Learning Fun for Kids Online

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Homework Assignment: The Great Gatsby
Photo courtesy of AlyssaOh, no.It was crunch time for my high school junior -- English Lit: themes in The Great Gatsby. Of course I remember reading the book! It's a classic by F. Scott Fitzgerald (*whew* thanks, wikipedia)Sidenote: the first result on a google search is the 2013 film with Leonardo DiCaprio. The internet makes us stupid and smart all at the same time.Anyway.My daughter comes trudging in with a list of essay questions, and I can hardly remember the characters' names, let alone the plot (although it all starts coming back to me as we read the book cover and research "together").The best resources (in addition to SparkNotes, of course) that we found are as follows (in no specific order):1. The Twentieth Century Novel, an old 2008 blog by an English teacher (now professor) that's not being updated any more, has a page called the Final Discussion on Gatsby that gives a background on American society at the time (with a continuation here). Another couple of pages deal with themes: this one and this one. The mid-term exam gives an idea of the types of questions you can expect on term essays as well.2. The Great Gatsby Study Guide from LitCharts. They'll email you a 10 page PDF that contains everything from themes to background info, plot overview, character descriptions, symbols, important quotes and a detailed summary and analysis. 3. Shmoop is a great site to get all the literary coverage you might need on The Great Gatsby, and it's presented in a way that might make old people (me) grit their teeth a little, but hey!, it's written for bored "I'd rather kill myself than read a book and write an essay" teens. (In defense of my old-codger attitude, one sentence reads: "Do we smell a Twilight-esque love triangle approaching?")4. Enotes is another useful site with sample papers and analysis as well as teacher-written answers to some questions. For example, one question has to do with the portrayal of the American Dream, and there's some very good material on it there. You'll see a side menu of related questions too.And just in case you've come up with a question about Jay Gatsby's car (his Rolls-Royce plays a crucial role in the story). It's described in the book as having “a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns.” (sorry, but I forget the chapter where you can find that quote).Note: I would never buy an essay and submit it (or allow my kids to), but if you're stuck for ideas, you can scroll through some Gatsby papers at 123HelpMe, and maybe read the free ones. See if you can use them as prompts to help you develop ideas you may be having trouble with.

The Physics Classroom
My teen is taking physics in high school this year, and is finding it a tough course. She says half the class is usually sound asleep and sometimes the teacher seems to be too, although his eyes are still open...A once-a-week tutor may not be enough to get her through, so I figured I'd look online for some help, and there's a wonderful place called The Physics Classroom, which describes itself as "an online, free to use physics website developed primarily for beginning physics students and their teachers." I don't know anything about physics, so I looked what I thought I might have a chance at: the very first classroom tutorial in 1-D Kinematics. I clicked on the Introduction to Lesson 1 - Describing Motion with Words and (within a minute) was able to score 100% on the "Check Your Understanding" portion regarding vectors and scalars.I could see this as being a great review site for exam or test time and a reference for when concepts or definitions aren't well understood.While most of the site is text, there are animations that help explain concepts like acceleration. Try the first question on this page and (if you're like me, and you get it wrong), you'll understand how helpful the detailed answer is. Image source: FreeImages.comStock photo: Bored with HomeworkImage ID: 446665

Educational Games for Tweens and Teens (and Me)
I played a game at Learn4Good called Arm Surgery 2, and now that it's over (and I didn't kill the patient), I think I need a bit of a lie-down!You're guided through each step of the process, from x-ray to operation. You need to use the correct surgical equipment from scalpel and screws to tourniquet and tongs, and if you're too slow, you "fail."If medicine's not your thing, you can play a fast food business simulation game, the goal of which is to "help you learn how to run a successful food service business." I think I'll brush up on my parking skills at Drivers Ed 2 (which starts off with a warning that it is for entertainment only and shouldn't be used as a "guide for driving") or perhaps I'll try my hand at being an air traffic controller with Airport Madness 3, which game is according to one player very challenging.For a more serious game, 3rd World Farmer may prove to be an eye-opening experience, where you try to make decisions while dealing with extreme poverty. Questions arise, like would you take money to store chemical waste or house terrorists -- that money being needed to feed your family and pay for their medical bills.Have fun - and learn!

The Basic Rules of Poetry Explained -- with examples by The Beatles
Do you know what prosody is? Defined as "the patterns of stress and intonation in a language," it's prosody that gives poetry its basic beat or rhythm, broken down into three forms of verse:1. syllabic2. accentual3. accentual-syllabicIf that's just too mind-numbing for you, join the club, and then get your poetry explained by Kyle Kallgren, the host of a series on Blip called "Brows Held High" (which is self-described as a mildly immature look into the strange world of the arthouse").In this particular video, Between the Lines: The Beatles, Kyle uses (and sings!!) lyrics by The Beatles to illustrate various patterns that comprise the basic rules of poetry. Besides being fun to watch, it makes understanding the concepts much easier.

Scale of the Universe
The Scale of the Universe explores how big (and how little) stuff is when compare to other stuff -- like, for example, how "a small glass table top to a human is a vast plane of strange smoothness to a dust mite."The interactive flash animation uses the metric system of measurement, so a human is shown to be 1.7 meters which is 5.6 feet. You can see how this compares to the 3-meter lengthwise measurement of some of the largest Japanese Spider Crabs.Each image not only contains measurements, but information that's written in a fun and engaging manner -- take the rafflesia, for instance. Measuring one meter across, it's the largest single flower in the world. It can weight up to 10 kilograms [22 pounds], which is actually pretty heavy. The flower smells like rotting flesh to attract flies, which will pollinate it.Take time to explore this NASA/Michigan Tech site. You'll find the Astronomy Picture of the Day on the homepage while the index page leads to information on colliding galaxies, dark matter and supernova remnants.Cool!

Math Dictionary
Need a quick answer?You're in luck if the question is about a math term, like the very popular "what's a cute triangle?" (sigh). It's exactly what you need if you don't want these Herman cartoons to apply to you:A Maths Dictionary for Kids is great resource for students through high school (and their math-deficient parents). It includes not only simple and colorful diagrammed definitions that are easy to understand, but also more than 250 printable charts or posters -- and it's all free.Because the site owner is Australian, British spelling conventions are used (for instance, maths vs math and metre vs meter). Just another learning opportunity!

Sweet Search - the search engine for students
There's a search engine for kids.Called SweetSearch, it claims that every website in it has been evaluated by a staff of research experts, teachers and librarians.This search engine for students searches only those approximately 35,000 approved sites. In its About page, SweetSearch says "We constantly evaluate our search results and "fine-tune" them, by increasing the ranking of Web sites from organizations such as the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, PBS and university Web sites."The benefit of SweetSearch is that:it helps students find outstanding information, faster. It enables them to determine the most relevant results from a list of credible resources, and makes it much easier for them to find primary sources. We exclude not only obvious spam sites, but also marginal sites that read well, but lack academic or journalistic rigor. As importantly, the very best Web sites that are often buried on other search engines appear on the first page of SweetSearch results. (source)So I gave it a whirl.My grade 9 daughter had worked on a geography project for a tiny northern Quebec community called Schefferville. The search results for this town on SweetSearch are very different from those on Google -- with many more articles offered on SweetSearch giving a more personalized (and interesting) view of the area rather than simply historical and repetitive wikipedia-like entries.Using both search engines (Google and SweetSearch) seems to give the most comprehensive look at a topic. I agree with this finding:Google or Bing may find many of the same sites, but what I've noticed is that some of the better sites for a particular topic wind up deep in their search results, often outranked by Web pages more commonly used but of inferior quality...I was impressed with SweetSearch's focus on credible scholarship and emphasis on primary source materials." (source)

Record a Bedtime Story
This site is not free (although there are a few books that you can record for free) -- but it's something you may wish to take a look at anyway.At A Story Before Bed, you read a bedtime story (using your webcam) that you've selected from the hundreds available in the site library. The child you're reading to gets to hear your voice and see you read the book.The FAQs say you can record any book for free and you pay only when you're satisfied with the recording. There are a few books that are totally free, but the average cost is $6.99 per book (unless you're a member at a cost of $10/month, when you can record an unlimited number).It looks like this: Your child can watch on his or her computer, iPhone or iPad, as many times as s/he wants.This is a great way for families to stay close and connected. There are pre-recorded books (one I saw was read by the author), and although it's interesting, I think that rather defeats the purpose of the idea behind the site's creation of bringing families together.

History and Science for Kids
The tag line for this childen's encyclopedia site is: What Do You Want to Know Today? Isn't that great?Kidipede - History and Science for Kids covers mainly history and science topics. Originally a learning project for university students, the site has been owned and published by Professor Karen Carr since 2000. The original emphasis of Kidipede was on ancient Greece and Rome, although it's been expanded to include sections on North America, China, India, West Asia, Egypt, Africa and Germany as well as on Islam and the Middle Ages.It seems that middle school (grades 7-9) students--and up--would be able to make best use of the information provided on this site, although a parent could paraphrase and/or simplify for younger learners.I randomly chose a page called Gunpowder in Ancient China, just to see how the information was presented. It's quite fascinating, actually, the first sentence being: "Like the idea of zero, gunpowder developed gradually over time." The word "zero" is linked to a page called Indian Mathematics where the invention of zero as a placeholder is explained.You might get lost exploring Kidipede, but you'll come out knowing a lot more than when you went in!

Head of the Class
I just learned about a curriculum-based supplemental learning site called Head of the Class. It's free and runs from preschool to fifth grade, providing worksheets, games, activities and videos on subjects that include:Art GeographyHistoryMathMusicScienceSpellingWritingSpanishReading The site's FAQ page says that they were planning to release sixth grade through eighth grades in 2011, but I don't see evidence of that yet.Register for free and you can track your child's progress, which includes promoting him or her to the next grade level. On average, each grade level takes 180 days to complete, although that's obviously determined by you and your child.

Love Your Flawz
My 14 year-old (Emily, who is a DeviantArt devotee) found a site today called LoveYourFlawz. We discussed it and think it's better for teens (and adults!) than younger children, although the message it promotes is certainly valid for every age.Some of the posts on the Community Blog at LoveYourFlawz are heartbreaking, and can serve to remind us all of how cruelly our kids suffer from what they perceive as their flaws -- whether it be overweight, having a big nose or simply being different. With bullying an issue in the real world and online, this site is a welcome oasis where hopefully children can learn about kindness (to themselves and others), self-esteem and acceptance.Hug your kids, folks!

FaceBook for Kids
Worried about your kids being online? You should be. A June 2010 study commissioned by internet security giant, McAfee, reports that "almost half of youth (46 percent) admit to having given out their personal information to someone they didn't know over the Internet."FaceBook for Kids (FBFKids) is one site that's trying to help parents protect their children online by providing  -- and I quote -- "a non profit, safe, secure, monitored and moderated children's social networking site." Apparently started by a mother of two, FBFKids is not related to Facebook. It's an alternative to Facebook, and has the following stated procedures to keep the site as safe as possible:complete editorial control - they review input content daily and will delete if deemed unsuitable;will investigate any messages deemed to be in violation of site and/or safety rules;will delete anything deemed questionable;will warn a child if s/he is engaging in questionable safety practices (ie., sending personal information or off-site contact details).their "meeting room" has a live person as site monitor, but private chat rooms do not. All chats, however, are recorded and will be reviewed if deemed necessary.I don't have personal experience with FBFKids -- if you do, please leave a comment. What I do like about the way the site presents itself is that it repeats several times that although FBFKids monitors the site 24/7,we do not monitor any paticular child. It is up to you as a Parent or Gardian to monitor your own child.Words to live by.Related post: Internet Safety for Kids Online

Interesting Animal Facts
The Animal Facts page at a site called Vegan Peace asks you the following questions:Did you know that seals can sleep under water? What's the difference between a donkey and a mule?Can you tell the difference between a frog and a toad? Do you know how to tell African and Asian elephants apart? If you're like me, your answers for all of the above would have been an unenlightening series to the tune of: no, I don't know, no and *sigh* no.At Vegan Peace Animal Facts, you'll find out the answers to these questions and a lot more. I like the simple, clean approach used by site owner Wanda Embar and the choice of images (some of them, like those of the turkeys, taken by her at a rescue organization called Farm Sanctuary).NOTE TO PARENTS: Vegan Peace has pages regarding animal cruelty, children's sweatshops and other abuses that take place in the world. Although topics worthy of discussion, these are inappropriate for and would be upsetting to young children to see, so visits to this site should be supervised.

Answer a Question - Feed the Hungry at FreeRice.com
FreeRice.com is a site run by the UN World Food Program. For every answer you get right, they donate free rice to help end world hunger.I enjoy answering questions in the vocabulary section best, but subjects include other languages, chemistry, math and more. Be forewarned: the questions start off fairly easy and then quickly ramp up in level of difficulty. If you get an answer wrong, the question will repeat itself fairly quickly, so you'll have a chance to redeem yourself.From the FAQ: Though 10 grains of rice may seem like a small amount, it is important to remember that while you are playing, so are thousands of other people at the same time. It is everyone together that makes the difference. Thanks to you, FreeRice has generated enough rice to feed millions of people since it started in October 2007 (with over 74 billion grains donated to date).A little number-crunching: In countries where rice is a staple part of the diet, about 400 grams of rice per person, per day is consumed. There are about 48 grains of rice in a gram. Each question you answer correctly is worth 10 grains of rice. Can anyone figure out how many questions you need to answer in order to provide one person with enough rice for one day?categorieschildren's learning games kids sites educational fun homeschool

Word a Day Wonder - a Great Learning Tool
By using words in very descriptive sentences, Word a Day Wonder is a truly fun and unique way to improve your vocabulary. Each day brings an amazing fact or anecdote with an embedded vocabulary word. This brand new site is lean, with no distractions -- one vivid image goes to the word at hand. After the interesting fact or anecdote is given (through which you learn not only the meaning of the embedded word, but also often something else of interest), a clear definition is set out, a few synonyms given and a link to further reading on the topic.This is my kind of schooling: highly interesting, quick and memorable. Long may it prosper!

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