Home-Working Web Sites Right Now It's Under-Utilized, but the Internet Can Bring Research, Even a Private Tutor, Right into Your Home

Article excerpt

Henry Rosengarten has done his homework, and a lot of other

people's homework, too.

Rosengarten runs the Academic Assistance Center at America

Online, overseeing a volunteer staff of about 2,000 teachers who

handle homework questions from some 800,000 students a month.

As the top tutor at the world's largest online company,

Rosengarten has seen just about every sort of homework question

imaginable.

"You name it, we get it," he said.

Some of the more unusual questions submitted to AOL's teacher

volunteers included:

What is a clam's lifestyle?

On a globe, what color would China be?

If you have any good ideas on how to turn genetic coding into a

musical, please help me.

"Every single one of them gets a respectful answer," said

Rosengarten, of Newburgh, N.Y., who teaches sixth grade in

addition to his 50-hour-a-week job with AOL.

Off-the-wall questions come with the territory. AOL, with more

than 10 million subscribers, runs the most-extensive homework

assistance service available online.

"We average over 5,000 questions by e-mail a day," Rosengarten

said. In addition, more than 1,000 questions are posted on the

15 message boards in AOL's homework area and about 3,000 students

get live assistance in 15 tutoring chat rooms each day.

As more families get home computers and Internet connections,

more kids are turning to AOL and other online sources for help

with homework.

In October, AOL's Ask-a-Teacher area hit a peak of 9,670

e-mailed questions in one day. Rosengarten said the service

recently added 700 new teachers, who get free AOL accounts in

exchange for their volunteer time, and is looking for more

volunteers.

Dozens of Internet sites offer homework help. Many include

indexed links to thousands of Web pages about topics ranging

from astronomy to zoology. A few, like AOL, let kids pose their

questions to teachers or experts. Others list answers to

frequently asked homework questions.

Some of these services are sponsored by businesses and created

by professional Web page designers, but many are personal

projects of students or educators.

One of the biggest homework resources on the Web, B.J.

Pinchbeck's Homework Helper, isn't a professional production.

Created by 10-year-old Bruce "Beege" Pinchbeck Jr. and his dad,

the page indexes more than 400 Web sites, arranged by school

subject and including brief descriptions of each site.

"Beege and I got tired of having to surf all around the Net to

find good educational sites, so we decided to make our own site

where all excellent resource links could be located," said his

father, Bruce Pinchbeck, of New Brighton, Pa.

The page averages about 2,500 visitors a day and has won 95 Web

awards, Pinchbeck said.

However, in this digital age, it is easy to forget a basic

fact: Most kids can't take advantage of all these wonderful

online resources. Only about 38 percent of households with

children under 18 have a home computer, according to a recent

study by TBWA International.

That's why many teachers don't require or encourage students to

use the Internet for homework assignments.

Deborah Miller, for example, teaches fourth- and fifth-grade

students at Andrew Robinson Elementary School, one of the most

technologically advanced public schools in Jacksonville. But

Robinson also is an inner-city school, and the majority of its

students come from low-income households. So Miller doesn't make

the Net part of her daily assignments. …