Table of Contents

What is the Internet?

Useful Tools
Time Management

Search Engines
Natural Language
Sample Search


Server Filters
Proxies & Ad Filters
A Few Cautions

Finding Internet Access in Your Community

Web Resources
Science & Math

Information Tools on the Internet

Oftentimes, people who have not begun using computers and online resources find the new terms and concepts very confusing. It does not take long to gain a solid understanding of the Internet. By learning a few terms and taking the time to try them out and observe how they work, you will quickly overcome the "learning curve" associated with the Internet.

Several of the concepts essential to understanding the Internet are: World Wide Web, browser, web page, server, ftp, http, email, mailing list, chat, download and virus.

World Wide Web
the portion of the Internet accessed with a browser. This includes most of the public information on the Internet.
an interface that gives access to the information and tools of the Internet, such as locating and reading the information on a web page, and using a search engine to locate information. Some browsers also incorporate a tool for using email, reading newsgroups, or connecting to a chat room.
Web page
like a chapter in a book or an article in a newspaper or magazine, a web page is a text file that contains codes that instruct the browser how to display the contents of the page. Web pages can contain text, pictures, sounds, movies, and programs that run in the browser. You can create your own web page and view it in a web browser. If you store the file on a computer called a server, your page will become public and accessible to anyone with access to the Internet.

the actual computer that you connect to when you visit a web site with a browser. Anyone can set up a computer to be a server, even a small desktop computer. When many people are expected to view the pages, often a whole computer or even several computers, are devoted to being the server.
stands for file transfer protocol. FTP is a program designed to upload and download files from the Internet. For example, if you wanted to create a web page for your family, when it was finished you would upload it to your Internet service provider''s computer, where it would become accessible over the Internet.
stands for hypertext transfer protocol and is, like FTP, a communication protocol. It instructs the web browser about what kind of file is being requested so it will be displayed correctly: text, graphic, sound, or video. When you see a reference to a web site, very often you will see the prefix "http://."
the primary communication tool of the Internet. It works like written mail except that the letter (email) will be sent through the Internet electronically and the address needed is the Internet address of the person to whom we want to send the message. Messages can be sent in several seconds, making it a highly efficient tool to use when a fast response is needed.
Mailing List
a tool that lets many people participate in discussions via email. Someone sets up a list of electronic addresses of people who share a common interest, and everyone who is on the list receives messages sent to the list. It may be a list where everyone knows each other, such as a listserve for colleagues at work, or it may be an international list where anyone who asks to join the discussion is added to the list. Thousands of people may be participating, but they will not know everyone else who is reading the messages. They could be neighbors or people from around the world.
similar to a conference room in which people exchange information, with the advantage that the participants do not have to physically travel to the meeting. In a chat session people type the information they wish to convey and the other participants see what is being typed. This is an example of synchronous communication, where there is no time delay (or very little) in sending and receiving information. All the participants must be online at the same time. Chat rooms can be accessed from the web, or through separate software.
This is the way programs, videos, and graphics are transferred from one computer to another. A typical scenario is the transfer of a program that you may want to copy to your computer, such as a new screen saver. You need to be careful with the download function because it can let viruses that can produce permanent damage infect your computer.
a program made for a destructive purpose. These programs do not need human interaction to get activated. A virus can do things like delete the entire hard drive of a computer, forcing the user to reinstall all the software again, and lead to loss of any files saved on that computer. Viruses are constantly being produced by people with unscrupulous intentions, and therefore virus protection software needs to be upgraded frequently. The most common ways to avoid getting a computer virus are to use virus protection software, do not open email attachments from unknown senders, and do not download files from the Internet from unknown sites.

Most search engines have fairly similar ways of searching for information, but you may be surprised by the different results you will get when you compare two or three engines doing the exact same search. Each search page has a help guide that can provide assistance if you are lost or if you wish to conduct a more advanced search. However, no matter how good you become at using search engines, you are going to find another problem. How will you know for certain that the information you find through a search engine is valid? It is entirely possible that you will find pages with inaccurate, outdated, or misleading information. The search engine cannot weed out the invalid sites and give you only what you want to find. If the words you search for appear on any of the sites in the database of the search engine, all the sites will be included in your list of hits.

Whereas the book-publishing industry has an editorial process that gives some criteria for accepting or discounting the information contained in the books we read, on the web there is no editing process. Anyone with the necessary access and knowledge of how to post a web page can make information available and submit it to search engines' databases. When you read a book, you can see who published it, in what year, and perhaps read a paragraph or two about the author. If the publisher is a well-respected one, and the author has some reasonable credentials, the information in the book will carry more weight than that coming from a fly-by-night publisher.

Some search engines attempt to review the sites they include in their databases, after recognizing this problem with validity of sites. One example is Magellan (, which uses stars for rating and gives an annotation of sites it reviews, and also has a search option for "green light sites" only. At this point, there are roughly 60,000 reviewed sites in Magellan's collection. However, there are millions of sites on the web, so by using this type of search you may miss finding the information you wanted.

When using any search engine, an approach you can take is to look at the domain in the address of the web page (the first part of the address, http://www.domain.type). When referring to a domain, this means the first part of the web address before any slashes that may be used. For example, is the domain name of the Shodor Education Foundation. And is one of the pages on the Shodor web site. The words coming after the first slash (master and fractal), are the names of two directories that hold some of the many web pages on the Shodor web site. Knowing the domain may help you determine what kind of organization or individual posted the page. In the United States, the six most common types of domains are:

	com	commercial 
	edu	education (usually four-year colleges and universities)
	org	non-profit organization
	net	Internet service provider or networking company
	us	country code for USA, usually preceded by state abbreviation
	gov	government
In addition, every country has a country code, so international sites will often have domains with one of these codes at the end. A complete list of country codes can be found on the web at: A few examples of country codes:
	es	Spain
	de	Germany
	uk	United Kingdom
	jp	Japan
	fr	France
	au	Australia
	ca	Canada

English is by far the most commonly used language on the web, so you will often find that web pages from other countries will use English.

One of the protections that you have is many years of experience in discriminating between trustworthy and questionable information. Your students are on the receiving end of a flood of information when they are on the Internet, which they must sort out. Nothing can replace your guidance and judgment, but it is wise to teach them to do some sorting on their own.

Have them consider the reliability of the source. To bring back the analogy of newspapers and magazines, you know that a scientific journal is more likely to give accurate information on cloning than a tabloid, even if both run feature articles. Similarly, the same scientists' university web site may have their current research, but Joe Schmoe may have also put up a page based on what he got out of a few science fiction books. Just because a page is well-crafted and professional-looking does not mean the information contained in it is valid. You will want to know who is the author of a web site. If the page you are looking at does not say, you can do this by moving through the directories indicated in the web address by slashes. Delete everything on the "location" line of your web browser which is right of the last /, then the second slash from the right end, and so on, until some page indicates who the author or sponsoring organization may be. Also, commercial web sites especially may have a bias to them, in support of a product. This is to say, they advertise. Steer your children away from commercial sites, especially those which market to kids, when they are looking for information, and show them how to recognize ads. Remind them why ads exist. Consider why the information is being presented to you. Is it public service, publish-or-perish, or product endorsement?

Other things to look at include: Can you find independent confirmation of statements -- are there other pages that agree, that are not related? Is there internal logic -- does what the page is suggesting make sense? Are the sources of their information credible? Kids know how to do these things, even if not as well as you.

Remind your students not to copy information from the Internet and claim it as their own. First, it may well be the wrong information. Second, it is plagiarism and possibly copyright violation. Similarly, teach them not to download programs. Some may be pirated -- they are copied programs which are meant to be sold in stores and should not be freely available. Others are misrepresented, and may be posted with malicious intent. They also may be marketing ploys and require money of you. Finally, they may contain viruses.

Tips for Responsible Information Gathering

  • Even without trying, your students can come across materials on the Internet that are obscene, pornographic, violent, hate filled, racist, or offensive in other ways. One type of material--child pornography--is illegal. You should report it to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children by calling 1-800-THE LOST (843-5678) or going to While other offensive material is not illegal, there are steps you can take to keep it away from your students.

  • Make sure your students understand what you consider appropriate for them. What kinds of sites are they welcome to visit? What areas are off limits? How much time can they spend, and when? How much money, if any, can they spend? Set out clear, reasonable rules and consequences for breaking them.

  • Make online exploration a family activity. Put the computer in the living room or family room. This arrangement involves everyone and helps you monitor what your children are doing.

  • Pay attention to games your older students might download or copy. Some are violent or contain sexual content.

  • Find out what the Internet use policy is at your local library.

  • Ask about the Internet use policy at your child's school.

Time Management

Teach your students to manage their time well. A frequently noticed phenomenon when using web browsers is that you may set out to do a search that should take ten minutes, and without realizing it an hour passes and the whole purpose for the search is forgotten. Endless hypertext links allow you to jump from site to site, from topic to topic, and it is very easy to get sidetracked. You might want to encourage your children to have a plan in mind before they begin using the World Wide Web, of what information they are looking for and how long they will spend using the web. That will help them stay on track and accomplish what they intended initially. In addition, you might want to help your students use their time well by having them share the computer with other students or friends, by taking turns or by limiting their use to a specified time so that someone else may use the computer.

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