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Webkinz as a homeschooling tool

Webkinz.com is a world of virtual toys that is fun and safe for kids.

There are a lot of aspects to Webkinz that (in my opinion) make it a good educational tool:

  • Builds basic computer skills, such as using the mouse, keyboard, navigating complex user interfaces.
  • Money management, make KinzCash by working jobs, save for those expensive items you want to purchase.
  • Reading training, the game will usually explain things verbally, but you can get things done faster when you are able to read the instructions yourself.
  • Writing contests offer the kids a chance to win free pets (this encourages them to write good stories).
  • Trading between players is allowed, so you can send items to each other online.

50 years of space exploration (infographic)

Space missions, manned and unmanned of our solar system for the last 50 years

Description
This is a beautiful (and large) image depicting all the space exploration missions over that last 50 years. It gives an excellent overview of which planets and moons have received the most attention, and it also shows some future events – such as spacecraft that are currently on their way to far-away destinations.

This image is stored an a blog, and I don’t know who made it. I wish I knew, so I could give proper credits.

Faster (and easier) way to add resources to the database

The new ‘Contribute’ tab makes it a snap to add new web resources. Just copy & paste a URL,  and it will automatically scour the URL and other web sites for additional information about the URL. It will fill in the title, summary and description with whatever it could fine. All you have to do is edit it.

Watch a video of this new feature:

Front-Page facelift, Amazon shopping, WorldCat library search and Google Book previews

I’m excited to tell you about the latest upgrades to the unlikeschool.com website

  • The front page has received a much-needed facelift. It’s simpler, and more to the point:

    frontpage_updated

  • Found a book you like? Purchase it from Amazon.com!
    Many of the books, curriculum resources and movies can now be added to your Amazon shopping-cart with a single click! Here is what it looks like:
    product_amazon
  • WorldCat – National Library Search, find a book in a library near you.
    If you prefer to borrow books from the library, this is a great new feature. Look for the WorldCat logo, as shows below:
    product_worldcat

  • Google Book Preview – Just click to read!
    Some books are even available for instant preview, so you can take a quick look even without going to the library or the book store. Look for the Google Preview logo:
    product_google_preview

New easy way to add Profile Tags

Watch a video of this new feature:

or, read the blog post (see below) the old fashioned way :-)

Tired of typing in tags by hand? Stop, there is a better way! You can now pick from a list of popular tags instead, making quick work of adding tags to your profiles!

Here is Mary’s profile, it has no tags

mary_profile_no_tags

Let’s click on the add link for Mary enjoys, and you will see a page like this

mary_profile_unused_enjoys

The list show the most popular tags near the top, and the least popular towards the bottom. We pick some of the tags that we think describes what Mary enjoys and then blick the Add tags button. We will see a confirmation screen, telling us which tags were added to Mary’s profile.

mary_profile_added_enjoys

Then, we click Continue and we’re returned back to Mary’s Profile Overview

mary_profile_new_tags

And there you can see the new tags have been added. Now isn’t that just too easy? No typing!

You can still add tags by typing them in yourself, if you don’t see the tags you need in the popular list.

Tags, Tags, and more Tags!

As you may suspect, I’m going to talk about Tags in this message. I have reworked the website to make tags more useful, and more pervasive. The old Suitability Criteria, Educational Objectives and Educational Benefits systems were getting too complicated, and I needed to come up with something simpler. I hope they will be easier for all of you to use!

So, what are tags, and how do they work? I’m glad you asked!

Let’s first look at a typical Profile:

profile_lisa_tags_highlighted

The words inside that red rectangle are the tags.

Notice that there are 5 different kinds of tags: is, enjoys, dislikes, wants and knows. These verbs gives additional meaning to the tags, and makes it easy to describe Lisa in a concise manner. Each tag describes something about Lisa, and that makes it possible to make suggestions that are a good match for her. More on that in a little bit…

How do tags end up in the profile? First of all, you may already have some tags in there. When I created this system I also processed the existing data and created the appropriate tags for you. However, you may want to change them or add new tags, so just press the edit link (to the right of Profile Tags) to make the tags editable.

Alright, so what makes these tags so useful? The tags make it possible for the website to make suggestions to you, based on what your child is, enjoys, dislikes, wants, and knows. Let’s look at an example, a typical Page:

page_history_of_world_tags_highlighted

Once again, the tags are inside the red rectangle. You’ll notice that there are several kinds of page tags, just as with the profile tags. We have the same 5 kinds (is, enjoys, wants, knows, dislikes) but also an additional kind called General page description tags. This last one is used to describe the page itself, whereas the 5 other kinds are used to describe what type of child this page is suitable for. In this case, the page describes a book (curriculum) called “The Story of the World with study guide”:

  • The General page description tags tells us that this is a book that covers history and social studies, and also that there is a teachers manual that is essential to use with the book.
  • The Suitable for child who is tags makes it clear that this curriculum is suitable for a child who is a Logical Learner, Multisensory Learner or Social Learner (you can learn more about those learning styles here).
  • And similar for enjoys, and there are currently no tags in the wants, knows and dislikes compartments. Someone who is using this book might add more tags in the future, thereby enhancing the ability for the website to make even better suggestions.

Notice how some of the tags are green, and others are black. The page tags that match up with corresponding tags in the profile are shows in green. This allows you to easily see how this page is compatible with your child. The more green you see, the better!

And now for the really cool part! Once you have some tags in your child’s profile, you can get a list of suggestions!

lisa_suggested_pages_header

All you have to do is view your child’s profile page, and then click on the Suggested Pages tab. The website will search the whole database (it might take a few seconds) and will then show you all the pages that have tags matching the profile’s tags. For Lisa, it looks like this:

lisa_suggested_pages_results

The page we just looked at is there in the list (look for the red rectangle again). This page is the 7th highest ranked page for Lisa. The ranking algorithm is pretty simple: more matching tags means a higher score. The mathes are weighted by the kind of match, so that a wants match scores higher than a enjoys or dislikes match. The ranking algorithm is something I’m still fine-tuning, I want it to give the best results possible! If you want to know more about the algorithm itself, drop me an email at ehagen@unlikeschool.com

So, that’s it. Tags exist in Profiles and in Pages, and are used to generate suggestions for you!

Some recent changes

Here is a summary of some of the  changes that I’ve implemented lately:

  • Pages have replaced the old specific Goals, Activities and Resources.  All pages are equal now :-)
    tabs
  • The new Pages tab also has a nice new Recently Viewed Pages sub-tab
    recent_pages

How to describe children?

Hi everyone! I’m back from a long break, and ready to implement more improvements for UnlikeSchool.com

I’m working on some ideas for making it easier to describe your children/students in their child profile. It’s important to do this, since the child profile is used to create suggestions for that child. These suggestions are generated by matching each child to the activities and resources that best match their profile.

So, I have a favor to ask all of you: Could you take a couple of minutes and describe one of your children to me? I’m not interested in names or ages, but I am interested in what words you would use to describe a particular child.

Here is an example of what I’m thinking of.

Child X: Curious, self-motivated, shy in large groups, somewhat bossy, loves animals, understands the ways of nature, energetic, argumentative, visual & kinesthetic learner…

It would really help me to get a few more ‘real world’ examples. Your input will let me create a system that’s easier to use than the current ‘Child Records’ system.

Thanks for you support!

-Eivind Hagen

New Commenting Feature

I recently implemented a commenting feature for Pages. This means that you can add a quick comment, or even questions, for any Page. The comments are listed in reverse-chronological order (similar to a blog) so that the most recent comment are listed first.

Here is how it looks:

The complete page is here. Note: You must be logged in to see or add comments!

Please try it out, leave some comments on UnlikeSchool.com and let me know if you like the way it works.

-Eivind Hagen

Choosing a web browser for UnlikeSchool.com

Since I’m developing this web-site from scratch, I’ve had to use all the major web browsers in order to make sure the pages look how they should. Still, there are major differences between the various web browsers, more then I realized before I got knee-deep into web development. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how Internet Explorer is lagging behind – and it really is true, until version 8 was released.  Web developers (like me) have had to hack things just to get them to look right on IE (Internet Explorer) – when we really shouldn’t have to. Internet Explorer version 8 is a big improvement over version 7.

Here are my personal recommendations, in order of my preference (I use a PC, so for Mac or Linux I don’t have any recommendations):

  

Pro: Super-Fast, scaled images look good, things look right, clutter-free user interface.

Con: Does not zoom images, only text. Using the Back Button may result in strange-looking pages, especially the buttons (this is a bug in Chrome)

 


Pro: Super-customizable, fast, zooms images and text, scaled images look good, things look right.

Con: Not as fast as Chrome.

 

Pro: Zooms images and text, scaled images look good, runs pretty fast.

Con: Have to reboot computer after installing it, user interface is still looking old.

 

Pro: Fast, zooms images.

Con: Scaled images look bad, the UI is a little different than most browsers.

 

Pro: It’s probably already installed on your PC, but other than that…

Con: Slow, scaled images look bad, it’s lagging behind the others so sometimes web pages don’t look right.

 

Those are the web browsers I have used recently. They all work quite well on UnlikeSchool.com – but I personally prefer Google Chrome simply for it’s speed and good looks :-)

If you like Internet Explorer, and you are using version 7, then upgrading to version 8 is highly recommended.

 

-Eivind Hagen