- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 3, 2005

Eric Bort and Gail Wheatley forged an alliance in 2000 after being dissatisfied with the ways educational content was delivered on the World Wide Web. Both wanted to develop free online experiences that did not give students textbook presentations but rather fun, multimedia-rich ways to learn.

They came up with a site that uses Mr. Bort’s talents of animation design and Miss Wheatley’s resource-management and writing skills and takes colorful advantage of the interactive potential of the Internet.

Edheads

Site address: www.edheads .org

Creator: The nonprofit company Edheads, owned by Mr. Bort and Miss Wheatley, from Columbus, Ohio, maintains the site.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to help schools, students and families that can’t afford to buy educational games and software. These types of activities can be very beneficial to students, but the price tag is often high. No Child Left Behind mandates computers and connectivity in schools but doesn’t provide funding for schools to put software on the computers. We provide educational activities for free to anyone with Internet access,” says Miss Wheatley, executive director of Edheads.

Word from the Webwise: Through a cartoony, simply designed front page, visitors will find links to four interactive modules, each boasting humorous characters, animation, teachers guides, glossaries and virtual activities themed around some of the disciplines of science.

First, Simple Machines, for children in second to sixth grades, has a robot lead visitors around a toolshed and four areas of the house (bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and garage) to have them answer multiple-choice questions as they identify more than 40 simple and compound machines to learn a bit about the common contraptions, their parts and the physics behind them.

Next, Odd Machines offers a similar activity for the same age range, although now the robot is searching for a plunger and has visitors answer more multiple-choice questions and view animated segments as they work through a Rube Goldberg-type maze of machinery to unplug a toilet.

The Weather module really shines for children in fourth to ninth grades as it has junior television meteorologists devise and report a three-day forecast for some major cities. By carefully following instructions, dragging components and performing calculations (an on-screen calculator is available), students learn about precipitation, wind and frontal systems.

Finally, in the most interactive of the modules, Virtual Knee Surgery, for children in seventh grade and above, visitors click upon and use tools to accomplish the surgeon’s mission. Steps to accomplish include using a marker to place initials on the knee to be fixed, using a scalpel to cut through the skin, cauterizing veins, drilling a hole in the femur to hold a template for cutting, and cementing metal and plastic components to the bone.

The module also offers 17 photos of the actual surgery (weak-stomach alert), a four-minute video interviewing knee-surgery patients and multiple-choice questions during the operation to add to the learning experience.

Ease of use: Visitors need the latest Flash plug-in to enjoy the modules on the site. A high-speed Internet connection helps, although the activities still work with a dial-up modem — they just will take longer to load.

Don’t miss: Although I appreciate the multimedia magic of the site, I found the peppering of unusual facts on pages to be just as entertaining. As visitors navigate through modules and sections, they will find text boxes offering educational trivia, such as that bats have knees that bend backward, diamonds are the hardest substance known to man and human skin makes up 70 percent of the dust in a home.

Family activity: A Lesson Plans page comes with suggestions from teachers for exercises that can be used to supplement topics found throughout the site. Examples include Jollyn Nolan from Port Salerno Elementary School in Stuart, Fla., submitting instructions on playing a game of I Spy to reinforce cloud names and Nancy Owens-Dunbar from the Math/Science Academy in Lubbock, Texas, providing an activity on identifying objects that can be used as levers.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: If the site had more content, it would be a major player in online educational entertainment. As is, it shows great promise by delivering learning games nearly as fun-filled and informative as those found on store shelves. Edheads only needs time and money (based on seeing Donate buttons plastered on the pages) to offer a much more enriching science curriculum to students.

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] times.com).

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