- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2000

One of the joys of surfing for educational Web sites comes from finding really robust and creative endeavors developed by teachers for their classes. One of these slick cyberstops, Life Science Connections, was created for the parents and students of Jennifer Vilenski's seventh-grade class at Roger Ludlowe Middle School in Fairfield, Conn.
Throughout the site, Mrs. Vilenski shares with the World Wide Web audience clever ways to explore life with a focus on biology, botany, ecology and zoology.

Life Science Connections/Life Science Safari

Site address: https://vilenski.com/science/safari/index.html


Life Science Connections is a joint effort between Jennifer Vilenski and her husband, Jeffrey Vilenski, and was released to the Internet in March 1999.
Creator quotable: "We created this site to improve communication with my students and their parents," Mrs. Vilenski says. "I post the students' grades and upcoming events of the class on the site so students and parents are aware of what is happening at school. The site is also used as a fun and interactive learning tool for some of the lessons in my curriculum."

Word from the Webwise:

This colorful site provides an excellent place to learn. Its largest part, the Life Science Safari, features Sally, the adventure guide, who helps students explore five categories of living things "Bacteria," "Protists," "Fungus," "Plants" and "Animals." Each offers plenty of visuals, definitions, amusing sound bites and easy-to-understand concepts.
I started with the section on "Bacteria," which highlights how some of these microscopic friends are prokaryotic, meaning they do not have a nucleus or organelles.
This section continues on to provide definitions of organelles, or small structures almost like organs found within cells, including the membrane and wall, cytoplasm, lysosomes, ribosomes and vesicles.
All other animal, plant, fungi and protists (very simple, usually unicellular creatures such as algae or protozoa) cells are eukaryotic, meaning they do have a nucleus and organelles with membranes around them.
Throughout the adventure, students will find plenty of new words. Definitions can be found by clicking on highlighted text or referring to Randy, "the Really Old Word Guy," who appears within the "Animals" section to offer explanations.
One of the tools provided to the Web student is the visual reinforcement that accompanies definitions. When looking into cell membranes, I found out the structure that forms its outer boundary only allows certain material to move in and out of the cell.
The reinforcement to ingrain this in my brain came in the form of an animated iron gate opening and closing next to the text.
Another great section, "Animals," offers interesting information beginning with the shared characteristics of the animal kingdom and the fact that, to date, scientists have identified and named more than a million species of animals from ants to zebras. Yet, astoundingly enough, an estimated 3 million to 30 million more need to be classified.
Students then find out about how living things get classified using the current, seven-category, modern system kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. Mrs. Vilenski offers a memory trick to remember the categories Kings Play Chess On Fine Glass Surfaces with the first letter of each word as the first letter of each category.
Facts also pepper all of the section's pages. Peek at "Fungus" to understand that toadstools get their name not because they are resting places for toads, but from the German words "tod" and "stuhl" meaning "death stool" in reference to the many wild mushrooms that are poisonous.
Once students completely roam through the Life Science Safari, they can take three self-tests the Cell Expedition, Vertebrate Classification Expedition and Arthropod Self-Test to further remember their journey.

Ease of use:

Life Science Connections effectively uses Macromedia's Flash plug-in to allow visitors to enjoy a variety of animations. Overall, the site makes a strong case for using the Internet to support school curriculums through its wonderfully simple presentations and engaging environments.

Don't miss:

A second feature found at Life Science Connection, Human Body Adventure, delves into basic anatomy as students explore the inner workings of a guy named Skippy.
Using the familiar combination of text, bright graphics, self-quizzes, animations and Flash movies, the section virtually dissects the body for students to view everything from the liver to rib cage to the epiglottis.

Family activity:

Within the "Class" section, click on the "Notebook" to find classroom projects that can be modified for fun at home. Choosing the "Organelle Trail," the goal of this exercise is to gather information about an outlaw organelle. The fun part involves creating a "wanted poster" that diagrams it while answering three questions what types of cells can this organelle be found in, what does it do for the cell and where is it located in the cell.

Cybersitter synopsis:

This site offers some truly beautiful pages packed with learning and interactive fun that will keep students captivated by the world of life sciences.
Family fun factor: 85 percent

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 ([email protected]).

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