PASADENA – It’s a typical Friday afternoon in Whyville. The beaches are packed with preteens anxiously planning their weekends and snickering about the opposite sex. Gaggles of middle schoolers are filling up the local mall, where they part with hard-earned cash to purchase sparkly earrings and tank tops. For those who feel like getting away from the hustle and bustle, there is always the option of teleporting into outer space, or taking a motorboat to the wetlands and conducting algae research with professional oceanographers. The ordinary and extraordinary coexist almost without distinction inside the Pasadena-based Whyville.net, a virtual community for youths – usually ages 10-13 – founded by a former Caltech professor and graduates. “We knew that if you wanted to engage kids you have to have a social component. We’re all fundamentally social, we are a social animal,” he said, adding that, in this setting, learning can be designed to appeal to young people’s desire to stand out.” But while Bower saw the virtual community model as the logical direction the Internet would take, he had a hard time convincing much of anyone that it was a worthwhile idea. Bower, two Caltech graduates and a graphic designer from the Art Center College of Design resigned to going at it alone, and using much of Bower’s own money created Whyville and its parent company, Numedeon. “We really just bootstrapped ourselves. It was really exciting,” said Jennifer Sun, founding member and president of Numedeon. “We were convinced that the Internet was going to be for two-way interaction,” “We thought that was the most interesting thing that the Internet could offer this to education.” Today, Whvyille reports 2.2 million registered users from around the world and a sponsor list of sponsor companies that keeps growing. Here, it’s common for 10-year-olds take out bank loans to purchase Toyota Scions (they all have WHYCO scores instead of FICO scores) and everyone works to support the economy, which is based in clam shells. In order earn a “salary,” and make use of most of what’s available, users must participate in a variety of educational games and activities often sponsored by science organizations (Toyota is currently the only for-profit sponsor on the site). One of the latest offerings is found at the most popular Whyville hangout, the beach. Users arrive to find the ocean has turned red, and are instructed to take a water sample and head to the Whyville branch of the very real Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the largest independent oceanographic research institution in the United States. There they examine the sample and identify the culprit as red bloom algae. Then they must investigate what’s causing the algae outbreak and head out to the wetlands to figure out how to quell it. “I don’t know of any other sites of this kind that tries to attempt this type of science learning,” said Yasmin Kafai,associate professor of psychological studies in education at UCLA who has studied Whyville extensively and written a range or research papers on the topic. “I think they are very successful in this respect – constantly innovating.” In 2003 an adult-themed community called Second Life came online and began growing fast. In late 2006, Second Life began attracting tons of media coverage, which sent attention back to Whyville in the process. With all the buzz surrounding them, Numedeon’s president, Sun, said she can’t help but feel gratified, “to have been so ahead of the curve.” [email protected] (626) 578-6300 Ext. 4494 Millions of users are now registered with a variety of virtual communities worldwide. Online, residents form their own digital characters, called avatars, and go about integrating into their chosen online societies. “There are so many places out there,” said Jacquelyn Ford Morie, senior scientist and associate director for Creative Development at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. “All have their different customs, constraints and social morays based on what we have in everyday life.” But while there’s been an explosion in the number of sites available in recent years, Whyville was one of the originals. First online in 1999, the seeds for the project were planted back in 1986, by Caltech biology professor Jim Bower. Bower, an innovator in the field of education technology, had created a primitive community inside the Los Angeles County Library’s computer system that allowed children to explore its offerings. By the late 1990s, he had advanced his work with an array of educational projects, and turned his attention toward a way to teach science to the kids via an informal, social and interactive setting.
Mo Farah has turned down the chance to contest the marathon in the World Championships in Doha, increasing the possibility of a return to the track.As first indicated in the Guardian, Farah, who finished fifth in the London marathon on Sunday, had been eligible for selection for the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team, but has opted to decline his place. Share via Email Read more … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Reuse this content Topics Support The Guardian Share on Twitter Mo Farah World Athletics Championships The 36-year-old four-time Olympic champion could now target a fourth successive world title over 10,000m instead, having claimed gold in Moscow in 2013, Beijing in 2015 and London in 2017.Steph Twell also turned down her place in the marathon but British Athletics announced on Wednesday that Callum Hawkins, Dewi Griffiths, Charlotte Purdue and Tish Jones would compete over 26.2 miles in Doha.Hawkins and Purdue both recorded significant personal bests in the London marathon to move into third on the respective all-time UK lists, while Griffiths impressed in just his second outing over the distance and Jones recorded the exact qualifying standard of two hours, 31 minutes.Cameron Corbishley and Dominic King have also been selected to compete in the men’s 50km race walk.British Athletics performance director Neil Black said: “Each of the six athletes selected have performed extremely well to confirm their places in Doha, many setting personal bests and establishing themselves among the UK’s best all-time in their events.“The IAAF World Championships in Doha are a very important marker ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and we look forward to being as competitive as possible in both events.” Athletics Share on Pinterest Since you’re here… Share on Messenger Share on Facebook Share on WhatsApp news Mo Farah strongly hints at surprise return to track at world championships Share on LinkedIn