- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 12, 2004

Parents have had a powerful ally in recent years when it comes to answering almost any question an inquisitive child could toss at them. Since 1998, the Web site How Stuff Works (www.howstuffworks.com) has been enlightening through detailed, illustrated descriptions about almost any product, device or procedure.

An offshoot to this Web site has arrived in the form of a five-times-a-year magazine.

It features a pared-down version of the award-winning cyber stop and appeals to students in fourth through ninth grades. The magazine’s online companion mirrors its educational content and gives children a great place to explore and learn about the complex world around them.

How Stuff Works Express

Site address: http://express.howstuffworks.com

Creator: How Stuff Works Express is a production of the Convex Group in Atlanta.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to offer a broad understanding of how anything works,” says Greg Swayne, chief operating officer of the Convex Group. “The Internet as a whole can offer a plethora of desired information; however actual discovery can be an obstacle. Our goal is to consolidate the masses and offer a reliable destination for curiosity of any kind. In doing so, we aim to challenge that curiosity so that further innovation evolves in the marketplace.

“In a few words — making the complex simple,” he says.

Word from the Webwise: Visitors overwhelmed by the amount of information and annoying banner ads crammed into the How Stuff Works Web site will appreciate this serene cyber stop, which touches on subjects the editors believe will pique their younger audience’s interest.

With an abundance of science and technology topics, the site offers many text-based articles combined with photos and illustrations among the main sections Feature Article, Web Quest, Autopsy, Cool Sites, Extraordinary People, Ask Marshall Brain, Sally Ride Science, Game Works and Sci-Tech on TV.

Most are self-explanatory, such as Cool Sites, which touts some of the better cyber stops on the Web. Extraordinary People provides biographies on five amazing thinkers and Sci-Tech on TV offers a schedule of cool science-oriented television shows.

All the sections present great learning opportunities.

Take the case of Autopsy, which literally dissects a Go-Kart, Rumble Robots and the robotic dog Tekno as it carefully explains and shows the items’ innards. It also offers links to the main How Stuff Works site for additional breakdowns on key components.

A stop by Feature Article features six multi-page stories on cool topics such as the making of Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” movies, how 3-D glasses work and a tutorial on robots.

The man behind the original How Stuff Works, Marshall Brain, even has his own section (Ask Marshall Brain) where he answers questions on science- or technology-related issues. And astronaut Sally Ride tackles lasers in her section.

Ease of use: This site simply needs a Java-script-enabled current browser, any connection speed and a willing participant.

Parents should be aware that page links occasionally take visitors outside the site to other places in cyberspace.

Don’t miss: The Game Works section features seven challenges to stimulate the noggin. Although I loved the Concentration-like Mind Match and disc-stacking Towers of Hanoi, my favorite was the online version of Yahtzee.

Combining luck, number knowledge and logic, the game allows up to eight players to take turns and virtually roll dice to fill in categories and collect points.

Family activity: Educators can register with How Stuff Works Express until September (after that, a subscription to the magazine will be required) and receive access to printable worksheets that help reinforce concepts presented on the site.

They range from graphing download times of MP3s to making a submarine to learning about buoyancy to reading comprehension tests.

Cybersitter synopsis: This is a fact-filled site that mixes the right amount of play with easy-to-understand articles that will temporarily satisfy a student’s quest for discovery.

Overall grade: A

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@washington-times.com).

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