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November 23, 2014

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Science Made Simple: A Review of the Today’s Science Database | Reference Online | February 2014

With every link and article, with every illustration and helpful tip, it is clear that Infobase had one thing in mind in revamping Today’s Science: student success. This database is attractive in design and easy to use. It is packed with well-researched, relevant information and provides practical tips covering not only how to maximize the database’s usefulness, but also how to maximize research methods in all areas of study.

Today’s Science

SLJ140201w RefOnline r Science Made Simple: A Review of the Today’s Science Database | Reference Online | February 2014Grade Level Gr 9 & up
Cost Annual prices for this resource start at $250 for schools and at $316 for public libraries.
Ease of Use and Visual Appeal Today’s teens navigate an online environment that is high on visual stimulation. Web pages are packed with a superfluity of fonts, colors, and images. Sidebars quiver with ads, polls, and quizzes. Today’s Science, however, thankfully forgoes the accepted norm in favor of a cleaner, more streamlined approach.
Most of the text is in simple black font, with links appearing in blue. The main text is set against an unadorned white background, with sidebar text appearing in grey. Tiny doses of orange add a dash of color. While this austere approach could collapse into unappealing sterility, or make the resource look like as though it were designed by a novice, the designers of Today’s Science have made the approach work. Judicious amounts of pale blue and gray on the banner and in the sidebars give the overall product simple, elegant appeal.
The simplicity of the visuals makes it easy to scan the page. Featured articles, each of which is denoted clearly by a large-font link and a high-resolution photograph, receive prominence on the homepage. Links to popular topics, conversations with scientists, and research topics are grouped in neat sidebars on the homepage.
Content A “Topic Index” link appears prominently at the top of the homepage, creating a portal to all of the database’s articles and images. The index is divided into 12 broad categories: anthropology, chemistry, mathematics, psychology, astronomy and space, earth science, medicine and health, science and society, biology, environment, physics, and technology. Each category is subdivided into 20 or so more specific subjects. For example, within biology are headings on aging, biological rhythms, cells and cell structure, and sexual competition.
Upon launching a main category, users will discover a collection of well-curated articles from science writers. Educators can be confident about the reliability of this content; the editors and writers of Today’s Science cull information from dozens of sources including PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), The New England Journal of Medicine, Scientific American, and conference reports. Within each category are several dozen articles, which are each given clever, evocative titles. For instance, in the “biological rhythms” category, pieces include “How Cicadas Clock Time,” “Monarch Migration: The Big Chill,” and “Spaced Out: Studying Sleep in Simulated Spaceflight.”
Each article is written in an engaging, accessible style. In addition, high-impact images are captioned (and cited) clearly and support the text. For example, in “How Cicadas Clock Time,” images include a stunning close-up of a cicada coming out of its exoskeleton and a colorful chart mapping DNA sequences among the insects. Thematically similar editorial cartoons and crossword puzzles appear along with some entries.
As well as being complemented by images, each article is bolstered by a sidebar with links to related items. For example, the cicada article links to related material entitled “Cicadas Come Out in Prime Time” and “Cicadas Emerge after 17 Years Underground.” While the main article describes the nuts and bolts of the creature’s life, the extra pieces describe specific aspects of cicada life in more detail.
To make the articles easier to access and use, a few helpful tools appear at the top of each one, including the options to print, email, save to folder, and read aloud. The save to folder function allows users to file an article away in a password-protected area for future use. Each article concludes with one or more discussion questions, a bibliography, citation information for it, and a link to find out how that particular article meets state curriculum standards.
Researchers can tailor their queries by following the “advanced search” link, narrowing the search to include articles in a specific date range and so that the results list only articles with editorial cartoons, crossword puzzles, conversations with scientists.
Student and Teacher Resources Also on prominent display on the homepage is a link to “Resources.” This section is divided into two parts, offering material for students and for educators. In the section for students, there are links to articles about avoiding plagiarism and how to read and evaluate editorial cartoons, assess online resources, and so on. For educators, there are links to articles on how to make use of the crossword puzzles, spot and prevent plagiarism, conduct meaningful experiments, and more.
The complex and mature nature of many of the articles (reproduction, euthanasia, etc.) makes this database most appropriate for high schools students.
Verdict Educators looking to enrich their students’ experience with the sciences need look no further. Today’s Science presents current, relevant information within an appealing, accessible format to create a first-rate product.

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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