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Kids' Sites Offer Full Coverage of the News and What It Means

April 05, 2001|SUSAN McLESTER | smclester@cmp.com

The trick in these days of information overload lies not in keeping kids up to speed on current events but in helping them make sense of it all. Well-designed, up-to-date current events sites provide visitors with the tools to apply thoughtful consideration to news topics and can be a powerful force in helping kids learn to form and trust their own opinions.

Three services--CNNfyi, the New York Times Learning Network and the Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition--primarily target sixth- through 12th-graders and offer slightly different treatments of news stories with related activities. All provide education news, lesson plans and interactive elements that invite users to opine on topics of the day.

CNNfyi, at http://www.cnnfyi.com, is sound, informative and perhaps more entertaining than the other two. The site augments good text-based news coverage with a variety of compelling multimedia elements.

Slightly less timely than the New York Times site, it posts the three top news stories later in the day. But it offers a robust treatment of each with views from numerous perspectives. The recent coverage of the Mir space station's fiery descent to Earth, for instance, featured an easy-to-read main article along with an extensive sidebar of multimedia coverage.

Visitors could watch an instructive animation, track the path of Mir via real-time shots or click through a gallery of photos of the space station taken by astronauts aboard shuttles. Other articles--such as those on Russia-U.S. relations--were rounded out with audio interviews, CNN videos, timelines, retrospectives and viewer polls.

The accompanying lesson plans are detailed and include ties to education standards to help teachers integrate them into lessons. In addition to daily news units, the site investigates a particular topic in depth each month, adding quizzes and live Webcasts to the other resources. The New York Times Learning Network, at http://www.nytimes.com/learning, offers broad coverage of timely news and appeals mainly to older, more sophisticated kids with more advanced language skills.

The home page includes the day's news with sidebars that round out events with interviews and historical perspectives. Most impressive, though, are the imaginative lesson plans designed around trends or topics of the day.

The premise of a recent one was a parallel between Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" and today's office cubicle culture. Activities included translating Bartleby passages into modern language, composing a film script and resetting the story in today's White House or a big corporation.

The site's Conversation Starters feature provides a good example of how technology can facilitate communication among family members. A series of questions about each day's headlines is great for sparking discussion on how to protect yourself during an incident of school violence, why the Russians pushed Mir out of orbit or the reasons behind President Bush's child-care budget cuts.

The Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition, at http://www.wsjclassroomedition.com, is more of an online magazine than a current events site. More spartan and less varied than other sites, it offers some news coverage and simpler, more straightforward reporting.

For teachers and students new to technology, the uncluttered design and limited offerings might be a less confusing starting point than other destinations. The magazine does not report the day's top stories, instead sending users elsewhere.

Covered are soft topics such as new automobile steering technology and sports, science and education news. A friendly teen page invites kids to "ask the expert" or submit columns of their own for publication. During a recent visit, the site featured two thoughtful articles--one for parents on virtual schools and the other for kids on unscripted TV shows such as "Survivor."

Original teacher resources are thin, comprising a few unimaginative downloadable work sheets. But there are links to Microsoft, BigChalk and other education publishers' Web sites with good content for schools.

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Susan McLester is editor of Technology & Learning magazine.

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