Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978



Fall 2011 Website
Ages: 8 - 18 yrs.
Contributions From: Scott Auspelmyer
Designer: Jenny Buccos
Developer: Matthew Boggie
Producer: Jenny Buccos
Publisher: ProjectExplorer

Virtual travel is one of the Internet’s finest offerings, putting foreign cultures and exotic lands at anyone’s fingertips. The educators at ProjectExplorer go one better by delivering high-quality, educational and entertaining adventures to destinations around the world online for students. Put away the textbook because ProjectExplorer isn’t like that. This free and high-impact educational site provides virtual travelogues about other nations and cultures. Designed for students from upper elementary school through high school and beyond, ProjectExplorer lets students to choose their own grade-range level to visit any of four Complete Adventures and four QuickTrips to nations ranging from Mexico and India to England and Trinidad. All grade levels access the same countries, but the content for each level is grade appropriate.

The site boasts more than 250 academically-focused, crisp and engaging videos, more than 1,200 professional-quality images, 1,500 some text documents, 150 cross-curricular lesson plans, plus a wealth of audio clips. Go to the high schooler’s level for ProjectExplorer’s visit to Yebo, South Africa, and the itinerary includes videos and lessons on traditions, cuisine, the history of Apartheid, dance, the townships of Soweto, and the wild beasts of South Africa, among others.

Most of the projects, like the Yebo tour, contain fascinating audio clips of music and language. In Mucho Mexico, students can take a quick Spanish lesson and hear the music of mariachi bands. In the Jordan tour, explorers can learn a few simple Arabic words and watch a music video of musicians playing the oud and the tabla.

All projects present a diversity of historical, cultural and geographical information. From visiting to London’s theater district to learning about henna tattoos in India, each project presents a smorgasbord of learning.

ProjectExplorer’s stated mission is to foster the next generation of global citizens by encouraging awareness of the world beyond a student’s own community. What’s impressive is that it does that using creativity, kindness and intelligence. And it’s all for free.

Not that ProjectExplorer is flawless. If you don’t load the site using specific browsers, such as Firefox and Google Chrome, most of the videos won’t work. Another knock on this otherwise remarkable Web site is lack of content. The site opened in 2003 and in the time since has managed to add only four Complete Adventures and four QuickTrips. Parents Choice gave it rave reviews in 2009 not only for its wonderful content and multi-media approach, but also for its promise of what it would continue to become. But in the two years since that review, ProjectExplorer has added only one Complete Adventure—Mexico. The rest of the new projects have been QuickTrips.

While ProjectExplorer is a nonprofit that depends on donations for its growth (yes, you can donate via the website), it’s fair to say that over the eight years of its existence, it should have delivered more on its exceptional potential.

That said, students new to ProjectExplorer will be hard pressed to find a better site for visiting new and unusual locations around the world and learning about how other people live.

Don Oldenburg   ©2011 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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