Early Childhood Environment: Website Evaluation

8 Dec

It is important to evaluate websites that we rely on for information. This is why for today’s post I have chosen a random childcare center and will be evaluating the website they use to present themselves. The child care center up for discussion is the Halton Hills Childcare Centre (HHCC). Upon seeing their website, the first thing to catch my eye is a large scrolling banner they have filtering between the following 3 pictures.

Untitled picture     Untitled pictures

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This gives me a great first impression of the website as it is an eye-catching and effective way to use media in a website. A scrolling banner can be used to show what the centre is most proud of and can be updated on a regular basis. In order to determine whether or not the banner is updated frequently I used the Wayback Machine and discovered that the website went through a large overhaul in September of this year and before then looked drastically different. Below is how the front page of the website transtioned from its beginning in 2002 up to now.

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As you can see the website they have now is a lot more crisp and professional looking than in the past. It is also nicely organized and easy to navigate through with convenient drop down menus and large fonts. There is also no unnecessary media or decoration to distract readers from the content. Hopefully the center takes advantage of the opportunities a scrolling banner presents and updates it on a regular basis.

Next up is finding the mission statement. Unfortunately the HHCC does not outright state, ‘Our mission statement is…’ on their homepage however they do say, “Our goal is to provide a safe, clean, and nurturing environment where children can learn, have fun, and grow to their fullest potential.” (HHCC, N.D.) and after perusing through the site I was able to confirm that this is in fact their mission statement because it is stated in the description of the centers board of directors. Although it is rather ambiguous the mission statement IS stated on the homepage, the only suggestion would be to name it as such.

Finding the main contact of the center also proved to be a two step job.  First you have to go to the contact page to see that the contact information states, “Please contact our Supervisor at 905-877-5004 ext. 2″ Okay, now we know we will be contacting the supervisor. But who is the supervisor? To find this you have to go to the Staff page in the drop down ‘About Us’ menu. Here you will find a the name of both the director and the supervisor along with a picture and a blurb about themselves. It is interesting to note that only the supervisor and the director are listed here and not the rest of the staff. Therefore if a parent wished to read about a potential educator for their child, it would not be possible. 

The location of the center is made obvious by the name of the center (Halton Hills) and the address is shown both on the home page and on the ‘contact us’ page. Along with the address there is a very convenient Google maps snapshot link.

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While browsing this website it is very apparent that the content is directed towards parents of both children already enrolled and potential clientele. You can determine that it is directed to already enrolled families because the website has a page where parents can find the newsletter as well as information regarding events the center might be holding. There is also a place where parents of enrolled children can go to look at events specific to their child’s classroom. For example if your child was in the toddler room you could find your child’s monthly schedule, their meal plan, upcoming activities, as well as the names and number of the teachers in the room. Potential client can find information on the centers board of directors as well as the schools different rooms and playgrounds. HHCC makes excellent use of multimedia but presenting readers with a slideshow of pictures for each classroom as well as each outdoor area. They also provide parents with a well made video collage which serves as an introduction of the center bringing together the different aspects of the website.

Ultimately I believe HHCC has a very well designed and organized website. It is easy to navigate through and find the information parents need in order to adequately assess the center. The only suggestion I would make is to replace the headline, ‘Quality Child Care’ with, ‘Our Mission is…’ This way the mission statement is clear cut and displayed on the front page. I would also put the name of the supervisor beside the contact information so a parent does not have to search the website in order to get the name themselves.

Good Job HHCC!

References

Internet Archive. (2013). Wayback Machine. Retrieved on December 8, 2013. From http://archive.org/web/

Halton Hills Childcare Centre. (2013). Halton Hills Childcare Centre. Retrieved on December 8, 2013. From http://www.hhchildcare.ca/

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Toontastic! An Educational Software Review

9 Nov

When first deciding to review an educational software for children, my initial thought was to review something that was explicitly educational. That is, I wasn’t looking for anything with educational in the title or  learning with…  or Can you find the TRIANGLE. I wanted to find something a child could explore with and not be aware of the fact that they are learning a wealth of new skills and that’s when I remembered being informally introduced to Toontastic in a lecture last semester while a professor was showing us the amazing things her son can accomplish through the use of technology. So, for my first software review I will be doing Toontastic.

Toontastic is a great platform that children can use to bring their imaginations to life. It is unfortunate that in today’s classroom curriculum’s and society at large creativity is stifled. Children are taught rigorous math, English, and science skills but when it comes to expressing their creativity a child may be misunderstood, told that it this is not important, or simply not given the opportunity to do so. Toontastic offers parents the opportunity to provide their children with the resources to express their inner director, their inner artist, and their inner collaborator as well as many others. The following is a video that adequately sums up the need for a game such as this one.

Toontastic is designed for children age 4 and up. With it, children can create an interactive animation with recorded audio and music. The game provides simple instructions that help children to understand the general flow of the story and what each segment might included. However the child may choose to change the flow of the story or add to the flow. For instance, rather than having the setting then the challenge then the conflict the child may choose to have the setting then the challenge then the conflict. Once the child has chosen a segment of the story they would like to work on they are then able to choose from a variety of settings and characters they would like to use or they may choose to draw their own or use a combination of both hand drawn characters and given animations as seen below.

      

I would like to start this review with the limitations because it is always better to end on a positive note. The first and biggest limitation is that Toontastic is only available on Ipad. Ipads are quite expensive and thus make the app itself unattainable unless you can afford to purchase an Ipad. If you cannot afford the Ipad, Toontastic has released themed versions of the game.

          

However, these themed versions do not even come close to the original. Because I cannot afford an Ipad, I tested out both the pirates version and the Shrek version of Toontastic and would not recommend them. Each scene in these games begins with an animated short thus setting the plot for your child and deciding what each character is meant to be doing. If your child decides to stray from the set plot then their story will not make sense because the following scene begins with an animated short on the assumption that your child followed the typical story line. For instance, when testing out the Pirates game I was unaware each scene had a animated beginning so I decided I wanted the old lady to run off with the pirates ship, however the following scene began with the pirate triumphantly showing off the fruit basket he had stolen from the old lady and I was sad. Back to Toontastic the original. Although the game states that it is free, the content that you receive is minimal at best. In order to have access to all the characters, scenes, and options you can either choose to pay $19.99 or pay individually for each scene or character your child would like to use. So in terms of limitations Toontastic scores low in affordability and accessibility.

If you can afford the app in its entirety though it is a fantastic tool. According to the article Practical Guidelines for Evaluating Educational Software, it is important that the program “puts learners in control of their own learning experiences, allowing them to select content, methods, materials, and activities that suit their own needs, interests and abilities.”(2000) Through its wide variety of characters and scenes as well as the child’s ability to draw his or her own characters and scenes and change the layout of the story, Toontastic breezes through this recommendation. Toontastic is appropriate for any gender and learning style. A child who prefers direction can follow the story line given and use the characters premade for him or her while a child who prefers a blank slate may draw their own scene and characters and decide how it plays out. The child who is shy may keep her story to herself, while the child who wants to show off may post her story onto the internet for the world to see.

Toontastic also provides children with an opportunity to collaborate with peers, friends, or family. “The American Psychological Association … acknowledges that learning is social in nature and that shared thinking is valuable to the learning process.” (Goyne, 2000) Each person a child brings into their story could be a new voice to a character. The child could work together with others to determine how the story should go and what each characters role will be. Where one child is struggling another might offer up a grand idea. Toontastic is great for both solitary play as well as social play. Toontastic also provides the child with the ability to take a picture of a friend and use his or her face as a character in their story. This opens up the door for even more complexities as the child might then incorporate a persons real personality traits and life situations into the story line.

Because the game is focused on the child being creative and living by their own rules, Toontastic does not provide your typical feedback. Can you imagine your child draws a pink cow and the Toontastic automation saying, “Cows are not pink, try again.” With a game such as this it is hard to determine what would qualify as good feedback. At the end of you story playback their is an audience applause sound played to give the impression that a grand audience has just watched and admired the child’s animated cartoon. The game also provides easy to understand direction to help the child along. They may also choose to upload his or her story on the web for their parents and family and the global Toontastic community to see. Therefore allowing others to provide them with feedback.

In terms of educational benefit, Toontastic can provide the child with skills from a variety of categories. The child could develop language and reading skills through their storytelling, they could develop artistic expression skills through their drawings and character actions and voices, they could work their creativity by coming up with new content and exercising their imagination, and they could also develop their communication skills while creating and walking others through their story.

All in all Toontastic would be a great tool to use to help your child express his or her creativity and imagination and be able to show it off with pride. Although it is only available on Ipad at the moment and it is still $19.99 once you have an Ipad, I would still recommend it if you have financial means to access it.

Reference

Goyne, J., McDonough, S., & Padgett, D. (2000). Practical guidelines for evaluating educational software. The Clearing House (73)6. 345.

Quote

Computers are i…

8 Oct

Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid:
Humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant:
Together they are powerful beyond imagination.
-Albert Einstein

Blog Search – Mind Shift

5 Oct

While getting into the business of writing a blog I thought I would look into what else is out there. I feel like there is a certain stigma surrounding blogs and their credibility and/or value but from what I have seen people need to get out there and see the kinds of things people others are writing about. A lot of blogs are based in education and experience and therefore a good place to look for alternate opinions, insightful ideas, and new topics of discussion.

The blog that sticks in my mind is called Mind Shift. This blog is edited by Tina Barseghian who, before launching MindShift, served as executive editor for Edutopia from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, blogged for the San Francisco Chronicle, and worked as an editor and freelance journalist for a variety of publications.

Editor: Tina Barseghian

Mind Shift originated from “KQED,” an acronym for the Latin quod erat demonstrandum (“which was to be demonstrated”). They are based in North Carolina and is meant for everyone who wants to be more. They aim to “change lives for the better and help individuals and communities achieve their full potential.” (KQED, 2013)

The slogan that Mind Shift works around is How will we learn. This is what originally drew me in because it is the first blog I encountered that referenced future learning, how things are changing, and how we can adapt. The blog discusses subject matter that is both interesting, informative and backed by scholarly knowledge from academic journals and the like.

One topic they discuss is whether playing video games might help girls do better in math, backing their ideas by the Journal Psychological Science. They propose that  “spatial skills [that are necessary for math] are malleable, durable and transferable: that is, spatial skills can be improved by training; these improvements persist over time; and they “transfer” to tasks that are different from the tasks used in the training.” (Mind Shift, 2013)

This topic is particularly interesting in light of the negative connotation the majority of society places on video games. It just goes to show, there are two sides to everything.  Perhaps as an ECE I should think about how I can implement video gaming into the classroom or promote it at home so that girls can work on achieving the level of spatial skills that boys do.

A posting that was recently sent to me is called, How to Help Kids Find Their AspirationsThis post tied in with a discussion in class about Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk about how education kills creativity. In the same sense education or educators/ family kill children’s aspirations. The child who wants to be an artist is told that he can’t do that; he won’t make enough money. The child who wants to be a dancer, won’t make it and should study science instead. In ECE we tend to stifle a child’s need to express their creativity, preferring to stress literacy skills and math skills, although important these may not address the child’s interests. This article focuses on three things that will help children not to lose sight of their dreams; self-worth, engagement, and purpose. A child needs to feel important and involved but also that what they are doing plays a role in achieving their goals. If a child wants to be super man, because super man helps people, then that should be acknowledged. The child could be taught prosocial behaviours as well as about different community members who work hard every day to help those in need; firemen, doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc. If we are not there to help a child realize his or her potential to reach his or her goal we leave it up to the media and outside sources to do so.

Mind Shift also posted quite an interesting article regarding integrating technology into the classroom. On this note I suggest, the following RSAnimate video in which Ken Robinson discusses changing the educational paradigms.

An excellent thought to take out of this talk is that we are “trying to meet the future by doing what [we] did in the past.” Mind Shift reiterates this by saying that in order to be successful  students need to learn trust, respect and responsibility for technology. We cannot simply resort to past ways of educating children when the requirements of society have changed so drastically. We cannot simply ignore the fact that we live in the technological age. This is especially difficult when many educators put in the position of using the technology and teaching about technology in the classroom do not know the full capabilities of that technology or feel that technology will decrease their value as educators and do not think it should be incorporated. Author, Matt Levinson, states, ” we are using technology in schools because we believe it can enhance teaching and learning and add depth and complexity to the design of learning experiences for students.” (Mind Shift, 2013) Educators should be constantly researching and keeping up to date on new discussions regarding technology as well as new technologies themselves. Educators must be able to adapt to our ever changing society in order to be able to best prepare their students for their futures.

All in all, I would recommend Mind Shift to anyone looking for an informative, yet interesting source of educational knowledge. In every article I looked at they included a variety of different sources, including authors and scientific journals. They relay information effectively while at the same time peaking your interest and keeping you reading.

References

Korbey, H. (2013). Teaching respect and responsibility – even to digital natives. In Mind Shift: How will we Learn. Retrieved October 4, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/05/teaching-respect-and- responsibility-even-to-digital-natives/.

KQED. (2013). About KQED. In KQED About. Retrieved October 4, 2013, from http://www.kqed.org/about/.

Murphy, A. (2013). Can playing video gams give girls an edge in math?. In Mind Shift: How will we Learn. Retrieved October 4, 2013, From http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/07/can-playing-video-games-give- girls-an-edge-in-math/.

Schwartz, K. (2013). How to help kids find their aspirations. In Mind Shift: How will we Learn. Retrieved October 4, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/how-to-help-kids-find-their- aspirations/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+kqed%2FnHAK+%28MindShift%29.

Quote

“Any fool can k…

2 Oct

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand” -Albert Einstein

What do we REALLY know about Technology?

25 Sep

Neil Postman: Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change

We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many use technology rather than be used by it.

After watching this talk, the first thought that crossed my mind was something along the lines of, ‘Wow, I had never thought of it that way.” I know I am not alone in saying that I have taken technology entirely for granted; using it greedily to serve every purpose I can scrounge from it.  I am slowly becoming more and more aware, however, that there is so much more technology is capable of, both positive and negative, that I am wholly unaware of.

In Neil Postman’s talk he brings to light 5 fundamental aspects of technological change that we should all bear in mind when contemplating effects of technology on ourselves, our peers, and the world.

1

“We always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price.”

Before reading this article I never considered that with each technological gain there would be a corresponding loss.  I know that I am not alone in saying that I enjoy technology for its face value and fail to acknowledge the much bigger picture. When acquiring a cell phone, one is more likely to consider how it will keep them in contact with distant relatives and the world than how it will diminish their immediate relations. Spending time with friends and family is quickly becoming simply a group of people sitting in the vicinity of one another preoccupied with what is being posted on social media or what the latest gossip is. And as a more recent example, the global privacy issues that arose after the NSA was exposed for spying is a huge disadvantage to the originally profound and exciting connectedness we all share.

2

“There are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners.”

When it comes to computers the winners are the multiple corporations that take advantage of the connectedness created by the internet and use it for advertising purposes. This means that we the people are the losers in this scenario, being constantly drowned with annoying junkmail, pop up advertisements, and much more.

3

“There is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not”

A great example of this is as more and more portable technologies are developed our level of connectedness with our immediate surroundings actually diminishes. How often do you find yourself walking down the street with headphones playing in your ears or paying attention to some detail on your phone rather than paying attention to the people and environment around you? How often do you sit in a room of friends and everyone of you is captured by something happening in the digital world. Technology is diminishing our ability to interact with people and to pay attention to immediate suroundings.

4

“Technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything”

This idea supports the saying, ‘The Medium is the Message’ in that the way in which we choose to use technology as well as our frequency slowly begins to define our culture.  For instance, with the introduction of mobile technologies; the laptop and the cell phone especially, we have become a more connected society in that we can communicate with each other over distances and stay up to date with news but we have also become an overly distracted society in that a person or group of people could be sitting in a room physically but not be paying attention to anything going on around them. Mobile technology has change the way we interact with people in a physical and in the moment manner. It has created a distracted lifestyle.

5

“Technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us. “

If someone posed the question, “How would you react if digital technology suddenly failed tomorrow?” What would be your first thought?

Panic

If technology failed suddenly, society as we know it would fall into chaos. We have grown into a people who idolize technology and could not survive without its merits. We suffer a dramatic population loss before our culture began to reshape itself based on the lack of digital technology. This is because we put technology on a pedestal. We do not question it. We bow down to it in all its new, shiny, digital, glory and because of this we would be lost without it.