- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

Any technologically advanced country must have a younger population well-trained in science and math to continue its march into the future. Yet, results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 1999 revealed that American students lagged far behind their international counterparts in these two areas.

Two years ago, the Council on Competitiveness decided to help remedy this problem. It created a Web site to challenge those who needed to refine their skills in these two critical subjects through interactive quizzes that easily engage as well as perplex any age group.


Site address: www.getsmarter.org


The Council on Competitiveness, based in the District, was founded in 1986 by John Young, then-president of Hewlett Packard. The nonprofit association of leaders from business, universities and labor works to set a national action agenda for U.S. leadership in the global marketplace, technological innovation and education.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site as a place where students can not only improve their math and science skills, but also understand how these subjects relate to their daily lives," says Kim West, deputy director of Getsmarter.org.

Word from the Webwise:

This fantastic learning tool offers students of all ages free access to a wide range of tests that challenge their skills in math and science without the pressures of a traditional classroom. An equally important part of the site allows parents to learn where their child stands compared with other students from the United States and 20 other countries. It offers an easy way for educators to enhance or refine their teaching methods.

Tests cover topics such as physics, geometry, chemistry, algebra and proportionality and are overseen by the Getsmarter.org mascot a little fellow with spiked blue hair and pointy appendages who looks like a relative of Rankin and Bass' Snow Miser.

Before taking the "Real Challenge," which involves 20-minute timed tests that measure one's scores against the results of the 1999 TIMSS study (a nice addition clearly explains wrong answers and includes outside links for further exploration), visitors should try the practice quizzes. These multiple-choice tests not only give a hint of how little the student knows, but also give him or her animated hints and correct answers in a fun surrounding.

Despite my preference for a root canal over anything resembling a test, I plunged into the practice area and chose the "Celebrity Math Challenge" from about 10 possibilities.

Questions such as "The table represents a relationship between x and y. What is the missing number in the table?" and "P=LW. If P=12 and L=3 then W is equal to?" attacked my brain as cartoon representations of stars such as Ricky Martin, Queen Amidala from "Star Wars" and baseball slugger Mark McGwire asked if I needed hints and reinforced answers with additional information. The overall experience was as hysterical as it was challenging and definitely was worth the time.

Another section that overwhelms visitors with knowledge comes geared to the proactive high school student. The graphically impressive "Math and Science Television" pictures 10 old TV sets on its main page, each containing a mini educational module.

For example, click on a screen showing a hand grasping a lit match and get a discussion on combustion. Visitors learn what determines flame colors and where candle wax goes as it burns.

Ease of use:

The site was designed with the low-bandwidth home visitor in mind and only needs the Flash plug-in for a student to take full advantage of the pages.

Don't miss:

Visitors who complete tests are rewarded with a small but enjoyable selection of games. Of the three available, I found "Quadrathalon" to be the most entertaining. One or two players use keyboard commands to control wacky characters in four events the javelin, the discus, the long jump and the shot put.

After an event is completed, a measurement question is tossed at the player for example: "You threw the javelin 240 feet. How far is that in inches?"

Family activity:

Under "Math and Science Television," "Try It" and "Did You Know" boxes pepper the pages and lead to a variety of away-from-the-computer experiments. Principal demonstrations include using an orange and flashlight in a darkened room to understand the intensity of sunlight, observing a glass of cold water to learn about gases and using rubbing alcohol to understand perspiration and anesthetics.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

This excellent teaching site should keep any self-starter in the family enamored with the wonders of his or her Internet-enhanced computer. Miss West says more than 100 new quiz items will be added to the eighth-grade area this month.

It should be noted that outside links to other educational sites are plentiful, so parents should be aware that junior easily can leave the Getsmarter.org world.

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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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