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This is from my  wife’s work with her year one class. This is using a Webkinz that she bought off eBay. Here’s her reflection and explanation of using plush toys and virtual worlds.

Introducing ‘Buster’.

Buster is the 23rd member of 1G and is the most popular class member. He is the link between real word and virtual worlds for the Year 1 class.

When Buster first arrived, he was kindly introduced to the students as a homeless pet that had been rescued from the pound. He was in dire need of a home and 1G had been selected by the council to look after him. Then the fascination, social networking, mathematical and language skills began to develop.

 Each day a student is selected to take Buster home for the night. If the student has internet access, they are given the code and tend to his needs on line. They are allowed to feed, play and care for Buster. This develops the student’s awareness of needs and wants and links with social studies units.

 Students are invited to chat with other ‘furry friends’ in the carefully moderated online chat rooms. The students also need to write in Busters journal to bring to school the following day to share. This reinforces the need for literacy in terms of reading and writing. Students without online access are given 20 minutes at the start of the day to tend to Buster’s online needs.

Students have signed an agreement with their parents to follow WebKinz and 1G WebKinz rules. This enables the student’s access to the site but they are unable to spend KinzCash. A budget is calculated weekly. Game prizes of KinzCash are calculated and graphed in maths lessons and decisions about how to spend the money are made. The students collaborate and debate on what the money should be spent on and one group of students each week is given the time to make these changes.

Students are encouraged to use part of their computer time each week to compete in online creative competitions as well as construct new knowledge through the problem solving challenges.

The student’s number skills are becoming well developed as they have an authentic need to learn about money and computation skills. The notion of budgeting is often foreign to a Year 1 student but is very important to the members of 1G. The more money we can save, the more we can buy.

 The ability of the students to debate and negotiate has developed. They are critical in their debate as to what the class should spend money on and are getting very good at justifying their reasons for their choices.  These improved language skills are reflected across all key learning areas.

The use of this online learning simulation is an authentic, hands on, motivating and student directed learning opportunity. The skills learned area used in context whilst developing fundamental care, mathematical, problem solving and language skills. ‘Buster’ has been an effective tool and reflects the ability of web based resources to enhance learning opportunities even in early childhood.

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