Education's Web site sets teachers FREE

While the Web offers search engines galore, it lacks the basic organization of most individuals' personal bookshelves, let alone the precise organization of information found in a library. Novices find this disorganization even more frustrating than old hands. However, teachers looking for information that will improve education should check out the Education Department's recently launched site, Federal Resources for Educational Excellence, or FREE (www.ed.gov/free). Education designed FREE to make it easier for educators to tap into federal information on the Internet through a series of virtual bookshelves divided into logical categories, such as arts, humanities, science, math and others. This well-organized online tool was developed in response to a challenge President Clinton issued to all federal agencies a year ago this month. He asked them to determine what "resources you can make available that would enrich the Internet as a tool for teaching and learning." Thirty agencies formed a working group, which helped produce FREE.But FREE serves as far more than just a launching pad to federal online educational resources. Education designed the site to serve as a collaborative tool that encourages partnerships between educators and federal agencies and makes it easy to do so through the "Looking for Partners" button on the main FREE page. This link takes users to a page that facilitates such partnerships. A click on the "Teachers Looking for Agencies" button pops up a form that asks for information about the teacher as well as for what kind of help is needed. Searching for information on FREE is relatively easy. Just click the "Search and Subjects'' button and up pops an uncluttered page that lists educational information by topic— such as arts, educational technology, foreign languages, and health and safety— down the left-hand side and a standard Web search box on the right. Another section of the FREE site, dubbed "Welcome Students,'' serves as the gateway to sites created by federal agencies for children and offers some of the best unintentional humor available on the Web. How about the CIA for Kids site? Yes, the spook agency has tried to create its own "for kids'' Web site, which includes genuine CIA cartoon characters that are twin eagles named Harry and Aerial Recon. Harry and Aerial are charged with narrating the history of the CIA to the nation's schoolchildren.Searching for information on the World Wide Web is similar to visiting a flea market: It is mildly interesting at first, but then it becomes frustrating as piles of useless junk overwhelm any desire to continue searching for anything of real value.

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