Once in a while, server space somewhere is gobbled up by a Web site that’s superior. Not just good or interesting, but superior. “Don’t Buy It: Get Media Smart!” from PBS Kids is such a site.

Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and produced by KCTS Public Television in Seattle, Don’t Buy It is a fun, educational and interactive Web site for helping kids improve their media literacy.

Though designed for 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds, Don’t Buy It can also teach adults a thing or two about how marketers, advertisers and media conglomerates try to wiggle their way into our wallets.

Don’t Buy It offers three main interactive sections: Advertising Tricks, Buying Smart and Your Entertainment. The first and last of these sections impress the most.

Advertising Tricks is a lot of fun for users. In a subsection called Ad Detective, it invites users to spot the ad in seemingly ad-free pictures. Take a closer look at the ballpark photo–it’s SAFECO Field. And watch for Tiger Woods–his Nike swoosh might as well be a tattoo.

In the Advertising Tricks section, users can also design their own cereal boxes (and learn about their marketing strategies), create their own ads and learn about “food stylists.”

Clicking on Your Entertainment provides users with enlightening games and activities as well. In the Cover Model Secrets subsection, see how a “regular” woman becomes a cover model with stylists, graphic touch-ups and, frankly, deception.

The Making Music subsection features a short but helpful interview with author and professor Robert McChesney of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. McChesney discusses how popular music is packaged and distributed by, essentially, corporations.

And take the TV vs. Life Quiz, which aims to show how TV representations differ from real life. Here’s a quiz question:

“How many times per year does an average police officer shoot a gun in the line of duty? Once a year, once a month, once a week or none of the above?”

The correct answer is none of the above. “A television cop is likely to draw his or her weapon at least once per episode, and shoot it more than once per season,” the quiz reveals. “Most real police officers will never use a gun in the line of duty.”

Don’t Buy It tells users how they can learn more about media literacy, includes a short but important glossary of terms (like product placement and brand loyalty) and makes available free screensavers, wallpapers and stickers.

Teachers and parents will also benefit tremendously from accompanying guides for the respective groups.

“This guide helps families explore the effects of media in their lives, and stimulates family discussion on media,” reads the guide for parents and caregivers. “Talking points and activity suggestions help families understand differences between media entertainment and real-life values.”

The parents guide suggests several activities for parents and children–activities that will improve media literacy. They include keeping a TV diary, debriefing TV viewing, questioning commercials and taking an “ad outing” for identifying and questioning the ads folks encounter in the course of a day.

The teachers guide indicates that the activities are designed to touch on the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Furthermore, each lesson is aligned with the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) Standards.

Don’t Buy It teaches visitors how to question media messages–and it succeeds in demonstrating why those messages should be questioned.

This Web site from PBS Kids combines the best of concept, design, content and interactivity to become one of the best tools in the box for improving media literacy.

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

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