- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2002

Thirty-three men gathered across from the White House at the Cosmos Club 104 years ago to create an organization that would disseminate geographical knowledge. The group they developed became known as the National Geographic Society, which today is the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institution in the world.

This mighty-minded society, of course, has its place on the World Wide Web with numerous portals to explore. One of these cyber stops offers a virtual museum for students, filled with learning possibilities about every aspect of the Earth.


Site address: www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions


Washington-based Nationalgeographic.com, the National Geographic Society's award-winning Web site, created and produces the Xpeditions site with support from the WorldCom Foundation. The site is part of WorldCom's Marco Polo Project, an initiative to get standards-based Internet content into the classrooms.

Creator quotable:

"National Geographic teamed up with the WorldCom Foundation to make geography fun and accessible to students, teachers and parents nationwide. The site strives to be cool and innovative to encourage kids to think about geography as an adventure, while supporting teachers and parents with lesson plans and other resources they need to bring geography to life," says Shannon Sullivan, Xpeditions producer.

Word from the Webwise:

An interactive study of the Earth and its many facets comes to life with this Web site featuring 1,600 maps, 216 lesson plans and 25 activities for visitors.

Xpeditions bases its journey on the U.S. National Geography Standards curriculum created in 1994. It breaks down the teaching of the discipline into 18 areas divided into six primary sections the World in Spatial Terms, Places and Regions, Physical Systems, Human Systems, Environment and Society, and the Uses of Geography.

Xpedition Hall, the site's virtual museum, turns these sections into six galleries that present multimedia exhibits touching on all 18 areas. Supplemental lesson plans and activities are highlighted.

The hall resembles a rudimentary Myst game as visitors click on arrow keys or the rectangular illustration itself to move about. An active map of the hall can be used as a shortcut to exhibits; click anywhere on the museum's layout and go directly to that location.

So, if visitors want to explore the physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surfaces, they can visit the Physical Systems gallery and check out Xpedition 7, the Big Island Pool. This expedition demonstrates how the forces of water, wind and geology mold the planet by allowing the student to crack open the volcanoes Mauna Loa and Kilauea in Hawaii, pull a storm over the island or drag air currents around the tropical paradise. Accompanying text explains the phenomena while side menus lead parents to activities and educators to detailed lesson plans.

Activities available for this expedition, such as Storm Stories, which has a student unjumble the events of four children caught in disasters, further lead to more layers of online adventures that range from viewing video clips of tornadoes to taking part in a hurricane simulation to reading an article on natural hazards from National Geographic magazine.

Ease of use:

Visitors will need later versions of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator to view the site with Macromedia Flash 5, Quicktime VR, Adobe Acrobat and Real Player coming in handy. Developers do offer a version of the site with non-Flash layouts to give as wide an audience as possible access to the pages.

Don't miss:

The Xpeditions Hall provides a variety of online fun. In Xpedition 4's Locator Booth exhibit, found in the Places and Regions gallery, visitors must match breathtaking photographs to red dots on a map of South America. Students are given clues and allowed to view terrain, population and rainfall charts to make an educated guess as to where the Atacama desert, the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, and Rio de Janeiro are located.

The site also has a black-and-white atlas that gives multiple versions of 10 areas of the world to print out for help with assignments or to just learn where the thickest ice exists on Antarctica.

Family activity:

Every activity listed on the site comes with an off-line component. In Wonderworld, the whole clan can create a theme park based on the planet's architectural and engineering marvels. The site helps with lists of potential attractions, such as creating the wonders of the world using clay, other household products and some imagination to develop a slick diorama.

Cyber sitter synopsis:

Xpeditions combines eye-catching visuals with an immense amount of information to immerse students of all ages in the diverse topic of geography.

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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