As a middle school science teacher with no background in Earth Science, I was quite dismayed to find that volcanoes had been added to my curriculum. I, therefore, welcomed the opportunity to choose “volcano” as a research topic.
For search engines I chose my two regulars: MSN and Yahoo. While many other users prefer meta-search engines like Dogpile and Google, I use them as backups as they usually provide too much information. Besides, MSN and Yahoo have proven themselves to be more than satisfactory over the last few years. Both are good for quick, simple searches as well as in-depth, advanced searches.
MSN returned 557 links, leaving me with only one viable option: search until I find what I need then stop. It would be unrealistic to even consider exploring each and every one of those links. Finding three good ones was easy: Encarta Online, Volcanoes of the World (U.S. Geological Survey), and Volcano Live. Finding three sites that would not be as useful proved to take a little longer: Active Tectonics, Society for Interdisciplinary Studies, and Ararat, Turkey. These were not bad in and of themselves; they just were more difficult to apply to middle school education.
Yahoo returned a slightly more manageable 305 links, still too many to check each one out. Once again, finding three useful sites was simple: The Electronic Volcano, Volcano World, and Cascades Volcano Observatory. Yahoo also provided a plethora of good sites, making finding poor ones difficult. Volcano Information Center, Volcano Gallery, and Mt. St. Helens Volcano Gift Shop were three links provided by Yahoo for which I did not have much use.
Encarta Online http://encarta.msn.com/find/Concise.asp?z=1&pg=2&ti=761570122 is an excellent, reliable source. An encyclopedia, I would use this in the same manner as I would use any paper encyclopedia with the additional benefit of some beautiful color pictures that could easily be placed into an overhead or Power Point presentation.
I chose Volcanoes of the World (U.S. Geological Survey) http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Volcanoes/framework.html because of its comprehensive nature as well as its validity. The U.S. Geological Survey is the leading expert as far as geology goes; therefore, any of its publications can be treated as authoritative.
Volcano Live http://www.volcanolive.com/volcanolive.html, while not an exciting graphical site, provides up-to-date information on current volcanic activity along with photos of the featured volcanoes. While this site may not be as authoritative as the USGS or Encarta, it is the product of a volcanologist who provides his credentials and contact information on the site.
The Electronic Volcano http://www.dartmouth.edu/~volcano/ is reliable for similar reasons. Edited by staff of Dartmouth College, it provides various types of information in different formats and, more importantly, different languages. This last feature would be extremely useful in my multi-lingual environment.
University of North Dakota’s Volcano World http://volcano.und.edu/ provides information and great images of a comprehensive list of volcanoes. Its interface may not be flashy or fun, but its images are easy to find and beautiful. Once again, its reliability can be found in the fact that it is a University run web site.
Cascades Volcano Observatory http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/, also by the U.S. Geological Survey, was also a haven of links including links specific to education.
As was mentioned above Active Tectonics http://www.muohio.edu/tectonics/ActiveTectonics.html, Society for Interdisciplinary Studies http://www.knowledge.co.uk/sis/, and Ararat, Turkey http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/img_ararat.html were not bad, useless sites; they were just not right for my students or me as an eighth grade teacher. The first two were much too advanced for my students and the third demonstrates one of the most frustrating aspects of search engines: multiple links to the same domain from one search.
Yahoo also provided overly advanced sites such as Volcano Information Center http://www.geol.ucsb.edu/~fisher/, but it also provided sales-oriented sites rather high up on its list. Volcano Gallery http://www.volcanogallery.com/ and Mt. St. Helens Volcano Gift Shop http://www.mtsthelensgifts.com/ were two such sites. Both were put together nicely, but each had to selling a product or products as their main goal, and, thus, have no place in a classroom.
This particular search was not typical of Internet searching. I used only one keyword and found a large amount of useful information. Unlike most searches that take a great deal of time and energy to find good websites, this one actually took more work finding less useful sites. Based on my opening statement, I am quite relieved.