Operating a computer lab as part of a media center on a very limited budget makes getting enough appropriate software for pre-kindergarten to fifth grade students a real challenge. In addition to our budgetary problems, we have an older computer lab that isn't likely to be upgraded for a few years. The hard drives on our computers are filling up, and much of today's software makes demands that our units' memory and multimedia features can no longer meet.
Because our lab is connected to the school district network and our Internet access is fairly fast, we are finding a partial solution to our software problem with subscription Web sites. More and more fee-based sites offer useful programs, resources, and activities for teachers and students. Some of these materials were formerly available as software, or, in some cases, books, but a number of sites offer new resources made possible or presented in a way made possible by the Internet. The yearly subscription rate is often less than the price of a single piece of software and nearly always far less than a lab license for a single software title.
Subscription Internet sites provide the resources I use to prepare lessons and provide activities that my middle and older elementary students can do more or less independently. My younger computer lab students work better with software; their skill levels are too low and their attention spans are often far too short to make doing projects that require any degree of independent work possible. While younger students may be able to work with specific sites, the number of choices present on the Web can be overwhelming for them.
After spending a considerable amount of time looking for and using a number of Web sites, I have found a group that I like, divided roughly into three categories. The general information sites, not necessarily aimed at education, offer information useful to some projects or in the creation of some projects. The teacher reference sites offer materials for teachers to use in creating lessons. And, as the name implies, the student activity sites offer activities for students.
GENERAL INFORMATION SITES
1. Encyclopedia Britannica
I use this excellent resource when I want information for a lesson. The site is set up in four columns with small print and is loaded with information options, including browsing, searching, a dictionary and thesaurus, New York Times headlines, features, and much more. Generally, the reading level and format are too difficult for elementary students and the cost is prohibitive for whole class use.
Located at http://www.britannica.com/
Subscription cost: $59.95 a year; $9.95 a month; free 72-hour trial.
2. Consumer Reports
I use this site partly because I've relied on the magazine for years to help me make purchasing decisions. Now I use the site to help make purchasing decisions for school and, sometimes, for information to use with students. The site is easy to use, full of helpful material, and offers downloads of articles that can be read using a hand-held computer.
Located at http://www.ConsumerReports.org/
Subscription cost: $24 per year; $4.95 per monthly; $19 with magazine.
3. American National Biography
This is a very highly recommended site that I'm considering. More of our classes work with biographies in our libraries than just about any other informational topic. Our biography collection isn't adequate and, although free online information is available, it's scattered and often incomplete. In our setting, we would subscribe as a library, perhaps district-wide. Since we have less than 2,500 users, a yearly subscription would be $495.
Located at http://www.anb.org/
Subscription cost: individuals--$89; institutional pricing varies; free institutional trial. …