"Why is the sky blue?" a young boy asks his newspaper-absorbed father.
"Why is the sky blue?" the father repeats reflexively. "Well the sky's blue," he continues in a confident paternal tone, "because ... ." He goes no further.
Dad, the repository of all knowledge, doesn't know the answer.
This old TV ad sold a lot of encyclopedias in its day, but try sending your kid off for a little quality time with the old Britannica today. Times have changed and, in the age of the Internet, so has the way we get information.
Dr. Avraham Kadar knows this. A practicing physician who has served as a medical staff fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, Kadar understands the effectiveness of employing multimedia technology as a teaching tool.
He developed a couple of highly praised CD-ROMs to address issues raised by his patients with asthma and diabetes. He went on to create online communities (Asthmaline.com and Diabetesline.com) where they could interact with others similarly afflicted.
The CD-ROMs combined illustrations, video and sound files to take children and adults on a journey through the human body as a way of explaining their conditions. Now, Kadar has taken this successful formula to the Web to create BrainPOP (www.brainpop. com), a highly entertaining and informative way to answer all kinds of questions kids might have about matters relating to health, science and technology.
At BrainPOP, kids will meet Tom and his robot sidekick, Moby, who, at the click of a mouse, serve up short animated movie modules to answer their questions.
Tom provides narration of each module while Moby offers comic relief. Lest attention should lapse in the interim while the movies are being loaded, kids are challenged by Moby in a question-and-answer format to demonstrate what they may know about the subject. Any wrong answers are addressed in the movie.
The movies are clever and cover a wide range of topics, from the origin of the solar system to where babies come from. The movie addressing this latter item, while covering all the essentials, is, like all BrainPOP movies, appropriate for young children. Several dozen topics are explained on the site.
Kids are encouraged to become registered users of the site, which allows them to accrue points toward prizes. Registering also allows password-protected access to another feature called Ask Cassie and Rita, where they can get a quick e-mail response from the BrainPOP staff to homework or personal questions.
BrainPOP also features a section called Teacher's Corner, which provides links to a variety of other online educational resources, many of them selected by teachers.