- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2000

A recent news conference found Bill Gates putting forth this prediction, "We're at the beginning of what the computer can do to change our lives. The best is yet to come." This has never been truer than in the area of education and the Internet.
The World Wide Web offers an unprecedented opportunity to learn, and as the computer begins to meld with the television, a new window has opened for on-line students to freely enjoy living encyclopedias from their desktop.
One company, which has its roots in developing educational CD-ROMs, hopes to inspire students with a visual smorgasbord of science, health and technology topics, pushing the World Wide Web and its users to the limits of interactivity.


Site address: www.brainpop.com.


Located in New York City, Brainpop was brought on line by Dr. Avram Kadar, a practicing immunologist, and Chanan Kadmon, a multimedia specialist, in June 1999.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site in answer to children's curiosity about their bodies and the world around them," says Mr. Kadmon, executive producer. "Remember when you were a kid, and you had questions about anything and everything, but no one to answer them? 'Why is the sky blue?' 'How does an airplane fly?' Well, Brainpop is there to answer all of these questions."

Word from the Webwise:

Visitors using the latest Web software will find a colorful checkerboard layout bubbling with tempting icons and a fantastic learning experiences if they stumble upon Brainpop.
Rodents scurry about, and planes and planets whiz by while the main page loads to jew's-harp melodies. An animated mini-screen introduces the site's purpose and characters.
Obviously, the developers are trying to catch a child's imagination, and they succeed with plenty of visual candy.
Animated hosts Tim, a mature 12-year-old (a sort of "Blue's Clues" Steve, the know-it-all type), Moby, a tin-can-shaped robot, and the supporting cast present an enormous amount of information through cartoons, printable worksheets, quizzes, illustrated time lines and off-line activities.
The interactive modules vary greatly and are created from questions e-mailed by children. From acne to magnetism to the secrets of the refrigerator, each query becomes an all-encompassing knowledge party.
The site developers used their noggins and give visitors a chance to take a quiz while the main cartoon loads. Not only do children get a quick study of any particular topic, but they will not get bored if still using a slower (28.8 or lower) modem.
Just one example of the 70 modules available, "Gravity" begins with Tim and Moby starring in the "Mysteries of Life," an animated feature answering the questions, "How do we stick to the Earth? Why don't we just fly off into space?" submitted by Krissy of New York.
I learned from the humorous cartoon that gravity rules everything in the universe. I am also privy to the theories of Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, the relationship between mass and distance, and why astronauts can jump higher on the moon.
Furthermore, a quick click on Bob, the ex-lab rat, opened an experiment on gravity using a mattress, bowling ball, marbles and a flowerpot. Additionally, I found a time line featuring the dates of Einstein's and Newton's discoveries, an activity page offering a worksheet with colorable areas that reinforce basic gravity concepts and a comic strip with Cassie and Rita enjoying a carnival ride.
Another component to the site involves gathering points to win prizes. Children can register on line, get a password and help design an area to view their point totals.
Points are awarded to visitors who complete activities (worth 20 points) or explore entire modules (worth 100 points). Gather 300 points to enter a monthly raffle, 15,000 points for a Brainpop T-shirt and 50,000 points to get mentioned in a Tim and Moby animated snippet.
A few new features in development include Brainpop television, which will present a Quicktime clip of children reporting on current news items and "How to with Gary and Gary," which will showcase practical applications for what is learned through the cartoons like under the "Dinosaur" section, the Garys will explain where to look for fossils.
Finally, Brainpop shortly will offer streaming text to all of the cartoons so hearing-impaired children can join the fun.

Ease of use:

Brainpop pulls out all of the heavy artillery to keep difficulty in navigation to a minimum. Drop-down menus, consistent icons and a search engine lead to an enjoyable Web experience. Also, thanks to Flash technology, cartoons load quickly about four minutes with a 28.8 modem even pages with heavy graphics.

Family activity:

Brainpop does a tremendous job in encouraging off-line activities; each module offers an experiment and guidance from Bob, the ex-lab rat. One really neat idea, found under "Atoms," involves building a carbon molecule with food and household items. Young chemists will need peas, different colored grapes, toothpicks, plastic wrap and scissors. The foods represent electrons, protons and neutrons, and Bob explains how to simulate the appearance of a carbon molecule. This method can be used to create any number of structures found on Periodic Table of Elements.

Don't miss:

The opening page gives a nice text-based nugget of information located in the lower righthand corner. Titled "Brainbuzz," the scrollable area features a new educational tidbit each day. I found out a bit about genomes last week in addition to playing a verbal puzzle game.

Cybersitter synopsis:

Brainpop contains some harder-to-comprehend subject matter like the theory of relativity and some slightly mature topics like the reproductive system, the menstruation cycle and making babies. I recommend the site for children at least 10 years old, and parents should be available for any guidance on some of the potentially dicier subject matter.

Information 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 to [email protected]

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