BBC’s Bitesize Offers Banquet of Online Learning

It’s rare to come across an engaging, all-inclusive digital learning portal like I did this week when I came upon the BBC’s Bitesize education websites. I was actually looking at an old site, Skillwise, which is still good and recommended, but its nothing like what the blokes at the BBC have been working on lately. Here in the United States you would expect to pay a few hundred bucks, or at least a good thousand bucks for access to this kind of learning (think BrainPOP and IXL Math), but the folks in the UK still believe in the government’s role in funding public education, and they are doing a much better job of bringing technology to their students for free .

A full review of Bitesize  is still in the works, and with so many lessons, games and activities it will take a while to truly explore all of the content. But here is a rough synopsis and links to some great starter content:

Bitesize is divided into 3 main areas, KS1 for the youngest kids, KS2 for those 7-11 year-old students, KS3 for the 11-14 crowd and then another level, GCSE for the upper secondary. Each site includes classroom-ready tools that are guaranteed to engage students. Take Questionaut, for example. It is simply put, one of the finest, most beautifully designed flash games I have ever seen. Students have to use their Maths, Language and Science skills to navigate through different tiny worlds where the user has to answer multiple choice questions, but the engaging part is in the actual game activation. The questions do not appear automatically, but have to be figured out from the items in the planet’s environment. Today my students and I played all 8 levels and they stayed glued to their seats, while maintaining an impressive eyeball-to-screen ration the whole time. It is geared towards the 11-14 age group, so it was perfect for my 6th graders.

KS2 offers some great material on Reading, Spelling, and Grammar, which will be very useful to those struggling to learn the basics. Even KS1 might be useful to those who are completely new to the English language, and the games are not too childish to turn off older students. KS3 offers a more mature sense of humor in its lessons. For example the lesson on clauses and types of sentences features a HAL-like computer teaching the lesson using sentences that talk about first kisses that are sure to hold any newly minted teen engaged in what would normally be a boring English lesson.

But it’s not all about games. The lessons are standards-based, and take a learner trough all the requirements of instruction, including learning through reading and direct teaching of concepts, followed by a flash activity, and finally an assessment of the standard. Here is where I think this site stands above all others. The quality and scope of the content are without match in free sites.  There are simply so many activities and lessons that it will be hard to get through them all. And if you are worried about standards correlating to your local standards, I guarantee you will find that the UK’s standards are not that different. Every lesson has some discrepancy to US English, but these hardly detracts from the overall success of this site.

The lessons and content lend themselves well to both single-presentation arrangements, or for use in a multimedia/computer lab. My students all participated in the direct lesson on the LCD and this Friday they will have a chance to explore the site further on their own, with some guidance of course, as it will be easy for them to get lost in all of that amazing content.

Teachers can also access the suggested lesson plans and students can chat in a social-networking forum to share ideas and ask for help in revision (the British term for Reviewing).

More posts on this subject should be forthcoming, so keep reading. I haven’t even tried the High School material yet, which includes many more subject areas than just English, Maths and Science. They also include a few very high-quality games like the foreign language mystery Destination Death.

Maybe a review of each game is in order and perhaps, if  a form is created, students could be involved in separating the good from the great.

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