- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

The result of bonding an atom of oxygen to two atoms of hydrogen has the power to sustain — as well as quickly destroy — life. Water has been very much in the news lately, and the United States Geological Survey has plenty to say about it.

Since 1998, its Water Resources Division has offered students a Web site filled with a less-than-cutting-edge design but an informative look at the liquid that covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and makes up 60 percent of the human body.

Water Science for Schools

Site address: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/index.html

Creator: Hydrologists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), including Howard Perlman from the Atlanta water-resources office, authored and maintain the site.

Creator quotable: “USGS hydrologists study the quality and quantity of the Earth’s surface and ground water and provide that information to decision makers,” Mr. Perlman says. “For example, the National Weather Service uses USGS stream-gaging data to issue flood warnings. Future USGS scientists and decision makers are today’s students. So, we created this site to provide them and their teachers with a place to investigate and learn about water.

“Although the title mentions ‘schools,’ the information is for anyone wanting to learn about this precious resource,” he says.

Word from the Webwise: Modern-age middle schoolers will need to get beyond the painfully dated look of the site and focus on the passion of Mr. Perlman’s scientific convictions as he unleashes a torrent of facts, color photographs, diagrams and resources.

Text links reign supreme during a visitor’s session as, after selecting from the section headings of Earth’s Water, Water Basics, Water Use Information, Water Q&A;, Special Topics, Activity Center and Picture Gallery, he will be led on an exploration requiring loads of reading and little interactivity.

Just a look at Water Q&A; alone reveals topics such as Water Use in the U.S., Water Data and Measurements, Water Use at Home, and Chemistry and Water.

Each links to a resource-rich page with queries, often punctuated with links to definitions of terms or further explanations. It tells why water sometimes smells like rotten eggs, offers an explanation of sinkholes, and gives a detailed review of the term “stream stage” and which state uses the most water.

Other interesting pages found floating around the site include one in the Activity Center in which students guess how much water it takes to grow specific foods (it takes 6 gallons of water to produce a single serving of lettuce), picture galleries showing a house with stilts, multiple color maps on water use, and information on saline water.

Ease of use: Water Science for Schools should run properly on all computer platforms and in all browsers with no plug-in software required. The site offers a navigation guide, site map, search engine and links to sections and subsections at the bottom of every page to make locating items very easy.

Don’t miss: Just about anyone can learn about the 15 components of the water cycle through a colorful diagram that has been translated into 54 languages. A “water cycle” link leads to the fun while English-language visitors also get a text breakdown of each component as well as the chance to follow a drop of water through the important cycle.

Family activity: After drinking a glass of water, I suggest a stop by the Activity Center to think about how much water a human uses. A multiple-choice questionnaire logs answers into a database and reveals how others around the country use water. Or, educators can have a class decide what the biggest water problem will be in the coming years, type in responses in the Opinion Surveys area and get compiled and averaged data back in the form of tables by state and part of the world. These activities can lead to great discussions and ideas to conserve the precious liquid.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: If Mr. Perlman secures the funding, the site may get a much-needed design upgrade. If not, the pages still function as a great place to find information for a school report or quickly understand the properties of water.

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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