- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2004

An award-winning interactive television series — “Zoom” — returned in 1999, and it has been challenging 5- to 11-year-olds ever since. The 30-minute PBS program features a cast of seven everyday children playing games, performing plays, tackling science experiments, telling stories, reading poetry, solving brain teasers and having fun as they bring contributions sent in from viewers across the country to life.

Its Web site mirrors the show’s mission and has used the help of 4 million young visitors to build its content and become one of the more interactive cyber-stops on the Internet.


Site address: www.pbs.org/zoom

Creator: The site was created and produced in 1999 by the Kids Interactive Group at WGBH Educational Foundation in Boston. The show and site are funded by the National Science Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation and public television viewers.

Creator quotable: “We created the site to give kids a vibrant world parallel to and beyond that of the TV show. The site offers kids an online opportunity to discover the show and cast, to do the activities seen on the TV show, and to join in and send it to Zoom.” The site is a big call to action, asking kids to do Zoom activities and then send in their own ideas for the site and show, thus creating an interactive learning cycle,” says Bill Shribman, executive producer of Zoom.

Word from the Webwise: I was a “Zoom” fanatic growing up in the 1970s (I can still sing the theme song), and now my son gets the chance to enjoy the show’s antics, supplementing his PBS fix with an overwhelming site loaded with activities, opinions and help suggested by children for children.

From an unassuming opening page, visitors immediately should click on the site map icon to be taken to 36 colorful icons offering a diverse amount of Zoomified fun, all presented by 24 cast members.

It would take a small book to explain all of the sections available, so here are a few highlights.

Those looking to have some fun online can read a bunch of corny jokes complete with rim shots (Zoom Funny), learn about the history of the pendulum and perform on-screen experiments (Zoom Pendulum), play a Concentration-like game using the cast members’ mugs (Zoomer Flip), and take a multiple-choice quiz by selecting from 10 topics, including dinosaurs, sports and weather (Zoom Noodle).

Children looking for projects to do away from the computer should check out Zoom Games for an eclectic mix of more than 100 challenges that can be enjoyed with friends. Zoom Kitchen Chemistry offers instructions for two experiments, and Zoom Do has more than 50 arts and crafts projects, such as making a paper airplane, tie-dying socks and putting together a scrapbook.

Those looking for a virtual bond or a bit of advice can read about some embarrassing moments submitted by their peers (Zoops); read movie, music, book and television reviews (Zoom Reviews); get tips on how to throw the perfect bash (Zoom Party); and peruse a discussion area (all messages are reviewed before being posted) tackling topics ranging from what it means to be an American citizen to contributors’ favorite sandwiches.

Ease of use: The site is fully compatible with Windows and Mac platforms and all browsers 4.0 and above. Though the majority of the site’s content is accessible without plug-ins, a number of interactive games and simulations require Shockwave, Flash and either QuickTime or Real Player.

Don’t miss: Although I liked quickly turning phrases into the secret Zoom language of Ubbi Dubbi through a typing translator, I really enjoyed being able to play engineer while learning how to make the slickest air-powered vehicle on the planet. Visitors should go to Freeloads and download the presentation titled Balloon Car Builder. After first running some virtual tests, they then can follow instructions to bring their creations to life.

Family activity: An avalanche of projects is available, but family thespians will want to visit the Playhouse to get full instructions on 47 theatrical vignettes performed on the television show. Help includes a cast list, list of props and dialogue.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: This perfectly produced destination for the younger crowd should keep them entertained and saturated in Zoom lore indefinitely.

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]washingtontimes.com).

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