Online Homework Help

I. Going "Online": What Does This Really Mean?

"Online" is not synonymous with "the Internet". Online sources include:
  • Fee-based or subscription database. Examples: Infotrac, Firstsearch, Chicago Tribune, SIRS, Lexis-Nexus.
  • Digitized versions of print sources, (online encyclopedias, reference books, magazines). Examples: Encyclopedia Britannica, CQ Researcher, Facts On File, Scientific American, Newsweek
  • Copyright-free government documents and databases. Examples: CIA World Fact Book, Background Notes
  • Free web databases created by individuals and organizations. Examples: Animal Diversity Web, Internet Movie Database
  • Archives of listservs and electronic discussion groups. Examples: Dr Math archive, Sparknotes message board.

II. What You Won’t Find Online, (for free)

  • Full text of most magazine and newspaper articles
  • Full text of books still under copyright
  • The best sources on events more than 20 years old
Remember, only a small percentage of printed knowledge is on the Internet!

III. What You Will...

  • Organizations, e.g the World Wildlife Federation, the International Olympic Committee, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Medical Association
    • Pros: Authoritative, information heavy.
    • Cons: may not be geared to kids, may not be well-organized.
  • Government information - city, county, state, federal and international. e.g City of Chicago, Food and Drug Administration
    • Pros and cons: same as for organizations.
  • Current news stories, (although not generally the full text of magazine articles)
    • Pros: current, good for local or regional coverage of issues. Usually easy to search.
    • Cons: Can’t usually find articles over a week old for free.
  • Indexes and bibliographies
    • Pros: may point to great resources.
    • Cons: may be hard to obtain the actual documents or articles. Often not written on a kid’s level.
  • Local history collections and archives, e.g. Evanston Historical Association
    • Pros: great for researching a specific community. Resources usually unique.
    • Cons: often not well-organized. May require plug-in software to view.
  • "Ask an Expert" services, e.g., AskUs, Allexperts, Ask Dr Science
    • Pros: easy to use, often well-organized and easy to search.
    • Cons: Who’s writing this stuff? May not give expertise of authors, or attribution if material was found elsewhere.

IV. Finding, Not Searching On the Internet

  • Who is likely to have this information?
  • What general topic does my question fall into?
  • Is the Internet really the best place to look?
Remember, if you need to find a specific fact, you need to determine which source will have it. Example: if you were looking for the address of a restaurant, you wouldn’t type the name of the restaurant in the catalog! You’'d look either for a telephone book for that town, or a restaurant or tourist guidebook for the town.

V. Types of Internet Sources for Students, (and When to Use Them)

  • Chat, listservs, and other sharing forums - Good for getting opinions from a variety of sources.
  • Subject specific homework sites (e.g. Web Math, Art Lex)
  • General homework sites - May include "ask an expert" services; often indexed by grade level.
  • Internet directories - For locating quality subject and homework sites.
  • Search engines - Absolutely a last resort; no quality control whatsoever.
Getting ideas, browsing
I have a short question: a definition, etc.
How Stuff Works
I forgot my textbook...
Encyclopedia Britannica
Historylink 101
Library of Congress Country Studies
I don’t understand, I need help...
Internet Public Library's Ask a Question

VI. Evaluating Homework Help Sites

Not all homework help sites are created equal. Some are commercial, some run by volunteers. Questions to ask before using:
  • Who is answering the questions and compiling the sources? Is it teachers, librarians or subject specialists? How are they selected? Are credentials given?
  • Who sponsors the site? A corporation? Volunteer educators? Any possible ideological slants to the information presented (e.g. religious, political, industry)?
  • If it’s the online version of a book or magazine, is the content the same in both versions? (Sometimes online versions contain more information than the print edition, sometimes less.)
  • What grade levels is the site geared towards? Does it allow you to choose a grade level?
  • How are questions answered? Does the site give guidance and hints, or does it actually answer questions? What is the turnaround time for answers?
  • How is it organized? Can children negotiate it easily?
  • How are concepts explained? Does the pedagogical approach differ greatly from your child’s teachers? (If so, child may become confused.)
  • Is it filled with ads? These are distracting and may freeze your screen if there are software problems. Can also distract children from the content.

VII. Evaluating Information on the Internet

  • What’s the date? (Note: the site may be updated regularly, but what about individual articles?)
  • Is it from an expert, knowledgeable source?
  • Can it be confirmed in other sources?
  • Does the author have any biases or political, ideological agendas?
  • Is it a commercial site, or an ad?
  • Is it a joke or parody site?

VIII. What About Google?

  • No quality control.
  • No age or grade level control.
  • Results based on computer algorithm, NOT human intelligence, (try typing "miserable failure")
  • Results influenced by advertising
  • Works better as a white pages than a yellow pages.

IX. A Word On Plagiarism, Copyright, and Academic Honesty

  • Copying is copying, whether it’s online or paper. The same rules for plagiarism apply.
  • Citing online sources: a MUST. (See EasyBib for help formatting bibliographies)
  • Getting permission: Even for educational use, a good idea.
  • "Public Domain" material may be ued freely. See the Public Domain Image Sources page in the Paper Writing resource section.

X. Brief, By No Means Exhaustive List of Suggested Sources

Children’s Internet Guides and Directories

  • American Library Association's 700 Amazing, Spectacular, Mysterious, Colorful Web Sites For Kids And The Adults Who Care For Them - Chosen by children’s librarians, this list also includes sites for parents and teachers.
  • Ask Jeeves for Kids - A plain-English search engine that can provide help on many topics. Just type in your question and Jeeves will send back an answer.
  • Awesome Library - Large collection of lesson plans and homework resources, arranged by school subject.
  • Berit’s Best Sites for Kids - Web page to help parents enjoy fun and educational computing with their children.
  • B.J. Pinchbeck’s Homework Helper - A delightful collection of over 700 useful sites for elementary and middle school kids, compiled by a 14 year old and his dad. Sometimes slow to load, lots of ads.
  • Firstgov for Kids - Guide to federal government sources for children, includes a homework resource section.
  • Four to Explore - Gives at least 4 quality sites for researching many topics.
  • SparkNotes - Created by Harvard students, well-written guides to math, science, literature and history. One of the best sites for high-schoolers. Requires free registration.
  • InfoPlease Online Almanac - A little bit of everything. Easy to use, includes an almanac, encyclopedia, calendars, dictionary, atlas, and biographies. Has a homework center and "Fact Monster", a guide to frequently asked schoolwork questions. Warning lots of ads and pop-ups.
  • KidsClick! - A searchable and browsable directory of more than 6,300 Web resources of use to kids and those who work with them. Indexed by grade level.

Ask an Expert/Homework Sites

Guides for Parents and Teachers


  • ArtLex - A visual arts dictionary, with definitions of more than 3,300 terms.
  • The Web Museum - History of art, with profiles of major artists, samples of their work.

Science and Math

  • How Stuff Works - Authors know what they're talking about! Meaty info written at a kid’s level with referrals to other good sites on each topic. Covers science, technology, culture.
  • Animal Diversity Web - Succinct info. from the University of Michigan’s zoology department. Great pictures.
  • Internet Public Library Kidspace Science Fair Project Guide - One of the best general guides for planning and researching science projects, for both children and teenagers. Tips on writing and presenting the report doing research, etc.
  • U.S. Naval Observatory’s Astronomical Phenomena - Find eclipses, moon phases, star charts, and more.
  • AAA Math - Find explanations of mathematical topics, practice problems, and challenging games organized by topic and grade level.
  • SparkNotes Math Guides - Created by Harvard students, well-written guides to math topices from pre-algebra through calculus. Requires free registration. Site also includes guides for the sciences.
  • WebMath - Very helpful problem solver for elementary through high school math.
  • The Why Files - Siimple explanations of science in daily life, current events.

Language Arts, Books

  • SparkNotes Literature Guides - The online Cliff notes, created by Harvard students. Covers Shakespeare, poetry, drama, and classic fiction. Requires free registration.
  • Encyclopedia Mythica - An online encyclopedia of mythology, folklore, and legend. The browse section is arranged according to world cultures. Includes a search engine for keyword searching.

History, Geography

  • Best History Sites - Over 1000 history links, searchable by time period and location chosen by history teachers. Also lists recommended map sources.
  • Background Notes - The U. S. State Department’s guide to living and visiting in other countries. Good place to find cultural details: food, greetings, gift-giving, dating, dress, etc.
  • CIA World Factbook - Best source for general country information, statistics, maps. They’re the experts.
  • Constitution Online - A searchable electronic version of the U.S. Constitution, with history of each amendment.
  • Library of Congress Country Studies - Complete text of handbooks on the history, culture and geography of many countries.
  • Historylink 101 - The perfect web site for all those "day in the life" classes, with photos, maps, artwork, statistics, biographies, and narrative on ancient civilizations, Native American culture and history, the Middle Ages, and World War II.
  • Internet History Sourcebooks - Awesome collection of links to texts and documents for ancient, medieval, and modern history: also covers women’s and gay/lesbian history; history in the movies.
  • SparkNotes History Guides - Overviews of topics in American history through the Vietnam War, and European history through WWII. Requires free registration.
  • Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection - Best choice for high quality, printable maps from around the world.

News, Current Events

Paper Writing, Academic Honesty

Compiled by Lesley Williams
Evanston Public Library Reference Dept.
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