Alexis Bauer would make Al Gore proud.
The 12-year-old Buffalo Grove girl is not only making friends in a virtual world dedicated to getting kids in on the debate about the issue of global warming, she is part of a 2.8 million-strong Whyville population of kids finding out math and science can actually be fun and can help them make a difference in the world.
"We are an educational learning world," says Jennifer Sun, founding president of Whyville, www.whyville.net. "The kind of education that we do is not just giving information and telling kids this and telling kids that, it’s really inviting the kids to explore and inviting them to become critical thinkers and to be challenged."
Alexis visits Whyville every day, building about 30 minutes in her schedule to meet friends on the beach, at the food court or at one of the other 60 or so destinations in the city.
During a recent tour of the site, Alexis, Sun and I (tourist 91) headed to the Climate Center—"the main place where we would like to get the kids to discuss and debate the issues of global warming" Sun says—to look at our impact on the environment and peek into Whyville’s past with the time machine.
Alexis has no problem navigating the site. Like me, parents may have more difficulty.
Of the 35 people on staff at Whyville, more than half are dedicated safety. Technology monitors the chats and inappropriate behavior carries punishments, ranging from losing clams (money) to being banished from the city.
"We do a lot of work to keep Whyville a safe environment," Sun says. But developers also teach kids to be proactive and learn about being safe on the Internet themselves.
"I just like how much it can teach you from all the different areas," Alexis says, adding sometimes you aren’t even aware you are learning as you play the games to earn clams. "It’s just a fun way to find out and learn new things about places in the world."