to multiply, there has also been a huge growth in the amount of free educational content from trusted sources such as National Geographic.
A related report from Denver-based Quality Education Data-School Market Trends: Internet Usage in Teaching 2001-2002-found that only 6 percent of Internet-using teachers use the Internet as a primary source for core curriculum materials. It also found little agreement about what Web sites teachers use most often, and Discovery Online was the only site reported by more than 10 percent of the respondents.
The increase of Internet power in schools also enables educators to expand the ways they use online resources and allows developers to produce Web-centered products with features far beyond the reach of dial-up connections. And, since Web-linked laptop, wireless and PDA solutions are being offered to schools by companies such as Mindsurf Networks, the demand for educational applications is escalating still further. As a result, there is a flood of new online education resources that need to be brought to the attention of the K-12 education community; that's what the annual Curriculum Web Site Awards are all about.
AN ACCELERATING INDUSTRY
The Curriculum Web Site Awards were launched in 1998 to identify the best K-12 online curriculum materials in every content area, and in this fourth year, the competition again includes free and subscription-based options. In the course of reviewing more than 700 education-related sites, the following changes in the industry are apparent:
The best education sites continue to get better, and online curriculum leaders such as Riverdeep, Lightspan, Discovery School and Classroom Connect have added powerful new options and expanded into new areas. This year DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION is establishing a Hall of Fame to recognize superior achievement from previous winners.
Most education companies now offer Web content to support their offerings. "Every product we produced in the last year was linked to the Internet," says Dan Fuller, executive director of sales and marketing for the Follett Software Company, www.follettsoftware.com. Similarly, SMART Technologies added free online lesson plans to help teachers integrate SMART Board technology into the curriculum, www.smarttech.com/lessonplans.
Many key companies extended their online reach through acquisitions to offer more comprehensive K-12 curriculum solutions. For example, Pearson Education offers resources from dozens of companies that were formerly separate, including products from NCS Learn. In the past year Riverdeep purchased The Learning Company, Classroom Connect was acquired by McGraw-Hill, and Scholastic purchased Tom Snyder Productions.
Companies are transporting products successful in other formats to the Internet to gain new advantages. For example, Nan Halperin, Bigchalk's vice president of sales & marketing, describes her company's new Web versions of CD-ROM products as having "more robust and customizable functionality."
The influence of the curriculum standards movement is clearly evident. "The Internet allows us to affordably deliver a direct link to standards at every level," says Kathy Hurley, Netschools vice president of marketing and strategic relationships. The company's new Orion service aligns textbook content and lesson plans with Web resources keyed to national, state and local standards.
Growing numbers of companies are adding staff development features to their sites. "Our Web strategy changed dramatically from one where we saw our site as a way of delivering lessons, to one where the primary goal is teacher support," says Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Digi-Block Inc., www.digiblock.com.
Companies are also building Web-based user commucommunities around their products. As Valerie Laird, CEO and president of Crick Software, www.cricksoft.com, puts it, "The Internet is a primary vehicle for communication-a place where teachers reach other teachers, share knowledge and resources, and students connect with other students for a variety of collaborative purposes."
There was continued growth in online curriculum partnerships. "Companies must find ways to work together to provide integrated Webbased solutions to make the life of the educator easier," says Judith Hamilton, president and CEO of Classroom Connect. To illustrate this point, AOL@School established content partnerships with multiple companies including BrainPOP and Riverdeep.
Most fee-based education sites now also provide free content to attract users beyond product information, including sample activities, trial subscriptions and "value-added" services such as professional calendars and background articles. For example, ABC-CLIO offers free 30-day trials for their social studies online curriculum suites.
Several companies committed strongly to high-bandwidth content delivery, including iKnowthat.com, and more will follow suit. The AT&T Learning Network Broadband Academy is a centralized guide to online educational options that leverage the power of highspeed access, www.att.com/learningnetwork/broadband.
Fewer education sites offer commercial-free environments. Logos, banner ads and links to company pages-even annoying pop-up ads-were more visible as sponsorships became more common.
This site offers suites of highquality, subscription-based history Web sites that function as secondary school reference and curriculum resources. These include American history, americanhistory.abc-clio.com, and world history, worldhistory.abc-clio.com, which present the history behind current news, featured stories, "This Day in History" events, a timeline of topic explorations, and a reference tool that can find resources by keyword, historical period and type such as maps and videos. They also include an online dictionary, thesaurus and a calendar for students to keep track of assignments.
AOL@School is an outstanding free education portal for K-12 schools that offers a redesigned, easy-to-use interface to deliver age-appropriate curriculum content selected by experts, searchable lesson plans, class projects, online references and homework help. Additional features include free e-mail services, education updates from each state, kid-safe search tools, and special resource sections for teachers and administrators with online guides and discussion groups. The site also offers links to recommended suppliers of educational products and services, and a free weekly newsletter.
Beyond Books offers exemplary standards-based, online curriculum subscription options for grades 6-12. This award-winning program has expanded its catalog to multiple courses in social studies including history and government; science including life, physical and earth science; literature & language arts such as American literature and Shakespeare; and Spanish. The well-designed courses include a variety of student investigations, pictures and maps that can be downloaded for reports, scheduled online discussions with experts, teacher resource guides, and links to recommended Web sites organized by topic.
This site is an online arm of the world-famous Exploratorium museum in San Francisco. It is also targeted to helping people nurture their curiosity through innovative environments, programs and tools. The Exploratorium offers some of the most creative interactive activities on the Web in science, math and human perception, including opportunities to follow expeditions online, visit the Hubble telescope, look through live cameras, participate in Webcasts, build projects and explore the science behind topics such as baseball and cycling. The site also includes a subject index and selects "Ten Cool Sites" each month.
HowStuffWorks is an amazing site where people can get clear, straightforward information complete with colorful animated illustrations on how things work, from car engines and television monitors, to aspirin and breathalyzers. The expanding site already offers more than 2,500 articles with 2,000 graphics, and receives 6,000 questions a month asking for additional explanations. The content is organized by category-such as computers & Internet, body & health-but also offers a powerful search engine and daily features including "Gadget of the Day," "Question of the Day" and a Top 40 list of articles.
iKnowthat is a subscription-based service that offers some of the most powerful, creative and richest multimedia education games on the Web in elementary curriculum content areas that include geography, history, language arts, science, math and visual arts. The site uses colorful graphics, animations, sound effects, humor and storylines effectively to captivate and engage learners, and keeps track of the best scores for students wherever they are located. Activities include a word builder, science lab, puzzle maps and math practice section, but the complexity of the presentations requires high-speed connections.
This exceptionally creative site was started by an elementary school teacher to promote the sport of running and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for kids. It is now sponsored by Runner's World magazine. The site has expanded into every content area and offers colorful multimedia presentations related to running and competing in races, with announcements, photos, stories and news about events throughout the nation. It also includes columns, training tips, curriculum suggestions, interactive activities, links to related resources, and it invites students to contribute essays, poems and art about their experiences.
This is one of the most valuable and comprehensive education sites on the Web, with more than 100 online learning adventures that range from Trekking Nepal to Remembering Pearl Harbor, and special features such as a spectacular 3-D virtual trip through our solar system. National Geographic offers superior geographic resources including a star chart, a dynamic Map Machine for the earth, printable maps and a guide to national education standards. The site also includes teacher-tested lesson plans, homework help, information on grants, a guide for parents, and outstanding links to related resources.
Netschools Orion is a members-only site that aligns textbooks, lesson plans and activities with national, state and local standards, and supports the curriculum with news, learning games, activities and related articles. Orion includes a powerful and extensive curriculum search tool that uses up to 18 different properties-including keywords, level, resource type and standards-to select from a database of 47,000 pre-screened multimedia Web sites. It also offers related teaching materials, including lesson plan templates, and tools such as "Organizer" for planning and grading.
Scholastic, a leading publisher and distributor of children's books including the Harry Potter series, maintains an outstanding site to reinforce the love of reading among young people. The site includes interactive book-related activities, news, surveys, online discussions and author profiles for students; a parents' section with advice to help children educationally; teacher resources including lesson plans, research tools, discussion guides and professional materials. Scholastic.com is packed with quality content, but an online guide makes it easy to find specific resources.
StudyWorks Online is a free learning site to help students discover math and science concepts traditionally taught from grades 7-12, through a variety of online investigations and creative learning activities. These include online strategy and eye-hand coordination games that are played against the computer, logic problems, weekly puzzles, and a large selection of explorations and demonstrations grouped by content area, such as proving the Pythagorean Theorem visually. The site also includes news stories about math and science, homework hints, online tests, and links to related Web sites.
SUBJECT-SPECIFIC AWARDS GENERAL/INTERDISCIPLINARY CURRICULUM:
NetTrekker is a subscription-based academic research tool for the secondary school curriculum that features more than 160,000 teacherreviewed and rated multimedia Web sites organized by content area and aligned with state standards. The content can be searched by various ways including keywords, source (such as libraries or museums), and types of multimedia including videos. Searches can also be saved.
This site from the National Endowment for the Humanities is a guide to the best humanities resources on the Web, grouped in the categories of art and culture, foreign language, history and social studies, literature and language arts. Resources were reviewed for content, design and likely classroom impact, and the site includes related materials including lesson plans, monthly activities, and special features such as "Digital Dante."
ArtsEdge was established under a cooperative agreement between the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts to support art at the center of the curriculum through the use of technology. The site offers a wealth of K-12 Web-centered curriculum units, lessons, activities and resources grouped by grade level for integrating the arts into every content area.
Music Education Resource Links
This comprehensive site, which is hosted by the University of the Pacific School of education, offers links for each of the nine national content standards presented by the National Standards for Art Education. These include an extensive selection of online K-12 multimedia resources that support listening and evaluating music, singing, playing instruments, composing and understanding music in relation to history and culture.
LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERATURE:
Bookadventure is a free online reading motivation program for grades K-8, where children create their own book lists from more than 5,400 recommended titles and take online quizzes on the books they've read offline to earn points and prizes. The site also provides links to related resources for students, parents and teachers, and is supported by publishers and organizations including the International Reading Association.
Children's Book Council
CBC, a non-profit trade organization dedicated to encouraging literacy and the enjoyment of children's books, offers online biographies of authors and links to their work from member publishers, including a list of "75 authors/illustrators that everyone should know." The site also provides related resources including recommended reading activities, and information on Children's Book Week and Young Peoples Poetry Week.
This site, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, is designed to provide Internet resources to improve the teaching and learning of math for all students. These include interactive online multimedia math investigations, Internet-based lesson plans developed by expert teachers, searchable NCTM standards, and links to recommended Web sites for topics such as algebra, geometry and measurement.
Hotmath provides step-by-step solutions to homework problems in leading math textbooks in algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, and calculus, and also provides links to recommended math sites. Visitors can try Hotmath guided solutions and view problems numbered 1 to 9 in any textbook for free. There is no charge for teachers and students during school hours but full access for a homework tool requires fee-based registration.
This dynamic multimedia site offers colorful animated and narrated educational online movies in science, health and technology, on topics such as atoms, static electricity, asthma, digestion, photography and robots. The site makes concepts accessible, meaningful and entertaining for children and adults, and provides related content including quizzes, puzzles, comics, activities, and opportunities to ask questions.
TeachSpace is a comprehensive source for space science content targeted to upper-elementary and middle school students and teachers. This includes a library of inquiry lessons, themed monthly modules, online photos and movies, and links to related multimedia sites including SpaceKids, with news, virtual tours, games, activities, question-asking services and homework help.
American Memory, maintained by the Library of Congress, is a gateway to primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. It offers more than 7 million digital items from more than 100 historical collections. The searchable topics include economics, geography, performing arts, social sciences and technology, with easy access to online manuscripts, maps, photos, motion pictures, and sound recordings.
Offered by the National Council on Economic Education, this site provides classroom-tested, standards-based educational materials for K-12 teachers and students that cover the essential principles of economics. These include: lesson plans, which can be searched by title, concept, grade level or standard; news and information on current events; case studies and data on key economic indicators; and links to related economics education sites.
HEALTH, NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION:
Sponsored by the Nemours Foundation, KidsHealth is designed to provide accurate, up-to-date and jargon-free health information for kids, teenagers and parents. The site offers thousands of original articles, animations, interactive activities, games and resources developed by health experts on topics that include growth and development, first aid, allergies, nutrition and medical care.
This premier Web site for health and physical education teachers, parents and students is a gold mine of links to online lessons, interactive instructional materials, best practices, assessment ideas and professional resources. The site also maintains a Top Web Sites section for content areas including gymnastics, dance, outdoor recreation, playgrounds, sports and fitness, and information on grants and fundraising.
Odvard Egil Dyrli, email@example.com, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.