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netwatch.jpg (4487 bytes) In this issue of Netwatch, the web site that's well-connected to current events and tips for safe driving.

By Denys Gigučre

If you are looking for an Internet site to help you connect your lessons to everyday life, may fit the bill.

You should know from the start, though, that parts of the site are available only by subscription. Still, you can access a lot of information free. The publishers of the site also tell us that a number of school boards already make the site available to teachers.

A great asset of the site for Ontario teachers is that it is geared specifically toward the Ontario curriculum and is licensed by the Ministry of Education. It groups topics by learning categories - Language Arts, Society and Culture, Math and Science and Technology to name a few. It also offers a wide range of links in the Library, as well as some specifically for teachers in the Teachers Only section.

Other neat features of the site include Choice Awards, great web sites to visit - including school sites - and the Time Machine, providing information on important events from 25 to 10,000 years ago.

The highlight of the site is available only for subscribers. It is the Notebook, a bilingual journal of news and current events produced in co-operation with Reuters. When I visited it the last week in March, the week's activity centered on cinema (Oscar time). The site suggested movie-related topics for discussion and taught students about well known Canadian actors - did you know that Dan Akroyd was born on Canada Day in the nation's capital? The site also gave a description of the many jobs listed in movie credits, explained the various camera shots used in movies and included a template for a complete movie review.

Ever since we've talked about Canadian content on the Internet, our readers have come up with a host of worthwhile sites to review. This is definitely one of them.

Other readers have suggested tips for safe use of the Internet. Here's some helpful advice on safe surfing from a College member in York Region.

Safe Surfing

by David McInnis

The Internet is an incredible tool. With the click of a mouse students can access information on virtually any topic from sources around the world.

The challenge for teachers is to find a way to give students access to the riches of the Internet without them inadvertently finding unsuitable material such as pornography, violent images and hate materials.

Activity Level of Safety
Students access web sites bookmarked by their teacher

Very safe

Students access web sites from a reliable list of sites Safe
Students use a "child-friendly" search tool Safe
Students use a regular search tool Dangerous
Students type in their own web addresses Very dangerous
Students access web sites bookmarked by their teacher

In terms of safety, this is the preferred route. If a teacher has bookmarked a site, then it will likely contain information relevant to some current area of classroom study. Ideally, the teacher will create an activity linking the information on the web site to some specific learning expectations. This kind of planning ensures that the time spent on the Internet is used productively since the students have a curriculum focus for Internet use.

Students access web sites from a reliable list of sites

Lists of quality educational web sites can be a real time saver for busy teachers. An excellent example of such a site is Link To Learning ( It groups sites with educational merit according to the units in the Ontario curriculum. For example, a Grade 6 teacher looking for a web site to use with the Space unit can look in Link To Learning under the strand of Earth and Space Systems to find many excellent bookmarked web sites.

Students use a "child friendly" search tool

Most search tools "spider" web sites by having a computer search out web sites and automatically add new sites to the search engine database. This means that inappropriate sites can sometimes slip into categories where they are not supposed to be. Some questionable sites try to market themselves to the largest possible group and sometimes include themselves in categories where they don't belong using hidden key words that are used by search tools.

Some search tools will screen searches to filter out inappropriate sites that may otherwise be returned with keyword searches. Two child-friendly search tools I can recommend are Yahooligans ( and KidsClick! (!). The web sites listed by these search tools have all been put there by people, not spidered by computers. This means that for open searches, these search tools are the safest option. Students may still veer off track (Yahooligans, for example, has advertising banners) so this search strategy may still not result in the most efficient use of time but hopefully, students will avoid inappropriate sites.

Students use a regular search tool

Mainstream search tools like Yahoo, Excite and MetaCrawler are dangerous for student use. Any of these can, and often do, return inappropriate sites with seemingly be-nign keyword searches.

Students type in their own web addresses

This is a dangerous activity since any slight error typing in the Internet address can call up an inappropriate site. In fact, many sex sites register multiple "misspelled" domain names in hopes of gaining more traffic.

Once a web site address is entered directly, the site is called up immediately. With a regular search tool, students must first click on an inappropriate site from the list of all the sites returned by the search query in order to see that site. If they type in a site address directly, this one chance for screening is skipped.

What about filtering software?

Filtering software, like Net Nanny and Surf Watch, use databases of known offensive sites to block access to those sites. These types of software will work as long as that the user is willing to install regular database updates on all machines running the filtering software. If a school is not in a position to carry out this updating task, then the filtering software will become ineffective and will provide a false sense of security. This is also true of anti-virus software.

Ultimately, the onus is on the classroom teacher to provide adequate supervision for Internet activities. With a little planning, an effective Internet-based activity will keep students focused on learning interesting new concepts - and after all, that's what teaching is all about!

David McInnis is a computer resource teacher with the York Region District School Board. He can be reached at