- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

Fuel and its importance to the human race is apparent in a variety of instances: a person eating a meal to sustain life, harnessing electricity to stay warm or filling up an automobile with gasoline to get to a job. All of these examples involve a conversion of energy that many students may not fully understand.

The world's largest organization for science educators, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), offers a Web site to shed some light on the mysteries and importance of the miraculous substances that keep everything in motion.

The Science of Energy

Site address: www.nsta.org/Energy/index.html

Creator: The Arlington-based NSTA created the Science of Energy Web site in 1999 with funding from the American Petroleum Institute.

Creator quotable: "We created this site to stimulate interest among middle-level students about the important topic of energy. We do this by creating an engaging and interactive environment that piques students' interest and encourages them to think about the decisions they make every day. The site is also a valuable resource for science educators because it provides standards-based lesson plans on energy-related subjects such as motion and inertia; and heat, temperature and transfer," says Gerry Wheeler, NSTA's executive director.

Word from the Webwise: Through a fairly uninspired design, the site gives visitors a simple introduction to the world of energy that is heavy on fossil fuel discussions and hands-on activities, but a bit light on alternatives for this petroleum-dependent, industrialized planet.

The three primary sections aren't balanced in the amount of information offered. Students will find the majority of information stuck under Find It Here, while You Decide offers only a single data-crunching exercise and Did You Know? features just two multiple-choice questions regarding energy facts.

Visitors who jump into Find It Here will first find a mainly biology-based "Energy Primer" broken into three parts, exploring the definitions of energy (with some heavy-duty equations tossed in to confuse), its sources (explained using the process of sunlight and plants) and the creation of fossil fuels.

Also under Find it Here, the "Lesson Plans" section really shines through four micro-units concentrating on biology, chemistry, earth and space, and physics that allow teachers and students to learn about a variety of classroom science phenomena such as mass, matter and photosynthesis experiments.

Additionally, Find It Here pays tribute to seven scientists who made a difference through their energy discoveries, and an area titled "Running on Oil" presents 15 pages on this valuable commodity, tracing it from its formation thanks to the remains of plants and animals to its many uses to how it is transported.

Ease of use: If not for the valuable lesson plans, the content on the site would be extremely thin. Although it has been about four years, this cyber stop feels like it has been abandoned with the paltry Did You Know? section, an incomplete "Energy All Around" poster page (only two of eight images are available) and an unenlightening photo gallery (no explanations accompany an image).

Visitors will just need a basic browser with modem connection to view the pages and no plug-ins are needed. Designers might want to offer the lesson plans in a PDF format in the future for easier downloads.

Don't miss: Under You Decide, visitors get a chance to play the mayor of Middletown USA and must determine whether they should raise the speed limit on Maple Avenue to the approval or disapproval of their constituency. Weighing raw data against economic impact, social context and health risks, the city administrator will learn about braking ratios, investigate scientific models and listen to citizens' opinions while watching a simulation of the street traffic at 25, 35 and 45 mph.

Family activity: Away-from-the-computer projects pepper the site, including developing putty out of white glue and borax (to demonstrate how to create synthetic materials), fermenting juice using yeast (to show anaerobic respiration) and dissolving zinc dust on a copper penny (to highlight matter undergoing a chemical change).

Cybersitter synopsis: The high school freshman looking for some basic information on energy will most appreciate the site, along with teachers looking for a variety of classroom experiments. Those who want to be thoroughly entertained while learning will need to look elsewhere.

Overall grade: B

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 (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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