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Portals Take Education Into a New Dimension

October 26, 2000|SUSAN McLESTER | Susan McLester is editor of Technology & Learning magazine at

It's Sunday night and your fourth-grader can't remember the weekend's homework? Wondering if your high school junior is prepared for the SAT? Need tips on the best software for preschoolers?

Check out the growing number of online learning destinations, an evolution of the Internet portal concept. Like Yahoo, Netscape and AOL, these Web sites seek to draw visitors looking for one-stop convenience. The difference is these service sites focus not on travel, sports or a car purchase but on education.

The sites have been proliferating like kudzu over the last couple of years, but there have been casualties too as they merge and create partnerships robust enough to survive the competition.

These electronic learning communities provide a new opportunity for parents, teachers and students to stay up-to-date on everything from school lunch menus to the best online tutoring courses in advanced physics.

Site offerings include filtered Internet searches, online encyclopedias, newspapers and other reference materials, and lesson plans and professional development information for educators. There are Web-building tools; templates for calendars, homework assignments and permission slips; links to helpful Web sites; and forums and polls for interactive discussions of education issues.

With the exception of online training, real-time tutoring and some in-depth references, these sites are free to users and are wonderful resources.

Here's a look at a handful of learning destinations that seem likely to be around for a while.

* at is perhaps the most robust of the offerings. A major strength is the high quality of its subsidiaries and partners, including and MediaSeek Technologies, which matches school lesson plans and resources with state standards.

The site offers depth and breadth of information on such topics as gifted kids and children with disabilities, study skills and home learning. There are links to hundreds of tutorials on everything from the alphabet to advanced chemistry.

The site solicits parent participation through online field trips, connects users to parent organizations and provides original content via an imaginative learning adventure--the current one with an election theme.

* Classroom Connect at offers high-quality lesson plans that do an exceptional job of investigating topics such as the Civil War. The site features live and archived Web adventures, enabling a classroom of students to interact in real time with teams of researchers in Africa and South America.

* at is oriented to high school instructors, students and parents. It offers less content than other sites, but is a good place for teachers new to technology to get their feet wet on the Web.

The site features easy-to-use tools and a clean design and has Web page templates for school activities, sports and newspapers. The GradFinder application helps parents track down alumni from their own high school.

* Lightspan at provides a huge range of resources on collaborative learning projects that would probably interest your child's teacher.

The site has hooked up with Family PC to offer good advice on software, hardware and Internet projects for families. A partnership with Top Tutor adds valuable one-on-one tutoring opportunities with a "live" teacher.

* Learning Network at groups a series of previously independent Web sites--including FamilyEducation Network, which is geared to parents. The site features an age-specific resource search and helpful tips on such topics as the top signs of trouble for students in grades K-8.

It also has one of the livelier interactive discussion forums, with archived chats on such issues as corporal punishment and religion and public schools. Other areas include FunBrain, a kid-friendly search from the folks at Information Please Almanac.

* Riverdeep Interactive Learning at has carved its own niche in the learning destination market with online simulations designed to teach math and science concepts from basic factoring to anatomy. Some of the simulations are livelier than others, but an earthquake study area gives a taste of the jazzier designs.

Riverdeep recently acquired Edmark, whose K-8 software products have been consistently top-notch for several years.


Education Web Portals


Hundreds of tutorials

Classroom Connect

High-quality lesson plans


Designed specifically

for high schoolers


Good advice on

family tech projects

Learning Network

Great parent resources


Online simulations in

math and science

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