- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 7, 2004

The United Kingdom’s Natural History Museum contains a vast collection of artifacts including more than 70 million specimens from across the world studied by more than 300 in-residence researchers.

This 150-year-old repository of nature excels in exploring taxonomy and biodiversity while offering a varied educational experience for visitors.

Its curators also pride themselves on being the first British museum to become part of the World Wide Web and they work hard to present younger science surfers with a wide selection of interactive fun.

Online Stuff for Kids

Site address: www.nhm.ac.uk/interactive/kids/index.html

Creator: The Natural History Museum in London, has an in-house team that designed and now maintains the 10-year-old site.

Word from the Webwise: Visitors to the simply designed extension of the museum’s main site will find six sections displayed as icons. When the cursor is passed over the icons, each offers a colorful image of what might be encountered in the section.

These interactive, multimedia gems include Mission: Explore (travel to the island of Regaloam and collect specimens), Quest (qualify and quantify virtual objects), Sound Like Nature (mix natural soundscapes), Antcast (view an insect colony with the help of a Webcam), Walking with Woodlice (fun with garden science) and the perfectly named Dino Directory.

Of course, this fan of prehistoric beasts immediately jumped into the Dino Directory, which acts as a heavily illustrated guide to 127 of the most well-researched dinosaurs.

Fans of the 100-million-year-old fellows will find timelines, biographical text and even interactive maps embellished with a mix of more than 600 color and black-and-white images.

The online resource does a concise and fantastic job of identifying and giving information about species such as the gasosaurus from the middle Jurassic period that lived in the area that is now China; and from the lower Cretaceous Period, the nodosaurus, that once roamed what would become the United States.

Other section activities I enjoyed included using 10 tool bar functions to identify the shell of an ammonite (Quest) and combining the rantings of an elephant, spider monkey and boar to create a rain forest symphony (Sound Like Nature).

Ease of use: The site requires version 7 of the Macromedia Flash Player and Real Player to take advantage of all of its online activities.

Don’t miss: One other spot highlighted on the Kids main page, titled Nit Fit, takes visitors to a module on hair containing three activities.

If watching a video on the chemical modifications that take place in hair during the blow-dry and perm process does not impress or successfully racing a louse through a head of hair by answering multiple choice questions does not fascinate, then surely importing a mug shot of a friend or enemy and messing with his coiffure will satisfy.

Family activity: The Walking with Woodlice module acts as the perfect backyard project for the entire clan. Junior entomologists learn how to collect and classify the 37 types of terrestrial isopods roaming around various outdoor environments.

A printable worksheet can be taken out to assist in classification efforts and the module provides plenty of tips for bug acquisition and observation.

Cybersitter synopsis: The clever trap of teaching science through an entertaining cyber environment will be sprung upon inquisitive youngsters every time they visit the Natural History Museum’s educational Web offering.

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 (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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