- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

The massive glaciers that covered the North American continent thousands of years ago left a lasting impression on the landscape along with a group of freshwater seas that became known as the Great Lakes. The University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute pays tribute to these bodies of water and the aquatic sciences with a cyber-stop that will appeal to students of nature as well as the animal and water lovers in the family.

Great Lakes Online

Site address: www.seagrant.wisc.edu/greatlakesonline/


The University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, established in 1968 on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus as a program of research, education and outreach dedicated to the stewardship and sustainability of the nation's Great Lakes and ocean resources, maintains the site.

Creator quotable:

"We created Great Lakes Online as a source of aquatic science information for teachers and kids of all ages it's for anyone who's interested in learning about the Great Lakes and oceans," says Mary Lou Reeb, assistant director and education coordinator at University of Wisconsin Sea Grant. "Kids, parents and teachers from around the world tell us how much they enjoy the site."

Word from the Webwise:

This site acts more as a portal to the various online initiatives started by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant than an exhaustive resource focusing solely on the Great Lakes. Visitors will find just enough about these water masses to satisfy their curiosity but will get an overload of information on diving science and amphibians.

While perusing the opening screen, first look at the Glaciers link to find out about the formation of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Visitors who can deal with an annoying, reverb-saturated announcer's voice bellowing the name of each page as it opens will find an interesting history of the surrounding lands, statistics, color images, aerial photos, depth charts, maps, individual bios on each lake and the commerce the Great Lakes support.

Visitors should then return to the opening page and click on the Kids and Teachers minisite to find icons touting its major sections. This mixed bag ranges from a one-page, multiple-choice quiz on wetlands to a more developed section on the migratory birds of the Great Lakes (including an audio track of wetland bird calls), to a colorful, fact-filled quiz on fish in the lakes.

Of the two remaining sections in the Kids and Teachers area, the first, Frogs, offers a peek into their world with colorful interactive pages covering such topics as their life cycle, the reasons scientists study them in the Great Lakes area, a page featuring 10 types of frogs along with their calls, some activities and three quizzes one of which sets the record straight on whether toads cause warts and whether frogs can drink through their skin.

The second remaining section, Explore Underwater, really should be enjoyed when visitors have some time. It plunges students into the history and happenings of diving and how it has helped scientists reveal the mysteries of the deep.

Areas brought to visual and interactive life include a picture- and fact-filled timeline covering the span from 4500 BC to 1999, when the retooled underwater laboratory Aquarius resumed its work; the gear needed to dive; an interview with underwater archaeologist Jefferson Grey; three experiments to perform away from the computer; more quizzes; and some of the physical and medical problems associated with diving.

Ease of use:

The site needs Real Audio Player, QuickTime and should work well with any Internet connection speed. Navigation gave me a headache, however, as I could never seem to get back to the main Great Lakes Online page, but kept stumbling onto more and more minisites set up by University of Wisconsin Sea Grant. A site map and search engine would go a long way toward giving folks in a hurry a way to concentrate on the many informative areas.

Don't miss:

Hidden away like a piece of buried treasure in the Explore Underwater section, the Wisconsin Great Lakes Shipwreck pages contain a healthy dose of information on some of the tragedies to befall vessels in the lakes.

Twelve wrecks are highlighted, with each featuring historical photos, a history of the ship, a chronicle of its final voyage, the wreck's discovery, preservation efforts, and a diagram of its current state. Patient visitors also can find 20 large videos about shipwrecks and an interactive look at a schooner hull.

Family activity:

Return to the Frogs section to find three activities for the entire clan to enjoy away from the computer. Complete instructions are available to make an origami Superfrog, draw a realistic-looking amphibian or color an Eastern American toad.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

The Kids and Teachers area of which I am so fond was developed in 1996 by 3,000, fourth- to ninth-grade Madison-area students and their educators, who were participating in the national JASON curriculum (www.jason.org) a project designed to engage students in science and technology. Children (especially those working on school reports) will love what their peers have done, as well as the scope of knowledge covered.

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.

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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