- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2003

The male chauvinist in the family might treat women with a bit more respect if he knew how much they have contributed to the modernization of his world. From the cellular phone to bulletproof vests to waterproof video cameras — none of these items would exist without the involvement of a female inventor.

A site developed to chronicle women’s contributions while inspiring children’s imaginations has come to the World Wide Web via some friends to the north who want cyber-surfers to know about ingenious Canadian women and their peers around the planet.

Inventive Kids

Site address: www.inventivekids.com

Creator: The site was conceived and developed by Annie Wood, president and creative lead of Inventive Women Inc., a multimedia company in downtown Toronto. It was produced with the assistance of the Canadian government.

Creator quotable: “We created this site because we identified a need for highly interactive online educational materials on a topic of invention and innovation — an area that we consider to be critically important in the complex and ever-changing world that we live in,” Miss Wood says. “The site is a fun tool that will help to give kids, both girls and boys, the confidence to tap into their own innovative and creative potential.”

Word from the Webwise: Through 12 boxed icons, the site offers a visual feast of scientific and historical information geared toward students in fourth through eighth grades. A click on any of the rectangular areas leads to an activity, game or multimedia element that concentrates on the inventor and his or her process.

I suggest beginning with Time Machine for a clever look at how science fiction has become science fact. Tracing far-fetched ideas from ancient Greece to the 20th century, the simulation provides a way for visitors to click on an era to reveal a text nugget based on artistic vision, watch as it is sucked into a Willy Wonka-inspired gadget and then pushed out into technological reality.

For example, author Mary Shelley wrote about Dr. Frankenstein transplanting organs in the 1830s. Once the idea is run through the time machine, it is revealed that the first kidney transplant was performed in 1954.

For a brain drainer, visitors should try Name That Invention, which involves clicking on the correct picture of an invention after being given a short riddle. Players who read “China’s guarded secret for 3,000 years” would click on a silk worm to learn about the Empress Si Ling-chi’s wonderful new fabric. Two levels are available; a score is recorded; and players who answer all of the questions correctly get a printable certificate chronicling their achievement.

I also enjoyed, while being annoyed, playing the Concentration-style challenge Keep Your Eyes Open. From a 20-piece rectangular grid, the player must match pictures (while trying to ignore the obnoxious sound effects) to explore such tales as how Patsy Sherman and Sam Smith developed Scotchguard and how Chinese emperor Shen Nung accidentally discovered tea.

Other areas continuing the knowledge fest include For Girls, which allows the ladies to view the creation of some interesting clothing; four animated shorts on the process of invention; a timeline on the evolution of telecommunication and a library (located as a text link at the top of the main page) offering 64 biographies on Canada’s female inventors.

Ease of use: Inventive Kids can be viewed on both PC and Macintosh operating systems and on all versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape with the current Macromedia Flash player plug-in required for the games.

Don’t miss: In Inventive World, space explorers must land on a hostile planet and set up a camp to survive and thrive. The simple exercise involves answering eight multiple-choice questions that address sustaining an oxygen supply, building a viable structure and devising a way to communicate with the home planet. Each possible answer shows an illustration of the potential contraptions needed, and each varies in degree of plausibility. Once a base camp and all necessary devices are placed on the planet’s surface (shown automatically in an animated illustration), the traveler is issued a report on his or her resourcefulness by the minister of astro-innovation, minister of astro-development and minister of space.

Family activity: “One of the games, My Inventive Room, introduces the idea that all things in life are inventions,” Miss Wood says. “Kids and parents can play the game and then explore their own environment, learning who invented their favorite things, and how the inventions came to be.”

She encourages parents to invite their children to come up with better solutions for around-the-house items that don’t work as well as they should or to come up with new inventions to solve everyday problems.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: A nice variety of visual activities and plenty of “I didn’t know that” facts lead to at least a few hours of enjoyment for the junior inventor or plenty of ideas for students in search of a unique term paper.

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 (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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