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NIEHS's 'Kids Pages' Touch Lives
By Colleen Chandler
Last November, the NIEHS Kids Pages got more than 3.5 million hits. In all, there are 1,079 pages that use music and games to teach kids about science. That's a lot of outreach.
But for Marcia Soward, program coordinator at NIEHS who created the pages, it is not the volume of hits that is important, it's the difference the pages can make in someone's life. Like the 12-year-old girl who needed some information for a science-fair project, for example. She turned to Soward for direction.
Using the resources Soward provided, the child completed a project on the sugar content in "sugar-free" candy. Her project included the scientific method the familiar question, hypothesis, variable, control, materials, procedure and conclusion. The girl won first place in the seventh grade science fair and went on to represent her school at the next level.
Then there was a television screenwriter who wanted information he could use in a CSI episode. As it turned out, his proposed plot was too farfetched, but he only discovered that by contacting Soward, who referred him to NIEHS researchers.
Then there was the little girl who emailed Soward asking her to add Power Rangers songs to the site. While the Power Rangers have no connection to the environment or health, Soward saw no harm in adding the songs and did so. Soon, she got a thank-you note back from the little girl. The girl's brother, it seems, has cerebral palsy and cannot do things that are physically demanding. But he loves the Power Rangers and was delighted with the addition to the site.
In 2003, Soward responded to more than 1,300 inquiries through the Kids' Pages. She was closing in on that number as 2004 ended.
The pages feature games and puzzles, music, stories and information all with a science twist or lead-in. Soward spent a lot of time in the late 1990s setting the site up and writing content and lead-ins. Now, it only takes a few hours a week to update the content and respond to inquiries.
There is also a whole series of kids pages in Spanish. Biologist Lisa Padilla-Banks volunteered to translate some of the pages into Spanish. Soward said she also gets help from other staffers, who take the time to explain puzzles to people when they don't understand them.
Visit the Kids' Pages at http://www.niehs.nih.gov/kids/home.htm.
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