Teen Web Site Contest Taps World


If you are intimidated by the fact that schoolchildren know a lot more about the Internet than you do, Universal City was the wrong place to be this weekend.

Nearly 100 students, ages 12 through 19, from all over the world were brought to the Universal City Hilton to participate in the finals of ThinkQuest, a contest they entered by creating their own educational Web sites.

The contest was the brainchild of Allan Weis, a computer engineer who made “a bucket of money,” as he put it, when he sold his computer networking company, ANS, to America Online in 1995. His new, nonprofit company, Advanced Network & Services, sponsors ThinkQuest, which he hopes will encourage reluctant teachers and underfunded schools to use the Internet as a teaching tool.

Judging from the dazzling look of the finalists’ sites--which covered topics ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to human viruses, not only in text and pictures but animation and sound--the students should maybe be doing the teaching. Many of them had already been working on the Web for years.


“I created my first Web site for pay when I was 14,” said an assured Jacob Kitzman, now 17, of Madison, Wis. He and his teammate, David Mericle, 15, also of Madison, decided earlier this year to turn their interest in Cuba into a Web site, and they even arranged to visit the island with a study group over the summer.

“People really don’t know much about Cuba, there was not a lot about it on the Web,” said Kitzman, quickly clicking through sections of the site dealing with medical care, education and economics in Cuba.

Their third teammate, Gim Teck Won, 17, of Singapore, joined up because he didn’t have a point of view concerning Cuba. “I didn’t know anything about it,” Won said. “I got involved because I wanted to learn about something new.”

Won learned about Kitzman’s and Mericle’s project on the ThinkQuest Web site. He sent them e-mail to say that he was interested in becoming part of their team (ThinkQuest teams, according to the contest rules, were to consist of a minimum of two and a maximum of three members). They invited him to join and then communicated with their teammate in Asia exclusively through the Internet.


The three team members never met in person until this weekend.

“Near the end we exchanged pictures,” Mericle said. “So we would recognize each other.”

Jeroen Jansen, Galvin Sng and Cameron Taggart collaborated across three continents to produce their entry, “Volcanoes Online.” Jansen, a 17-year-old high school student from the Netherlands, recruited Sng, a 16-year-old from Singapore, and Taggart, a 19-year-old from Yakima, Wash., on the ThinkQuest site.

“One day I was just feeling bored, so I sent [Jansen] a message and said, ‘OK, I’ll do that,’ ” Sng said. “Some days I stayed up until 3 a.m. working on it. My parents were quite angry in the beginning.”


But Sng was vindicated when “Volcanoes Online” was selected as a ThinkQuest finalist.

Communicating through Internet chat, Sng, Jansen and Taggart created a structured schedule and set firm deadlines that enabled them to put their site together without meeting face to face.

“Volcanoes Online” contains a database of 64 volcanoes--including about 20 entries submitted by Web surfers--along with lessons on plate tectonics. There’s also lighter material, such as comic strips and a game allowing players to save a village from a destructive volcano by answering a series of multiple-choice questions.

Beth Abraham, 16, of Australia, Kushal Dave, 17, of San Diego and Thijs Jacobs, 16, of Holland collaborated through the Internet to create the Web site to end all Web sites. It’s on death.


“We didn’t want to do the usual thing,” Abraham said. “So much stuff on the Net is repetitive.”

Their site includes a poll of visitors who are asked to answer questions about death, including suicide. To the question, “Have you contemplated suicide?” 421 people have so far answered yes, and 780 said no.

“That is completely the opposite of what I expected,” Abraham said.

On Monday, students from local schools were bused in to view the sites and talk to the finalists.


“This is so neat,” said Earlington Chung, 11, of Palms Middle School, clicking on a mouse to go through a site on genetics that was created by students from San Diego, Alaska and Poland.

On the sites poll, Chung clicked an emphatic “No” to a question about allowing human cloning.

“I don’t want anyone to come out looking like me,” he said.

In all, 5,800 students from 64 countries entered this year’s contest, forming more than 2,000 teams. The finalists, who were flown in by Weis’ company, attended an awards ceremony Monday afternoon at which $1.2 million in prizes, mostly college scholarships, were handed out.


The top prize--$25,000 scholarships for each team member--went to David Green, 16, and Alex Kulesza, 16, of Alexandria, Va., and Granite Christopher, 16, of Kensei, Alaska, for “The Soundry.”

Their site used animation to demonstrate the effects of sound in everyday life.

None of the winners were sure what their majors would be in college, but as Green said, “It will probably have something to do with computers. Almost everything now does anyway.”

Information on next year’s ThinkQuest contest can be found at