Moviemaker Steven Spielberg gave dinosaurs a second life when he realistically brought the extinct reptiles to the big screen with a trilogy of box-office hits in 1993, 1997 and 2001. Making more than $700 million, the Jurassic Park films combined cutting-edge special effects with edge-of-your-seat action that had audiences screaming for more.
Part of that core group of devotees included children, and two media giants have created educational resources catering to these younger fans, including a lively Web site that spreads the word about the mighty creatures that became extinct about 65 million years ago.
Jurassic Park Institute
Site address: www.jpinstitute.com
The Jurassic Park Institute site came to life through the efforts of world-renowned paleontologists, some of the nation’s top educators, Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment.
“We created this site because dinosaurs are often a child’s first introduction to the world of science. With that in mind, JPI combines one of the most popular entertainment franchises of all time with kids’ insatiable appetite for everything dinosaurs to create an incredible ‘edutainment’ experience,” says Erik Thompson, director of the Jurassic Park Institute.
Word from the Webwise:
Opened in October, the Jurassic Park Institute provides a fairly rich and interactive Web site developed with an elementary and middle school audience in mind.
Along with its five main sections “Dinopedia,” “Dinotainment,” “Dino Guides,” “Dino News” and “Dino Lab” the site’s front page also teases with page links to fascinating articles such as “New Study Finds T. Rex Not a Fast Runner,” which has scientists from Stanford University challenging the theory that this meat eater could run up to 45 mph.
Resources packed with information and fun can be found under four of the primary sections. “Dinopedia” boasts a deep encyclopedia offering pop-up windows highlighting the beasts with multiple illustrated views and text while “Dinotainment” presents a variety of on-screen puzzles, mazes and printable coloring pages.
“Dino Guides” gives ideas for vacation stops to appeal to the young fossil hunter in the family, concentrating on museums and national parks, and “Dino News” features articles by such luminaries as paleontologist Robert T. Baker.
It’s “Dino Lab,” however, that makes the cyber-journey well worth the time. Here, science lovers enter the world of Jurassic Park and become members of the field study program. Each qualified applicant reports to the research center and, with John Williams’ familiar score playing in the background, maneuvers through rooms stuffed with clickable spots to explore. The rooms include “Dinosaur Academy” to learn what it takes to be a dinosaur hunter, and a “Nests and Nurturing” lab, which, among its highlights, presents a simulation of a Oviraptor laying her eggs.
Nicely developed graphics, such as fantastic maps pinpointing where dinosaurs lived, plenty of interactivity, and the Cinema-Saurus, which explains the history of dinosaurs in the movies, will keep students within the lab’s confines for numerous hours of investigation.
Children looking for even more fun with the terrible lizards can get mom and dad to sign them up for the JPI Rangers Club. For $12.95 a year, this module to the main site offers password-protected access to more games, a journal of exclusive articles, and chat and message boards to further take junior into the land before time.
Ease of use:
Visitors will have the best experience when using Internet Explorer version 5.0 and above, but pages also can be viewed using Netscape Navigator version 4.8 and above, and AOL version 6 on PCs and AOL version 5 for Macs. Plug-ins required to view some of the materials and activities include Acrobat Reader, Flash 5.0, Shockwave 8.5 and Windows Media Player or Quicktime.
I loved the Bone Shop found within the “Dinosaur Academy.” This part-game, part-teaching module allows the student to build more than 1,000 different skeletons, with the goal of creating the fastest and most flexible dinosaur on the planet.
Once mad scientists construct the bony beast choosing from different skulls, tails, bodies, hind limbs and forelimbs the skeleton must run an obstacle course over varied terrain to collect eggs. Creators are then evaluated on their unique designs.
JPI excels in getting the whole clan involved in a myriad of off-line dino-related fun. In addition to instruction on how to build dinosaur eggs, re-create footprints (using a potato) and experiment with gastroliths (small stones that helped with dinosaur digestion), visitors will find more than 300 dinosaur flash cards to print out and collect under “Dinopedia.” Each one has a color illustration as well as some key facts on the animals.
I love the intention behind the Jurassic Park Institute, but feel designers can do a much better job enticing the casual dinosaur hunter to become a fan forever.
I would refer the development team to the Walking With Dinosaurs site (www.bbc.co.uk/dinosaurs) that blew me away with its 3-D simulations of the beasts. Surely, the powerful movie studios involved in JPI could make the free content pages even more amazing by coming closer to the exciting images and action brought to life in the films.
Still, the site does offer a wealth of science-based materials that should enrich any child’s knowledge base.
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.
ave 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).