By Markrid Izquerdo
Hollywood Library regional librarian
Multnomah County Library offers great resources to help with homework, and they’re getting even better as the homework page on our website (multcolib.org) gets set to launch its new look and content.
However, many parents know that simply mentioning or pointing out a good resource might not be enough to encourage their kids to try it. Complicating things is the growing need to help students evaluate their online information sources: Why isn’t it okay to rely just on Google or Wikipedia? What makes resources trustworthy? At a glance, it’s not always easy to distinguish among personal web pages, reputable databases (such as collections of magazine articles) and solid reference books in e-book form.
Here are some tips to help you engage with your children as you explore some of the wealth of online tools the library offers:
- By yourself, type “Homework Center” in the main search box of the library’s website (multcolib.org). Take a few minutes to get familiar with the home page. Note the different ways to contact library staff.
- Then click on “Homework Databases” and scroll down to the list of resources beginning with “AP Images.” Each resource has a brief description of what it includes. Don’t be put off by the word “database.” It’s just a collection of information on a certain topic, arranged so that it can be searched and retrieved when you want it.
- Try clicking on a few databases that look interesting. It’s hard not to fall in love with the wonderful online version of National Geographic, or to see the value of “Opposing Viewpoints” for high-school students.
Now you’re ready to find ways to share those resources with your kids. Some ideas:
- If the family is talking about a famous person, take a minute to look that person up in “Biography in Context.”
- If you’re planning a vacation, look the destination up together in “National Geographic Virtual Library.”
- If a younger child has questions about a news topic she’s heard about, try looking it up on “Kids InfoBits.”
After a few of these experiments, children will start to make their own connections with the resources and will more naturally think of them as useful for homework. In addition, parents will have established a way to suggest, “Shall we see if the Homework Center can help?” That empowers students to take charge of their own research. Just imagine the advantage of having a trained tutor available via Tutor.com to help with a sticky math problem.
One excellent online resource not yet on the list of homework databases is GVRL, the Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale is a publisher of reference books on many subjects, those really useful books that can’t be checked out because they’re for “library use only.” Now you have access to the entire content of many, many reference books online. Just type “GVRL” in the main search box on the library’s home page to see the range of titles available. That is a superb homework resource, one that includes actual books, just in digital form.
Final tips for homework help, no matter what kind of resources you and your child decide on:
- Have a conversation about the assignment. Encourage your child to describe the project using open-ended questions.
- Help clarify exactly what the teacher expects by asking the child to go over any handouts carefully. This step is easy to skip, but it’s a real timesaver.
- Any homework project goes easier and better if the child can connect with some point of real interest or enthusiasm. Your conversation can help identify those authentic connections with the material.
- When you come to the library, help shy children ahead of time by rehearsing how to ask their own questions, if they can (this can take time). Learning to see the library staff as being ready and willing to help is a valuable homework skill in its own right.