New Science Websites for Children

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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.  I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Bob Doughty. Many boys and girls like science. Some of them go to the Internet to find answers to scientific questions. Today, we will tell about a few science websites for children.

Millions of children around the world use the Internet every day. Many boys and girls have better computer skills than their parents. They explore the World Wide Web, play video games and research school projects.

Some young people use the Web to make new friends through social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter.

One company hopes to use this interest in social networking to increase their interest in science. Earlier this year, the Mad Science Group launched what it called the first-ever science-based social network for children. It is known as the Mad Science Kids Club.

Elke Steinwender is Marketing and Promotions Manager for the Mad Science Group. She says the website is designed for children between the ages of six and fourteen.

ELKE STEINWENDER: "It is a place where kids can build their own social community online and they can really engage in some fun and cool scientific discovery and really allow them to turn their home into a lab if they choose to do so."

The Mad Science Kids Club lets children explore science with other boys and girls around the world. Like Facebook, the children are able to invite people they know to become their friends. Or, they can join existing groups to meet new friends.

There are several groups. One, called the Counting Club, is for children who love working with numbers. They share different information about mathematics. This includes advice about solving math problems and jokes involving numbers. Another group, called Cosmic Adventures, is for children who are interested in space.

Boys and girls can buy different kinds of computer applications from the Kids Club store. One application is called Lab Rat. It lets children ask and answer questions about science. Their questions are then published on the website, along with the correct answer from Mad Science experts.

There is also the Science Zone. Elke Steinwender says this offers science experiments that children and their parents can do at home.

ELKE STEINWENDER: "They can see the actual experiment being done by one of our mad scientists.  And then they can download the PDF file to replicate them at home."

Members of the Mad Science Kids Club can share pictures on the website and send and receive e-mail through the network. They can also play games.

The Mad Science Group joined with a company called Everloop to create the science-based social network. Everloop is known for its experience creating social media websites for children with a high level of online safety.

Elke Steinwender says there are many levels of safety built into the Kids Club to make sure that children have a safe and fun experience online.

ELKE STEINWENDER: "When a child receives the new friend invitation or a group invitation the parent has the option to say yes or no. They can change their privacy setting and give more or less freedom to their child. There is also Crisp Moderation and that's an online moderation that basically makes sure that the post streams remain content friendly. And there are also some more sophisticated, anti-bullying, for example, protocols. So it's a mix between software and actual people monitoring the Kids Club."

Parents are required to approve their child's membership in the Mad Science Kids Club. There are also applications that help parents control and follow what their children are doing.

The Mad Science Kids Club is still being tested. A full launch is planned for early next year. The website will launch first in the United States and Canada. It will be opened up in other countries over a period of time.

There are several other science-based websites that seek to increase children’s interest in science. One is called sciencenewsforkids.org. It helps to explain science-related news stories in a way that children can understand them. The stories can deal with any number of areas in science, from animals and environmental issues to space and weather.

Recently, a story published on the website discussed a study about the effects of climate change on lakes. Another story examined the long-term effects of jet lag on learning and memory.

The writers add a list of power words at the end of each story. Here they provide simple definitions of important words related to the story. The website also offers activities to test brain power, information about science experiments and, yes, games.

Extremescience.com is another website for young scientists. A scientist who formerly worked for the American space agency launched the website in nineteen ninety-eight.

A specialty of the Extreme Science website is providing information about amazing or unusual scientific facts. This includes information on things like the largest diamond ever discovered, the Earth’s driest desert or highest waterfall. It also includes facts about the oldest animal known to scientists, the largest land animal and the fastest animal in the sea.

TheFeaturedCreature.com is another website that children are sure to find interesting. It calls attention to some lesser-known species. Carly Martinetti launched the website earlier this year. Ms. Martinetti is a twenty-year-old psychology student. She says she has been interested in unusual animals since she was a little girl.

CARLY MARTINETTI: "I used to have millions of pets, like the weirdest ones you could probably think of. I had a soft shell turtle and a hedgehog, and red-eyed tree frogs. My whole room pretty much looked like a miniature zoo." (:13)

Visitors to TheFeaturedCreature.com website can find information about some of the strangest and most interesting animals on Earth. Miz Martinetti says there is more to the animal kingdom than lions, tigers and bears. She wants to help people learn about the millions of little-known species.

Carly Martinetti: "I was getting kind of bored with seeing all the nature shows on Savannah, and Great Plains and things like that, where it's always you hear about lions and cheetahs.  I wanted to kind of expose readers to some of the other cool creatures that are out there."

Recently, one story on the Featured Creature website described the arboreal alligator lizard. The colorful lizards are natives of Mexico. They grow to be only about sixteen centimeters in length. The website says they are an endangered species and victims of a growing illegal pet trade.

Have you ever seen a long-eared hedgehog? You can find one at the Featured Creature website. They look almost like a cross between a rat and a porcupine. But be careful!  The website warns that many long-eared hedgehogs have been found to carry brown dog ticks. These little creatures spread disease to animals and sometimes people.

TheFeaturedCreature.com is not as much a scientific website for children as it is a website created by a young person with an interest in unusual animals. The web postings are not overly scientific. Instead, the information is presented in a funny way that young people will surely enjoy.

Finally, we close with a story about another science website for children. Parents may find this one especially interesting. It is called sciencetoymaker.org, but there are no toys for sale. Instead the website provides step-by-step guides on how to make your own play-things, all at little or no cost.

Many of the toys are made out of things one might find around the home. For example, one of the projects is for a scribbling, spinning top. To make it, you need a milk carton, a pencil, a ballpoint pen, scissors and a pencil sharpener.

The final product is supposed to produce a top that can not only move in circles, but write or scribble. There is also a guide for making a giant water prism that promises to break up sunlight into a rainbow of beautiful colors.

The website also provides explanations as to what scientific theories make the toys work the way they do. We have not yet tested any of the projects, so it is difficult to say how well they work. At the very least, they will provide hours of scientific exploration and fun for children.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written and produced by June Simms. I'm Bob Doughty.

And I'm Faith Lapidus. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. And you can find us on Twitter and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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