- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2001

Gary Kiliany found the limitations of traditional educational a bit stifling for his two children so he did something about it. Two years ago, this entrepreneur switched careers from helping disabled individuals through the use of computer hardware and software to developing a powerful, student-friendly Web site.

IKnowthat.com

Site address: www.iknowthat.com

Creator:

Mr. Kiliany, of Pittsburgh, founded IKnowthat.com in 1999 after selling his company, Sentient Systems.

Creator quotable:

"When my own kids were born, I became very interested in cognitive theories of learning and found that, overwhelmingly, current studies suggest the early models put forward by Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget are right," says Mr. Kiliany, president of IKnowthat.com.

"In other words, kids do best when they are given free rein to explore and learn at their own pace. The Internet provides unprecedented opportunity to do just that, and no one out there was taking advantage of it. So I built a company around the idea that the most important skill for kids today is meta-learning teaching themselves how to learn."

Word from the Webwise:

Any child familiar with CD-ROM-based educational games will feel at home with IKnowthat.com. Combining the latest Web design technologies with professional-looking animation and established curriculum theories, the site offers a wonderful way to learn if one´s Internet connection has the power. Because of the incredible complexity of what visitors are able to do on the pages, the modules "Geography," "Math," "Reading," "Art," "Sticker Book" and "Games" work best with a high-speed connection; a 56k modem might frustrate some visitors.

Children are greeted by a colorful opening page that features lively icons and is filled with fun. Using a "personalized room," visitors who register get an area where they can save projects, track progress and receive a password to access their own space on any computer.

Registration takes only a few minutes and requires basic information: name, birthday, address (I am not sure why a home address should be required) and e-mail.

Each module does a fantastic job of combining learning opportunities with activities. For example, "Math" concentrates on addition and subtraction problems and features the exploits of superagent Leon the Chameleon through adventures on a volcanic island, at the North Pole and in the Old West.

A jaunt through cowboy country highlights the story of the "Great Train Froggery" with music, humor and a cartoony style used to engage visitors. As youngsters solve problems on a virtual personal desktop assistant, the tale progresses.

Mr. Kiliany constantly keeps knowledge at the eyes and ears of visitors. While I played a single-digit addition game, a blurb in the left-hand corner of the screen, "Did You Know That," gave information nuggets (which also can be read aloud through an audio prompt) on saguaro cactus, the use of steam power and coin minting.

Upon completing games, students get a digital certificate and progress chart that can be personalized and e-mailed to friends and family.

After spending hours roaming through the site, I recommend other highlights, including a fantastic geography area that covers everything from topography to the 50 states.

Ease of use:

IKnowthat.com has fantastic potential but is hindered by the user´s need for a high-speed Internet connection. The designers clearly spell out the requirements needed to run the activities, give parents plenty of tips for age-specific exercises and offer options for slower modem connections for some activities. Later versions of browsers are needed, and Flash 4 and Shockwave 8 plug-ins are mandatory.

Overall, I was blown away by the crisp visuals, animation, range of options and creative passion demonstrated throughout the site.

Don´t miss:

Children must stop by the "Games" module to thwart an alien invasion and learn about the world of light. "Operation Optics" demands that players defend Earth against the Invicatborgs by adjusting mirrors and lenses to aim light beams at the robotic space creatures and diffuse beams the aliens direct at them. This classic-looking shooting extravaganza has them vaporizing ships while exploring the relationships among color, energy and the electromagnetic spectrum.

Family activity:

Visitors can learn about dinosaurs and cartoons with a stop at the "Stickers" area. Using animated characters, backgrounds, sound effects, text and multiple pages, the entire clan will create an on-screen memorial to the mighty beasts that once roamed the Earth. Not only do creators learn about spatial relationships and design elements, but they are enlightened by a "Discover More" option that contains lessons on the Jurassic period, dinosaur facts and possible reasons for the dinosaurs´ extinction.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

This is a very impressive undertaking that will completely captivate 2- through 12-year-olds. Rich rewards await young surfers who can wait out the load times on a 56k modem.

Because of the newness of the site, content is a bit sparse, but new material is being added constantly. A spokesperson says modules in the works will cover division and multiplication; speech and basic sentence structure; and science pertaining to the human body, solar system, volcanoes, gravity, weather and sound.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it´s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (joseph@twtmail.com).

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