- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

The art of creating an interactive product that will help educate continues to be a challenge for everyone from teacher to marketer to graphic artist. An interactive design company, Animatrix, has been tackling this dilemma since 1984 after successfully developing the first guided tour for the Macintosh computer system.

The company has taken its experience to the Web masses through the development of an online knowledge machine geared toward balancing a structured learning environment against the freedom of discovery.

Sprocketworks

Site address: www.sprocketworks.com

Creator:

Animatrix, an interactive design company located in Westlake Village, Calif.

Creator quotable:

"Sprocketworks was created to allow kids to learn in their own way. Once kids build their own personal information framework, the world is theirs. We provide scaffolding for them to build on," says Marney Morris, president and founder of Animatrix. "We isolate key ideas, like an interactive solar system, or an airplane that they can pitch, roll and yaw, and make them into engagements that allow kids to learn in their own way.

"Our interfaces are designed to make the kid, not the technology, the focus of the interface. We reward kids with the information that they asked for. The idea is to build on their own thoughts, not distract them from learning with additional entertainment."

Word from the Webwise:

As the sprockets methodically turn on every page, so will the visitor's brain as he or she soaks up this powerfully interactive cyber-experience.

Through a compact design, colorful demonstrations, animations and photographic elements, students have a choice of learning about "Space," "Music," "U.S. History," "Flight," "Horses," "Chemistry," "Birds," "Ships" and "Oceans."

Most of these modules contain subtopics that feature online activities, definitions, demonstrations of concepts and chronologies.

For example, the "Music" module gives visitors the choice of "History of Music," "Learn Music," "Orchestra," "World Music," "Games" and "Music Terms."

I started with the "History of Music" and found a breakdown of modern and classical genres. Each presents a marvelously active, fluid time line loaded with audio clips. The time line took me from the Renaissance era of the Italian composer Palestrina in 1525 to the rap stylings of the Beastie Boys.

Not only do visitors get to hear the music simply by passing the cursor over an icon, but the classical time line also offers a biography of most artists, with extra compositions included.

"Learn Music" allows students to work at their own pace using a virtual keyboard and musical staff to hone their skills in reading music, understanding sharps and flats, tuning the ear to hearing particular notes and even duplicating Bach's Minuet in G.

The other areas within "Music" include a diagram of an orchestra that plays a clip of the individual instruments when the cursor is passed over them, an interactive map that allows students to hear music from around the world, games, and 58 definitions reinforced with audio snippets.

Ease of use:

The site works most efficiently with a broadband connection (cable modem, DSL etc.) because of the depth of the animated presentations. I would caution visitors with 28.8 modems that they need extreme patience or should not bother visiting the site. All visitors will need the latest version of browsers and the Shockwave plug-in.

Don't miss:

I need to mention an area titled "Look it Up," which offers a handy way to find information such as area codes, U.S. travel times and measurement conversions.

I also was blown away by a journey through the solar system found within the "Space" module. Visitors get an expansive view of the planets and can zoom in or out with a click of the mouse. Statistics from each planet can be reached, along with a nice selection of photos of celestial masses outside our solar system.

Family activity:

Under the "How To" module, animated demonstrations are available to build four styles of paper airplanes and an origami bird.

Cybersitter synopsis:

Designed primarily for 7- to 12-year-olds, Sprocketworks shines for any age group looking for an exciting way to learn. As long as the child has access to a broadband connection, he or she will spend hours working through this well-developed, site.

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] washingtontimes.com).

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