Introduction to the Internet
(with emphasis on science and math education)

by Mahmud Shihab
Information Technology Instructor - International College - Beirut
Teaching Assistant - American University of Beirut


Table of Contents

What is the Internet?

    The Internet, or simply the Net, is the world's biggest and continuously evolving computer network. It links computers ranging from PCs and Macs to supercomputers. The popularity of many services like electronic mail, file transfer, newsgroups, and the World Wide Web contributed to the Internet's astonishing growth rate. The Internet is now second only to the global telephone network in its scale, economic importance, and daily use.

Number of Web Hosts
Number of Web Hosts


Number of Internet Users
Number of Internet Users

For more information on the state of the Internet refer to


How to connect to the Internet

    This global network was originally created in 1969 when the US department of defense commissioned the Advanced Research Project Agency to create ARPANET, a huge military computer Network. This network was meant to allow data to move freely around the military bases. In the early 1980s the American military split away from ARPANET and left it to academic institutions and other governmental agencies. The National Science Foundation Network (NSFNet) soon joined this network and connected their own computers and formed what became known as the Internet.

    This network evolved quickly to involve millions of computers from the whole globe connected together by satellites, fiber optic cables, and standard telephone lines. The Internet is powered by powerful supercomputers located all over the world connected to each other by high-speed links known as backbones.

    To gain access to the internet, ordinary users need to have a computer, a modem, a standard telephone line, an account with an (ISP) Internet Service Provider, and Internet browsing software like MS Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. ISPs have very powerful servers called gateways that are always connected to the super computer backbones through very fast satellite links.

Before opening an account with an ISP you need to consider the following

1. The speed of connection; 56 kbps (kilobit per second) is the fastest available at the moment over standard telephone lines.

2. Connection rate/hour; charges are getting lower as more ISPs are becoming available.

3. Availability of a proxy-server which along with specialized software acts as a fire wall that protects ISPs and their customers from hackers. It also acts as a big cash memory for items downloaded from the Internet. When a user explores the CNN Interactive site ( for example, a copy of all downloaded files become available on the proxy server of the ISP for a certain period of time during which all other users can access it at high speed without the need to re-download the site from international servers.

4. A forth important thing to consider is account management. A good ISP allows users to inquire about how much time they've spent online and how much money they have been charged in the current month or billing cycle.

Big organizations, companies, schools, universities and research centers need efficient, very fast and unlimited access to the Internet. Standard telephone lines, which are not capable of maintaining such a fast and reliable connection, are replaced by a direct link to the Net. Although such a connection is very expensive to install and maintain, it may be the most cost-effective solution for big networks supporting a very large number of users. Why should a school or a university have a direct connection? A direct connection makes the Internet just another resource on their networks. Multiple users can work at the same time over the single high-speed line. Add to this that by installing a proxy server, schools and universities can easily control which Internet resources are available to users. This latter feature is very essential for educational institutions to monitor the nature and quality of information available to meet their own policies. Whether connected via a modem or a direct connection, all computers follow a set of rules called TCP/IP (transmission Control Protocol & Internet Protocol) to govern the exchange information.

The World Wide Web

The major reason for the accelerated growth of the Internet in the last few years is the development of the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1992 at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics. The WWW is a simple and ingenious system that allows users to interact online with documents of all nature (text, hypertext, graphics, sound, video, …) stored on computers all over the world.

Basically, three sets of rules are needed for creating, publishing, and finding WWW pages:

1. HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) or the new DHTML (Dynamic HTML) are the two languages needed to create web documents which are ordinary text files that can be created with any word processing program. Web documents include tags that control their appearance. For example, the boldface title of this section " The World Wide Web " is achieved with these tags: <B>The World Wide Web</B>. HTML documents (often called "Web Pages") can also include color graphics and clips of digitized audio and video or links to other pages. Users need a web browser program (for example, Netscape Navigator or MS Internet Explorer) to view these pages.

2. HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). This protocol allows us retrieve HTML-based documents from servers (or hosts).

3. URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the Internet address used to retrieve a web document or any other file available on the Net. A typical URL looks like this: We can retrieve web documents either by manually entering URLs or by clicking links embedded in web pages as hypertext.

Java, ActiveX, Javascript, VRML, and Vbscript are all programming languages and tools that professional web designers use to add interactivity and extra multimedia features on their web sites.

Below, the URL for the AUB FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page is analyzed part by part

http:// Identifies the protocol "Hypertext Transfer Protocol" necessary to retrieve the file

www A common name for World Wide Web servers

aub Identifies the American University of Beirut server name or sub-domain. All computers at AUB that are on the Internet can register to use a name ending in ""

edu Specifies that AUB is an educational institution. Other common endings for domain names are com (a commercial organization), org (a non-profit organization), and gov (a government organization), mil (military)…

/services/faq/faq.html Specifies the path of the file stored in on the web server's hard disk. In this example, the file for this page is "faq.html" (the extension indicates that it is a text file in Hypertext Markup Language), and it is located in a directory called "faq" present in another one called "services."

Guessing URLs!

Oftentimes you can guess a URL that leads you to the web site you're looking for. Most corporations with World Wide Web servers use a "canonical address" in this format: . For example, if you wanted information about Toshiba products, you could look for NASA's page might also be at Try it! Web browsers can process URLs specifying other server protocols, so that a program like Navigator can also act like a gopher client, a news reader, and an ftp client.

Search Engines

    As the number of web servers and web pages is growing too fast, finding information on the web can be challenging. To our convenience, powerful search engines are available at many web sites. There are two main types of such engines: some, like Yahoo, are similar to a library's card catalog, allowing you to search hierarchical lists of links sorted by subject. Others are indexes that you can search using keywords. These latter engines work much better if you are searching for a rare word or topic that doesn't occur under general subjects. On the other hand, subject search tools allow you to quickly locate resources on a common topic. Recently, most engines started using both categories and keyword indexes. Search engines use powerful programs called spiders which keep on crawling in the web to catch any newly published pages and add them to their indexes.

AltaVista is a huge, fast web index provided Digital Equipment Corporation. It indexes web pages and Usenet Newsgroups. It allows you to search in any language you choose even Arabic provided that you have either Netscape Navigator 3.x or later with the Sindibad plug-in from Sakhr ( or have the Arabic versions of MS Windows and Internet Explorer.

MetaCrawler is a highly recommended search engine which refers your search to seven of the most popular search engines (including AltaVista and Lycos), then compiles and ranks the results for you.


Web Crawler:

Yahoo is an excellent and very popular hierarchical index that makes searching the web very simple and fun. Yahooligans! ( is another version of Yahoo! That is designed especially for kids. It searches in filtered web sites only.

Another large and popular subject index. One of its powerful features is that it allows you to search for the title of a certain page if you don't know its URL by typing: title:"the name of the page" ex: title:"Newsweek" (refer to the table below for more tips)

Excite is a very important search engine that combines keyword searching and subject browsing in a robust way.

HotBot makes it easy to search for multimedia files and to locate websites by their geographical location.

Internet Public Library Reference Center:

Allows you to search in a University of Michigan based public library.

Search Techniques

The following table provides you with some search techniques available at Infoseek

Syntax Description of Syntax Usage
url: Use url: to find a specific url: Example:
link: Use link: to find pages with specific links on them Example:
site: Use site: to locate a site and its related pages Example:
title: Use title: to search for a specific title of a site Example: title:"The New York Times"

General search techniques available in most search engines

Plain English Searches

How can I find info. about "Portfolio Assessment"?

Many search engines encourage us to use simple questions

This technique may lead to successful results

AND Searches

Use this technique if your keywords MUST appear in the results

Portfolio AND Rubric (use "AND" instead of "and")

+Portfolio +Rubric (make sure that there is no space between the "+" and the word)

Portfolio Rubric and choose "All Words"

OR Searches

Use this technique if you want to search for ANY of your keywords

Portfolio Rubric (if you leave a space between words, OR is used in some search engines)

Portfolio OR Rubric (other search engines require that you type OR between the keywords)

Portfolio Rubric and choose "any of the words"

NOT / AND NOT Searches

Use this technique if you want to exclude keywords from your result

Portfolio NOT Rubric

+Portfolio -Rubric (make sure that there is no space between the "+ and -" and the word)

Portfolio AND NOT Rubric (be careful that sometimes the site that you need might contain the two words together and it will not show in your results

NEAR Searches

Use this technique if you want to search for keywords that appear in close proximity to one another

Portfolio NEAR Rubric

Using Wildcards

Use wildcards (*, ?) if you want to search for derivatives of keywords

Medic* this will retrieve all pages that contain words that start with "medic"


Stopwords are common words that search engines avoid when doing the search (ex: the, is, are, in, for,…). To include stopwords in your searches put your phrases in between double quotes

"tips for teaching"

Very interesting science and math education sites that you should never miss

I*EARN - International Education and Resource Network

Library of Congress

NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

AAAS: The American Association for the Advancement of Science

NSTA: The National Science Teacher Association

Discovery Channel School (Excellent lesson plans)

University of California Museum of Paleontology

Hands-on activities from the Franklin Institute

Electron Microscopy Gallery

Australian National Botanic Gardens Biodiversity Server

Sea World/Busch Gardens Animal Information Database

Supercomputer Computations Research Institute

Interactive Virtual Frog Dissection

Center of Excellence for science and Math Education

The Franklin Institute Science Museum

Search ERIC from ERIC/AE

Electric Library

Classroom Connect

The Nine Planets

The Human Genome Database


Microsoft Math, Economics, & Science Lessons at a Glance


Gopher is another protocol for retrieving information stored in a hierarchical format on gopher servers. Gopher used to be very popular before the emergence of the World Wide Web. Nowadays, many gopher sites are becoming unavailable because most of them were converted into HTML based home pages available on the World Wide Web. If you are curious and you want to see how a gopher site looks like try in your browser the following gopher URL for ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation: gopher://

(please note that gophers are in their last days and not all ISPs support access to them) This is very similar to browsing the folders on your hard disk. You click on a certain folder to reach the desired file.

FTP - File Transfer Protocol

From its name FTP is a file transfer protocol that allows you to transfer files from the host server to your hard disk. ftp:// Identifies a file that can be downloaded from an FTP server. While browsing the World Wide Web you might see icons that say "click to download." In fact, this icon is associated with an ftp address that may look like this: by clicking this URL you will be downloading the "file.doc" and consequently you will be asked for the location on your computer in which you want to store this file. Ftp is very important because it allows us to download programs and important document without the need for an e-mail request. Files that are commonly put on FTP servers for download usually have the following extensions:

.zip Archive files that contain one or many files compressed with the winzip program. You need to unzip these files with the winzip program to see and use the compressed files in them. A Shareware version of WinZip is available at (

.doc Microsoft Word documents.

.pdf Adobe Acrobat files which are long documents that require the Adobe Acrobat reader in order to be opened or printed. Application forms or tutorial files are usually published in such a format. For further information or to download this reader refer to (

.exe executable programs that you may download and run on your computer.

NB: It is very important to pass any file you download on an anti-virus checker before opening it. Malicious viruses are well spread over the net. The best anti-virus scanners are those that plug into your internet browsers. Norton Anti-Virus 4.0 for example is designed to plug into Netscape Navigator and automatically scans all downloaded files and e-mail attachments.


Telnet is a very important Internet service that allows you to connect to a remote computer from which you can read or download certain files. A user name and a password are usually needed to be able to access the remote computer. To use Telnet you need to run any telnet program or simply use the one that comes with your Windows95: telnet.exe located in your main Windows folder. To access the ASK ERIC index of journals in education you can login to
Basically you will get a text based menu from which you pick up certain options.

Telnet servers you should not miss:

The Library of Congress:

Telnet to:

Air Pollution:
Telnet to:

E-Mail (Electronic Mail)

E-mail is an electronic messaging system which basically requires an account at an ISP server and an e-mail program. As a user, you will have an address that looks like this: username@server.domain. As an example, is my e-mail address at Eduspace. By analyzing it you can see that my username is "mshihab" and my account is on the "eduspace" server which belongs to the non-profit organizations domain ".org".

You can attach any file(s) and send them along your message. But never forget to check any attachment you receive for viruses before opening it. Sometimes it is better if you discard a message that has an attachment and come from an anonymous or unclear source.

Some big Internet service organizations like Excite ( and Yahoo! ( offer you the chance to have a web-based e-mail account on their servers which can be accessed from any computer connected to the Internet. No account with an ISP is needed. Such a service is exclusively beneficial especially if you don't own a personal computer or if you are always on the move. Of course you will always need a username and a password to access your account. This service is provided for free because while working on the e-mail you will see many adds that are displayed on the same page and this is all they want from you.

Abbreviations are widely used in e-mail messages. Here are some:

BTW: by the way FAQ: frequently asked questions
IMO: in my opinion TIA: thanks in advance
THX: thanks ASAP: as soon as possible

To add emotional coloring and emphasis to messages, emoticons (or smileys) are used, and here are some examples:

:-) happy :-( sad ;-) winking
:-)) very happy :-c very sad :-o shocked
:-D laughing out loud :'-( crying %-) confused

New e-mail programs like MS Outlook Express and Netscape Mail 3.x or later support HTML based e-mail messages. This gives you the maximum pleasure to send and receive multimedia based e-mail messages.

To search for an e-mail address of a certain person, you can refer to the following sites:


Mailing lists (LISTSERVs)

Just like magazine subscriptions, mailing lists (or maillists) are special kinds of e-mail addresses that automatically forward topic-specific discussions to your e-mail box. Mailing lists are sometimes referred to as LISTSERVs or discussion groups because they focus on a specific topic like assessment for example. All you need is just your e-mail program and some addresses of mailing lists that might interest you.

For the Official Mailing lists catalog go to:

Mailing lists you should not miss:

History and Philosophy of Science and Science Teaching (542 subscribers)
Send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@POST.QUEENSU.CA
Message text: subscribe HPSST-L <your name>

Send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@VM.CC.PURDUE.EDU
Message text: subscribe JCMST-L <your name>

Interactive Mathematics Program (219 subscribers)
Send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU
Message text: subscribe IMPTEACH <your name>

Send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@VM.CC.PURDUE.EDU
Message text: subscribe JCMST-L <your name>

Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education Group (289 subscribers)
Send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@POST.QUEENSU.CA
Message text: subscribe QMSTE-L <your name>

Science/Math Education Information (146 subscribers)
Message text: subscribe SP-SCIENCE-MATH-EDUCATION-LIST <your name>

Teaching Integrated Mathematics and Sciences (TIMS) Project (42 subscribers)
Send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU
Message text: subscribe TIMS-L <your name>

NASA Classroom of the Future: WV Mathematics and Science List (196 subscribers)
Send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@WVNVM.WVNET.EDU
Message text: subscribe WVMS-L <your name>

Teaching in the Mathematical Sciences with Spreadsheets (929 subscribers)
Send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@ LISTSERV.MUOHIO.EDU
Message text: subscribe SUSIG <your name>

Online math & science workshop - (1,015 subscribers)
Send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@ MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU
Message text: subscribe ITD-JNL <your name>

Newsgroups (discussion groups)

    Newsgroups, also referred to as Usenet Newsgroups, are public electronic bulletin boards. These bulletin boards are organized by topic so that you see what others have posted on the board of your choice; you may post your own messages or articles too. All you need to get going with newsgroups is a news reader like Netscape Navigator or MS Internet News that comes for free with the Full Edition of Internet Explorer. Excite, a leading Internet organization, provides a very interesting site called DejaNews ( that makes working with newsgroups easier than you might imagine. It allows you to locate newsgroups of your interest, read what's posted and even post your own articles. You can even search in all supported newsgroups. The Altavista search engine is also very important if you want to locate newsgroups or search for anything posted in them. From your web browser you can access newsgroups by typing: news://<newsgroupaddress> ex: news://k12.ed.comp

Newsgroups you should not miss:

Newsgroup Description
k12.ed.comp Teaching computer literacy
k12.ed.math Mathematics curriculum in K-12 education Science curriculum in K-12 education Industrial arts and vocational education in K-12 The scientific study of plants Ecological research Discussion of evolutionary biology (Moderated)
sci.chem Chemistry and related sciences


Another way of communication is chatting. Recently, chatting has taken a new dimension. It first started as a main screen that shows a dialogue among users connected to the Internet and chatting in a certain virtual chat room. With faster connections to the Internet, chatting evolved and started including live voice, and even video. This allowed organizations with a fast connection to the Internet to practice live video conferencing. With the introduction of Internet2 in the next few years, live video chatting is expected to become as popular as e-mail in our days.

Here are some chat programs that will certainly change the way you look at the Internet:

Mirabilis ICQ: from supports text/messages only.

MS NetMeeting 2: Comes for free with the full edition of MS Internet Explorer. Supports voice & video.

Internet Phone: Supports voice & video.

FreeTel: Supports voice chatting

Creative Labs Web Phone: Supports voice & video.

Internet Attractions

A new dimension appeared when new technologies called Real Audio and Real Video allowed ISPs to become web broadcasters rather than just hosts. Many Radio stations are now open to the international audience via converting their broadcasts to real audio formats that can be received by all internet users world wide. Some TVs are using the Real Video technology to transmit their broadcasts on the international level in real time. The real Audio and Video Player is available to download for free at: To get started, you can listen to the music of Radio One (Lebanon) in real time if you point your browser at:

The future of the Net is Internet2

Announced in October 1996, Internet2 is a collaboration of the National Science Foundation, 110 U.S. universities and a handful of private businesses that want to upgrade the capabilities of the current Internet. According to Bill Graves, chairman of the Internet2 Applications Task Force, Internet2 will create and sustain a leading edge network capability for the national and international research community by Internet services for all members of the academic community. Internet2 will create virtual environments as realistic as possible so multiple people in multiple locations can collaborate in cyberspace. Scientists in the United States could work with their counterparts anywhere in the world to design drugs that could cure major diseases. Experts say that Internet2 will be available in three to five years. "Faster, better, cheaper could be the motto of Internet2" Graves said. For more information check out: he Internet2 homepage at

Internet Safety

In this rapidly growing cyberspace, where anarchy rules, some malicious addresses or links can lead to very annoying and obscene web sites. You as an educator, parent or administrator need to construct your own Internet safe zone where learning is more likely to occur. The best way to create such zones is to use specialized software programs that run in the background and block lewd web sites, chat rooms, and newsgroups. Although such monitoring programs are continuously improving, technology is no substitute for human guidance and orientation. Don't ever forget that certain kids happen to have more skills than their parents or even teachers; some have their own ways to bypass these programs. Below I listed and commented on the best software products you must use to protect your working environment. But how to get these programs? No problem, all can be bought, downloaded and regularly updated from their respective web sites.

Filtering Program

Price $ USD

Special Features
Cyber Patrol

$ 34.95

  • Allows you to control the amount of time and times of day kids are on line.
  • Stops kids from typing sexually related words in e-mail and newsgroups.

$ 49.95

  • Does not filter by keywords, the company's researchers keep on building a database of blocked sites that you need to download regularly.

$ 39.95

  • Blocks e-mail attachments
  • Very easy to use and install
  • Almost invisible when operating

$ 29.95

  • Monitors where kids go online by generating a log file of places visited and information exchanged via e-mail.


Safety Rules in Cyberspace


Armstrong, S. (1996). A pocket tour of: Kidstuff on the Internet. California: Sybex.

Baker, D. (1997). Exploring the World Wide Web: URLs. University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education [On-line serial]. Available:

Brennan, M. (1997). Internet2: The next generation. Detroit Free Press [On-line serial]. Available:

Dorling Kindersley (1996). The Internet. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited UK.

Gralla, P. (1996). How the Internet works. California: Macmillan Computer Publishing USA.

Glossbrenner, A. & E. (1998). Search Engines for the World Wide Web. California: Peachpit Press USA.

McLain, T. (1997). How to Create Successful Internet Projects. Pennsylvania: Classroom Connect, Inc. USA.

Stone, B. (1997). Coping with the Internet. NewsweekExtra, CXXX Winter 1997, 14-21.

UCAID (1997). About Internet2. Internet2 [On-line serial]. Available:

Williams, B. (1995). The Internet for teachers. California: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.

Wolf, M. (1996). Your personal Net study. New York: Wolf New Media.


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Mahmud Shihab