Webkinz in Year 1 Class


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.


Saw this at NECC and is yet another effective alternative to ‘Googling’ in the classroom. It searches any web page or atricle, and then pulls out the passages with highlights on the left. The two panes work independently. Very slick stuff. Sign up for the beta – installs right onto your browser. I’ve been using it all day – speeds up all that clicking to see whats behind the front door. Working with Diigo … and in Flock … my printing press is indeed mighty.

Team Teaching with a Leopard

Apple OSX Leopard has a very good text to speech tool. You can highlight any text on any page then have it speak using one of Apple’s latest voices. Not much is said about Apple’s text to speech, but here’s how I’ve been using it.

You enable it from the system preferences – click the icon called ‘speech’. Then set a hot key for text to speech – I use ‘control+\.

As students get tired of ‘the teacher voice’ I use Leopard to team teach and do the talking for me. Being Apple, it just works, so I don’t need to fiddle with it.

I get OSX to do the narration parts for me. It grabs their attention and seems to aid recall. They appear to do more ‘active’ listening.

I gave this ago with my tech-savvy 4 year old using VoiceThread. In fact my 7 year old was asked to write a report on Tassie Devils using some Edumacator worksheet.

My daugther said she’d give it a go too. So we looked for a few photos on Google, dropped then into VoiceThread and were ready to go in a minute or so.

Next I opened the resource site I found. We thought of some ‘things we wanted to know’ and I hit the hot key. She listened once, she talked about it and asked questions, then did it again.

Next we started to record on VoiceThread and she did a recall. She is 4. She knows that she can re-record it (tech-kid) and then we did another page, this time she pressed the buttons.

Heres the result.

 So for classes where there are lots of texts, especially if you’re using and IWB, you can start to team teach with a Leopard … give it a go, it’s a no brainer.


More Homemade TV

My current obsession is with School TV. All started with a Cog Dog Tweet, and has grown. Just ordered some more lighting rigs for my converted TV classroom to go with the blue screen set up we did when we rebuild a few classrooms for Project Based Learning. A new professional backdrop rig should help too.

Running a semi-pro DV camera direct into a Mac (tapes are too slow and JVC Hard Drive recorders are a pain). So straight to disc is the way to go.

So now the room works, has bags of light, and good sound acoustics. Some messing about with UStream.tv has been a success, and almost time to get some kids involved with some beta testing.

Then I found a free teleprompter, which works really well (though I think I need a 24″ iMac in there now to do the job).  It works really well, and kids can cut and paste their work off their blog. (Another pet-project of mine – the elimination of Flash Drives – which seem to get lost all the time).

Hoping to get some video shot on Thursday … now need to find someone else to collaborate with …

What (big) kid doesn’t want their own TV station!

Aviary Creative Tools

I am, I may modestly say, a gun at Photoshop, so I am hard to please when it comes to using anything lesser. Avairy is impressive. A collection of online tools to do a massive range of creative things. Check out some of the links … I must be slow, there are plenty of time-lapse and other examples on the site, and on YouTube.

So for those classrooms stuck with Paint or PaintShop Pro (yuk), or lack the budget to buy audio editors or Flash (Adobe own the creative world) … this is a real classroom option. Simple for the slower kids to pick up and useful enough for the top end to extend themselves.

Ustream Bench Test

Once again, Alan posted a tweet that I just had to sticky beak. It linked to UStream and I fiddled about with it this weekend (in between the lawn mowing). After hiding the laptop in the cubby house and using it to stream live action for Kiddy HQ in the back yard to the mower depot at the front, I got bored. As I do.

So I grabbed a copy of CamTwist for OSX and decided to broadcast some footage. Got bored with that even sooner. Next step was to do a screencast (I used iShowYou and ScreenFlow). That streamed well enough too.

What I have been looking for is a way of broadcasting either live (to a non traditional classroom layout with 50 kids in it), or to provide a URL for them to go and watch it themselves. I get tired of YouTube and its crappy quality and tight upload limits, and I don’t trust TeacherTube not to eat my homework – as it’s done twice now. So UStream seems like a cool option. I don’t have the $$$ to grab WireCast yet – but this is first step stuff.

I like Ustream. It is quick, simple and works really well on a Mac. It does make the MacBookPro reach 200 degrees. But I see a wide number of applications in school for using it. I am amazed that teachers often share classes but not intsructional materials. We have some 16 teachers working in Project Based Learning, only a handful are computing teachers … so I’ve been looking for a solution I can show them – I always like to show not just ‘talk’ about it – where they can allow the tech savvy teachers to prepare 10 minute bursts of information and share with all 160 kids.

I can also see us using it live for assessment tasks, to include the wider Marist community in events we hold – possibly that parents just cannot attend – and certainly in professional development – when limited staff can attend.

For example : not all staff attended formal PBL training in the states this year. Perhaps next time, we can stream the learning live back to Australia, and people can participate.

Search Ustream.tv for PMHS. The embedded auto player drove me nuts!

More Live TV – Mogulus

Mogulus – This is an on-line TV station.  You can plug in a web cam and do live broadcasts.  You can cue between the live feed and pre-recorded videos.  You can have a ticker running along the bottom of the screen, logos or even a test card when you are not transmitting.  This one will really kill your bandwidth!

PSPs in the Classroom

Playstations are cool. They do play great games, the video is excellent, the audio is supurb. They do have stupid sized discs and weird memory sticks, but that’s life with Sony.

But at AU$260, they do have a better quality and sized screen than the DS when it comes to surfing the internet and no additional software cartridge (not that I’ve actually seen a DS in real life, just photos on the internet).

They seem to be reliable from what the students tell me and a good $200 less than an iTouch (which can’t play Need for Speed Carbon).

As kids can txt at the speed of light (which is odd, as it seems to thake them 50 minutes to hand write 3 sentences?) it seems then the interface does not pose a significant time challenge when surfing the internet… not that they are writing to much,  just low end Google and Wiki reading.

So today, we hooked a couple of the kids PSPs up to the captive portal. We previouly could not do this to the CEO wireless, which is LEAP based. Sony doesn’t leap – why would it, it’s a Sony!

on a side note : OSX Leopard also dies on the CEO LEAP wireless network …. mmmm

So there are reasons for and against the Sony in the Classroom.

I’m advocating the use of portable devices.

Immediate negatives : There are issues over classroom equity; placing the student at risk with a valuable device in their pocket; the distraction in the classroom on initial use.

Immediate positives: The PSP is light, fits into a back pack; It is fairly robust; It has an intuitive interface that 90% of the kids with afluenssa understand; The sound is great, the video is great and the screen is big enough to allow classroom fact finding or browsing.

They are also fairly low cost in comparison with even a low end PC or Apple Device. The one thing that is it’s down fall – Its a Sony Playstation, so teachers may well approach it with some prejudice, and some students may take a more libertarian view of its use.

But consider a geography class. They can read about the land formation in a text book, but it is just a still photo in a book. With a PSP they can discover so much more.

I read my 4 year old daughter bedtime stories … one such favourite is “Ellies Growl”. One night she told me she had no idea what noise a zebra makes or a whale. Never slow to give kids li-ion powered devices, we looked them up on the internet as we read through the list of animals. Even at 4, I could see that the text and illustrations lacked depth – she is used to a wider media experience.

I think that the PSP et al, offer a half-way house in delivering technology into the classroom. It’s not a book and not a full blown computer … but it is portable, offers the ability to show small groups a video or listen to sounds, plays etc., – they have a massive opportunity in primary schools – simple buttons that 99% of the kids understand, and in secondary school will allow students to use them to take work home, look up the internet and more,

And at $260 not bad value … if only Sony add a keyboard, but then lately they seem more interested in cutting down the specs of the Playstation, not adding to it.


Control C

Seemingly, Control C is running equal with Control V as the students favourite technology. Perhaps then this site ‘Control C‘ is something that we might all find just as handy as our students. Heres a cut from the blub on their website.

How many times a day do you copy and paste something? How often do you later wish you had saved what you copied to your clipboard for later use, or find yourself going back to look for that same content? Control C is an automated solution that will monitor your clipboard and store the data for you so you can later share or retrieve for yourself contents copied to your clipboard that otherwise would have been lost forever. All content uploaded from your clipboard is encrypted to protect your data completely. You can optionally, however, unencrypt and permanantly store the data in your account, and share it with the world.