- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

Maryland Public Television, with the help of a group of advisers from Historic St. Mary’s City, the Maryland State Archives, the Maryland Historical Society and various teachers, has created an awesome interactive Web site for children to investigate what life was like for the 17th-century settler in America.

Exploring Maryland’s Roots

Site address: https://mdroots.thinkport.org/default_flash.asp

Creator: Maryland Public Television, a nonprofit, state-licensed public television station, developed the site with funding from the U.S. Department of Education Star Schools program.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to show kids that history is not only informative, but also exciting. Beyond a series of dates to be memorized, history is about real people and real lives with connections and relevance to kids and the world today. Using the Web and its remarkable storytelling and interactive capabilities, we bring Colonial Maryland alive for fourth- to eighth-graders. We put today’s youth in the footsteps of our country’s earliest settlers,” says Gail Porter Long, vice president and chief education officer for Maryland Public Television.

Word from the Webwise: Exploring Maryland’s Roots combines primary source documents, diaries, sketches, settlement maps, activities, storybooks and digital video all into one dynamic multimedia cyber-stop using a bit of Web design magic.

After visitors enjoy a short animation showing a large, masted ship pulling up to a shore, their journey back in time begins by selecting one of four modules — the Land and the People, Voyage to Marie’s Land, the Colony Begins (1634-1640) and the Colony Grows (1640-1700) — that each tries to balance a time-period exploration or activity with a modern-day look at the scientists who reveal the past.

Each module will take at least an hour to work through with exercises such as exploring a woodland Indian village via a 1590 engraving from Theodore de Bry. The image of the engraving dissolves into an encyclopedic presentation when visitors click on select areas of the image. Visitors also can decipher a 1634 diary entry from the Rev. Andrew White, who was on one of the first voyages to the Maryland Colony.

Visitors also can read a slavery time line or tour the capital city of St. Mary’s City using a 1685 map through 25 pop-up hot spots, some even containing video re-enactments from the period.

One of my favorite challenges involved going on a virtual archaeological dig to recover 17 relics and putting together 18 pieces of a broken pottery vessel from the Yaocomaco Indian tribe, which was indigenous to Maryland in the 1600s. Players carefully use a trowel to scrape away dirt from the items and either answer a multiple-choice question about them or drag them into a puzzlelike template.

I also enjoyed solving the mystery of the three lead coffins. After viewing an introduction from Henry Miller, director of research for the Historic St. Mary’s City Museum, the amateur detective must read through 44 pages of illustrated text to learn what environmental scientists, forensic specialists, archaeologists and historians uncovered about the three crypts found under a Catholic church in 1990 and determine who was buried in the coffins.

Additionally, students will want to visit the library attached to the site for a vast text-based resource offering case studies, biographies of people important to the young Colony, a time line, latest news stories and frequently asked questions on each module.

Ease of use: This great-looking site will be most appreciated using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser, version 5 or later; Macromedia’s Flash 6 or higher plug-in; and a broadband connection to speed up the modules’ load times.

Don’t miss: I love a simple yet informative real-time strategy game, and I found one, titled Build a Plantation, under the Colony Begins module. A single player must achieve a high score by maintaining 100 acres of land in 1634 for a 12-month period using a point-based system to plant crops, build structures and maintain livestock while surviving through droughts, storms and disease that wreak havoc on his lands and point totals.

Family activity: The whole clan can cook like a Colonist thanks to some recipes found on the opening page under the For Families link. Recipes provided by Historic St. Mary’s City Museum feature the ingredients and directions needed to produce corn cakes, colcannon, meat pasties and some scrumptious bean fritters.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: I thought Maryland Public Television’s Edgar Allen Poe site, Knowing Poe (https://knowingpoe.thinkport.org) rocked, but Exploring Maryland’s Roots blows that site out of cyberspace with a gorgeous design and wealth of information that surely will give classrooms and inquisitive surfers an excellent overview of the 17th-century settler and his surroundings.

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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