High-Tech Homework Helpers

Home & Family, Technology
on August 14, 2005

Like many students, fourth-grader Ryan Friars of West Deptford, N.J. (pop. 19,368), used to turn to his mom and dad when he needed help with his homework. “If they couldn’t help me, I’d ask one of my brothers,” says Ryan, 10.

These days, however, Ryan mostly turns to his home computer to navigate the Internet and seek out online resources to help with after-school assignments.

“I always encourage my students and my own children to use the computer in any way possible—and that certainly includes homework,” says Shelley Cunningham, a special education teacher from Southaven, Miss. (pop. 28,977). “There are a wide range of resources there, and having a computer at home allows the child to research information independently.”

Heather Winne, a parent and former second-grade teacher in Bloomington, Ind., agrees. “Computers offer children an additional tool to add to the list of their homework resources. For a child studying spelling words, for example, typing in the words in a word processing program or using a large fun font adds variety and makes rote memorization a little more fun. For visual learners, a computer offers a window to the world, where children can explore subjects at great detail.”

Your child can access enormous amounts of information using a computer, whether it’s educational software or the Internet. Point him in this direction, and check out:

Homework helpers—Websites such as Discovery School’s (http://school.discovery.com) feature a “homework help center” and BJ Pinchbeck’s Homework Helpers, a collection of reference links chosen by a 17-year-old student and divided by classroom subject. Another helpful site is www.refdesk.com, which offers a large collection of reference material on a variety of topics. Drexel University’s Ask Dr. Math website (www.mathforum.org) provides instruction for a given subject (in this case, middle school math), and if the answer can’t be found, students can ask for help via e-mail.

Educational software—If your child is excited about studying math, try software such as Soccer Math, which makes rote drills seem like a game. Need reading strategies? Cunningham recommends the Reader Rabbit or Edmark reading program software. Even encyclopedias have gone high-tech with CD versions such as Encarta Encyclopedia, which includes the entire 26 volumes on two disks.

The changing face of the library—Many public libraries across the country have kept up with students’ changing needs and have reinvented themselves as resource centers. Many allow online book reservations or renewals, provide “ask a librarian” help services and lend out educational software along with the latest bestsellers.

Online tutoring—A click on www.tutor.com or a similar website can help you find the tutor your child needs for special, individualized help. Some tutoring websites feature live homework help centers in local libraries.

Traveling the Information Highway—At every turn, the Internet lives up to its nickname as the Information Highway. You can guide your child through reference resources, the latest news, and even help him or her find other kids who can chat about homework or suggest essay topics.

Of course, children aren’t the only ones who are reaping the benefits of using technology to handle academic assignments. Teachers such as Cunningham and Winne can boot up and find curriculum ideas, sample lesson plans and discipline suggestions. And many school districts now allow parents to log on to computerized programs such as PowerParent, which lets parents monitor their child’s grades on a daily basis.

“That’s one way we can be sure his homework is getting done,” says Ryan’s mother, Gina.