Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews different media, articles, and games for or about children.

Review – Busy Bees Website

Today I will be reviewing the Busy Bees Child Care Centre website, which can be found HERE.

BB home page

Screenshot of the Busy Bees home page (“Busy bees”)

This website is designed to give parents and potential customers an overview of what Busy Bees is all about. The page is laid out in a very straight-forward manner, and the navigational toolbar on the left-hand side of the screen outlines the content of the website.

The textual content of the site is very professional, and provides information about the use of play-based learning in the centre, as well as the attempts that the centre is making to stimulate children in various aspects of their development (“Busy bees”).

BB navigation tool

Screenshot of navigation tool (“Busy bees”)

 

Navigating the website is actually quite easy, thanks to the clear navigational toolbar at the left of the screen. This is what Tuck (2003) would describe as a traditional way of presenting screen navigation, which is functional and serves its purpose. The pages that are linked to include services provided, a calendar of events, and potential employment opportunities. Navigating through the site was easy enough, although it was difficult to ascertain who I could specifically contact for information, though a phone number and email contact information was presented.

 

A number of images border the site, though many of them are stretched or squished in a way that distorts them and makes them seem less professional. The presence of the images, though squished, do still add a visual component that is a welcome break to a text-only site. There is also a slideshow that contains images of the play areas in the centre, and provides both parents and potential consumers the ability to visualize where their children will be spending their day.

bb squished pics

Sample squished images from the Busy Bees website (“Busy bees”)

Unfortunately, this site does contain an image far more irritating than some squished images. On one of the pages, outlining the services which the centre provides, an image of what appears to be a bee flying backwards with one eye half open that constantly scrolls across the screen from left to right, and when it reaches the right side, disappears ad reappears on the left side to begin its migration anew. This bee is annoying, and I have yet discovered a way to make it cease it’s incessant voyage to the right side of my screen. As it travels, it blocks the text which makes it difficult for the viewer to read, which is the purpose for the page to exist in the first place. Tuck (2003) advises web designers to keep things simple, and not over-complicate a site with unnecessary and irritating distractions.

BB annoying bee

The annoying bee mid flight, blocking the text (“Busy bees”)

Ultimately, this site does a good job of not only making necessary information available, but also being user friendly regarding the navigation of the site, as well as the ability to contact the centre wither by phone or email. I would recommend that the next update of the site remove the annoying bee, or at least provide viewer with the choice to view the bee or not, as well as improving the formatting of the images used throughout the site, ensuring that the professionalism is not compromised by said images.

References:

Busy bees child care centre. (n.d.). Retrieved on December 11th from http://www.busybeesbrampton.com/index.htm

Tuck, M. (2003). Practical web design – fundamentals of web design. Retrieved on December 11th from http://articles.sitepoint.com/print/fundamentals-web-design

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Game Review: Leap School Super Spin

Screenshot of Title screen for Super Spin (LeapFrog, 2012)

Screenshot of Title screen for Super Spin (LeapFrog, 2012)

Play Super Spin: HERE

Today I am going to be reviewing the educational game Super Spin (LeapFrog, 2012). This game is a free online game accessed through the Leap Frog website, and focuses on mathematics through repetition of equations. The player can select which set of tracks (levels) they would like to play on, the difficulty, which is based on grade levels from pre-k to grad 4, and then chooses the individual track. At the start of the level, a mathematical equation will show up, and the player will be asked to either match the number in the centre to numbers on the track, add the number in the centre to a number on the track to complete the equation, or multiply the centre number with a number on the track to create the appropriate total to complete the equation (LeapFrog, 2012).

Character select screen from Super Spin

Character select screen from Super Spin (LeapFrog, 2012)

I decided to choose this software to review for a few different reasons, the first and most predominant of which being the accessible nature of the game. Goyne, McDonough, & Padgett note that an educational game must be “…accessible to students” (2000). The accessibility of this game is two-fold; if the educator has a computer/computers, as well as access to the internet, the game can be played with no additional cost. However, the initial cost of the computers and the continual cost of the internet could be an ongoing cost that becomes too burdensome. That being said, this game is a great choice because of a feature wherein a voice narrates the instructions, as well as what specific icons and buttons say and do. This allows young players who do not yet have the reading comprehension skills necessary to navigate the game and play. There is a downside to this, as players who have a hearing impairment may have difficulty playing the game if they cannot yet read.

Another reason for choosing this game is the potential that online games serve to assist in the development of young learner’s mathematic skills over traditional classroom games. “Children’s interaction with educational computer games reflects not only their game-playing expertise but also their knowledge and skills about embedded educational content” (Fisch, Lesh, Motoki, Crespo, & Melfi, 2011, p.88). Playing educational games should be fun, as Goyne et al. have stated “… enjoyment is an important design [element] that should be judiciously built into instructional programs to trigger interest, enthusiasm, and intrinsic motivation” (2000). This does not mean, however, that games cannot or should not also contain educational value or merit. In fact, one of the benefits of this game is its ability to challenge the player. “[A child’s] mathematical reasoning may begin at a fairly basic level but become more sophisticated over the course of a game, when necessary to respond to the game’s demands” (Fisch et al., 2011, p.91).

(fish in a bottle, 2012)

With all of that being said, ‘what are some other benefits of this game for young learners?’ you may find yourself asking. Allow me to shed some light on the subject. Apart from the pros mentioned already, this game has other benefits. One such benefit is the variety of multimedia used to engage the player, including pictures, audio clips providing guidance, support, and praise, and the visual effects of the game itself. “This multisensory approach promotes information storage and retrieval (both visual and auditory coding into memory networks), fosters motivation (provides more enjoyment], and accommodates students with diverse learning styles and preferences” (Goyne et al., 2000). Another great feature of this software is the feedback provided to the child as they play. While a child is playing, if they solve approximately 3-4 equations in a row correctly, the character of that set of tracks will provide positive feedback, including phrases like “fancy footwork” and “tip top” (LeapFrog, 2012). “Feedback that is timely, encouraging, and provides a feeling of “high error tolerance” creates a safe learning environment that enhances motivation” (Goyne et al., 2000). The game also provides the player with the opportunity to replay levels over-and-over, allowing the child to drill-and-practice each equation as much as they want. “… [D]rill-and-practice is still an important component of the learning process. Cognitive research has shown that through extensive practice, information becomes automated for the learner.” (Goyne et al., 2000).

With all of those great aspects of the game outlined, there are still some limitations. One of the largest limitations is the lack of social interaction required to play this game. “The American Psychological Association’s learnercentered psychological principles acknowledge that learning is social in nature and that shared thinking is valuable to the learning process” (Goyne et al., 2000). This game, while fun and engaging, does not require nor benefit the student directly from interacting with others. Mind you, a student could ask another student for help if they are having trouble with a level, for instance, but there is no direct need to speak to communicate to others. Also, this game does not provide a realistic context for the problem. It is unlikely that a student will find themselves in a real-life situation where they will need to fire giant balls at corresponding balls to accomplish their goals. “Research shows that students are very interested in, and therefore motivated by, authentic learning activities” (Goyne et al., 2000).

Screenshot of game-play from Super Spin

Screenshot of game-play from Super Spin (LeapFrog, 2012)

With all that being said, this game is a valuable tool for use in the field of Early Childhood Education. If educators wish to utilize this resource in their classrooms, it would be of great benefit to the children to set up a more social aspect to this game. For example, perhaps placing two chairs at the computer, and encouraging students to work in pairs while playing, can stimulate children to teach each other how to play the game, and explain what they have seen to their peers, thereby creating some social interaction and “…shared thinking” (Goyne et al., 2000). Also, providing “… headphones so that the noise does not disturb others” (Goyne et al., 2000) will help other children focus on their own play, while providing the students who are using the computer to better focus on the game. Furthermore, set aside some time either during or after a child has finished playing this game to discuss with them about what they did. This again builds a social component into this experience, and allows the child to contextualize what they have done and learned. Doing this with a group of children together will provide an opportunity for all of the children to have some exposure to the game vicariously, and will potentially incite interest in other children who may be less technically savvy and unsure about the game.

All-in-all, I thought that this was a fun game that was engaging and beneficial to the player. I would be lying if I said that I did not enjoy the game as I played, and the review of mathematic concepts was something that I needed. I am sure that my learning curve was a bit slower than other players, but it was a great experience and worth trying.

References:

Fisch, S. M., Lesh, R., Motoki, E., Crespo, S., & Melfi, V. (2011). Children’s mathematical reasoning in online games: Can data mining reveal strategic thinking?. Child Development Perspectives, 5(2), 88-92. Retrieved on November 19th from http://web.ebscohost.com.library.sheridanc.on.ca/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=8&sid=905a86c4-0acf-4d35-9387-68d1095907bd@sessionmgr15&hid=9

Fish in a bottle. (Videographer) (2012). Leap Frog Super Spin gameplay by fish in a bottle [Web]. Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/46088813

Goyne, J. S., McDonough, S. K., & Padgett, D. D. (2000). Practical guidelines for evaluating software. The Clearing House, 73(6), 345. Retrieved on November 19th from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zz11UpsJbdemjt_Q29tW28CG96-O1dO76i27Aaq-pv4/edit?pli=1

LeapFrog. (2012). Leap school: Super spin. Retrieved from http://www.leapfrog.com/gaming/online-games.html

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iBooks could replace the paper textbook?

Article: The Many Benefits of Using iBooks in Education

Link: http://www.emergingedtech.com/2013/09/the-many-benefits-of-using-ibooks-in-education/

The article above was posted to emergingedtech.com at the end of September, and was something that interested me. It speaks about the use of iBooks in place of traditional textbooks, and outlines the different benefits using iBooks can have on both students and teachers in an educational setting.

The article began by mentioning the burden that comes with working with a paper-based system of education, and then mentions the growing revolution that computer technology in general is having on our society. The use of technology, author Vera Reed argues, may “not only make the educational system more streamlined, but also more exciting and effective” (Reed, 2013). As the article progresses, some of the advantages are listed.

The first advantage is the cost. Paper textbooks have prices ranging around $110 dollars, whereas iBooks cost less than $15 dollars by comparison. The second advantage mentioned is the weight of the textbooks. For younger children, this burden can be quite extensive, but iBooks weigh no more than the device itself. The third mentioned advantage is the when using electronic software, updates occur instantly. The iBooks can be updated as soon as the new information is available, whereas paper textbooks at best get an annual revision, and then a new text must be purchased to access said updated material. Finally, the iBooks provide the means to interact with course material in a new, more hands-on kind of way. They can contain videos and graphics that are interactive, and allow the student to better manipulate their learning experience.

How does this relate to education and technology?:

The connection is pretty obvious: the article is about using iBooks in place of traditional paper texts. This article is interesting in that it does bring up some great points regarding education and technology; two arenas whose merger has been evolving quite rapidly in recent years. The strongest example of this to me is the point made about the interactive nature of the software as opposed to paper textbooks. Being a visual and tactile (hand-on) learner, I often find it difficult to read a text in order to glean information. Having the opportunity to see an animation act out the material, for example, a cell replicating through mitosis, is something I would benefit from, as it adds a concrete element to the information I am ingesting.

The other valuable element of this article is the idea that the information is current. Knowing that when I read something in a text (for instance, the Earth is flat or Pluto is a planet in our solar system) that is outdated, I am often left speculating as to how much of the additional information is outdated. Knowing that whatever I read or teach is current, I am able to speak with conviction and stay relevant in conversation with peers, students, and those in society.

How does this relate to E.C.E.?:

I think it would be silly to ignore the involvement that technology has in the lives of children. Children are able to navigate ipods, smartphones, and tablets much better than I could or can even know. As an educator, one needs to be able to teach a child with flexibility, adapting to their growing interests while supporting their needs. I think that the iBook technology, if age appropriate, could be utilized in this setting, and should. Educators are meant to challenge, guide, and support children in ALL of their domains of development, and if iBook technology can help them to do so, then we should. That being said, I do believe that there are some issues with the article, which I will discuss below.

My beliefs on this subject:

While I think that technology has afforded humanity many benefits and aids, it is not without repercussions. There are a growing number of people in our society with digital addictions to phones, computers, and technology as a whole. If adults are spending more time on their tablets, phones, and computers, should we be reinforcing those same ideals to the children in our care? I believe that to best serve children, we must present a balanced view of technology: digital AND analog. I don’t think iBooks, for example, should be banned, but there must also be paper books and alternatives to screens. Supporting children’s writing needs will also be easier if they are exposed to written work, and I think that implementing an iBook-only curriculum may deteriorate the interest and practice of writing things by hand as opposed to typing them.

All-in-all, I think the advent of electronic reading materials are a great asset to classrooms of many ages, but they should not be the only representation of written work to children. Educators must take steps to ensure that they can better help their students, whether that means learning how to use technology better, or learning to spend some time “unplugged” and enjoy analog technologies of old.

Reference:

Reed, V. (2013, September 29). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.emergingedtech.com/2013/09/the-many-benefits-of-using-ibooks-in-education/

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