Education: Pupils who turn to the Internet for help, can become caught up in a tangled Web

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The Independent Online
DAVID, 17

"I'M DOING A-level physics, so I thought I'd test out the help available on Lenz's law of magnetic induction.

"I surfed around various websites, like Learn Physics Today! and the MadSciWeb, but although they had lots on electromagnetism, I couldn't find exactly what I wanted, so I went to Homework Elephant, and then into their science section and sent an e-mail question to ScienceNet, a UK site. When I didn't hear from them, I sent the same question to NEWTON/ANL Ask A Scientist, a US site. Then, after a few days, NEWTON/ANL came back with a long explanation from someone called Tom Mooney, using the image of wind going through a hula hoop, with beads inside the hoop, to help me picture it. And then Alison from ScienceNet also e-mailed me, with another explanation and a suggestion of a good book to look at for a more mathematical explanation. Both responses were accurate, and did their best to make it clear.

"I think this sort of help would be great if you had a bad teacher, or if you had missed lessons in school, but it can be quite time-wasting going into site after site that doesn't really help you, and you can easily get side-tracked into all kinds of other stuff - like watching a video of a camera going down a human throat. Also, the responses aren't immediate, so they wouldn't be any good if you had a last-minute assignment, or an exam panic."

LIZZIE, 15

"I'M IN my first year of GCSE and was feeling confused about sines, cosines and tangents in trigonometry, so I went to the BBC Education GSCE Bitesize Revision Online.

"I was going to 'Ask a Teacher' about it, but there were guidelines about checking the site first, to see whether the answer was already there, and anyway the Ask a Teacher service doesn't start again until next February.

"I looked first of all in the maths Ask a Teacher answers, where there were 267 answers listed, from long division to pentagon angles, and I realised it was going to take me for ever to go through them, so then I went to the maths section, and found Easy Trigonometry, where it was all set out really clearly.

"It explained the formulae, and gave you examples to try to see whether you were getting your calculations right.

"Also the layout helped - the problems were set out in different colours on a black background - although I found the flashing messages such as "Are You an Organ Donor?" at the top of the screen were a bit distracting.

"I did all the problems and it was really rewarding to know I'd understood it, and the next day it was still clear, because I was able to explain it to a struggling friend in class.

"I'd go and get this sort of help again, if I were stuck on a problem. It allows you to go through it at your own pace without feeling thick."

KATY, 13

"I'VE ALWAYS found revision difficult, especially remembering what I've learned, so I tried to see if I could get any help. I tried all sorts of different places - Schoolwork Ugh! and the Schoolzone and Homework Central - searching for study skills and revision help. In all the Ask The... lists, it was all things like 'Ask a Vulcanologist'. Homework Central had 'guides, tips and tricks' for studying, such as using all the senses and using word games, but they were very American - they suggested remembering how to spell principal with 'the school principal is your pal'.

"There was something on Yahoo! Education News for the UK and Ireland about different ways of learning, but it was too detailed. I don't think it was for my age group.

"Freeserve Education had revision help for 12- to 14-year-olds, but you had to register to get into it, and I didn't want to do that, so eventually all I found was something on Learnfree called 'How Do You Learn Best?' which was quite interesting. It said 29 per cent of people learn best through seeing, 34 per cent through hearing, and 37 per cent through movement, then it gave you ways of finding out what sort of learner you are, and then different ways of remembering things. But I spent a lot of time surfing around and getting frustrated, and didn't really find what I was looking for."

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