Monday, January 21, 2013

Online Tools: Biblionasium

Recently, the "social networking sites for kids" post on my site has been getting a lot of hits, so I wanted to talk about a newer site I've been using with my fourth graders.  It allows kids to record their reading, either by pages or by minute, and create bookshelves with their favorites.  If parents agree, it also allows them to recommend books to their friends or classmates.  So you could call it goodreads for kids.  Or shelfari for kids.  My students really like the site, but they have a little trouble using it.

::Popups galore

Biblionasium requires teachers to create accounts for their students and to provide students with this login information--there's no option for students to enter a code and create their own accounts.  However, the first time students login, they are prompted to agree to a simple "honor code."

I like that this puts some responsibility back on the students.  It's also students' responsibility to provide their parents' email addresses if they want to "add friends."  To be honest, I don't know exactly what happens when students "add friends," because none of my students have gone through the process.  But I like how the site involves both students and parents, so that all decisions aren't put on the teacher.

On the downside, this honor code is one of many windows that pops up on this site--students are constantly bombarded with word bubbles, tips, even videos that appear in front of the window telling them what to do.  Of course, if my students actually read what was in those popups, it might be helpful to them, but they mostly get annoyed, because they want to figure things out for themselves. Plus, this slows down the performance of the site.

::Lots of options (maybe too many?)

Once students login and agree to the code, they can choose an avatar, change their background, and add books to their shelves.  

The process for adding books can also be a little slow.  Here's what the results look like when you search for Charlotte's Web.  Now, admittedly, the first result is probably the right one, but my students pick the picture that looks most like the cover of the copy they read, so my students keep reporting that they have read the entire box set of The Dork Diaries as well as the Chinese version of The Polar Express. 

One thing to watch out for: if students check the "have read" box when they're adding a book, they won't be able to put it on their reading log.  It took me and my students a while to figure this out, and I can see that Biblionasium has now added a note about this--sort of the online equivalent of those passive-aggressive office signs.  Hopefully, they'll come up with a more intuitive solution.

Once students add a book to their shelf, they can write a review, recommend it to a classmate, and add it to their log. They can also add "other material" to their log.  The options include "magazine, newspaper, comic book, newsletter, other."  Now, I love that they include "other material," but if they had asked me, I would have taken comic book off that list, because a comic book is a book, and I would have added audio book and website.  But that's nitpicky.

If you have your students use Bibionasium, you'll notice that the site automatically adds Lexile info.  You can even search by Lexile, which I have absolutely not encouraged my students to do, because I think choosing books using a mathematical rating of their difficulty is stupid.  But I admit that I have
found it very interesting to see the Lexiles on the books my students are reading.

::But wait, there's more!


Name: Biblionasium


Category: Social Networking, Data Collection.

Subjects: Reading, English.

Grades: 2-7.

Skills Requirements: Reading, Typing, Basic mouse skills, Entering information using the keyboard, Keyword searching, Selecting from dropdown menus.

System Requirements: Works on all browsers.

Access: Requires login. Teachers assign usernames and passwords to students. Students may enter parents' email addresses to give parents access.

Cost: Free without ads.
Now, maybe I've buried the lead, because I have not yet told you what is probably supposed to be a major selling point for the site.  Here's what it says on the homepage:
"Log what you are reading at least 5 times a week and you will automatically be entered for a chance to win an iTunes, Game Stop or an Amazon gift certificate. We select new winners every week."  
Pretty cool, right?  I have no idea what the odds are that a student of mine will win, but I like that it emphasizes the frequency with which you read as opposed to the quantity.

So far I've shown you the site from a kids' perspective, because that's what I'm most concerned about.  But the experience of using it as a teacher is pretty great.  You can see reports of what your students are reading, you can look at their book shelves, and you can recommend books, either by sending a message to one student or by creating a bookshelves of recommendations for the whole class.  You can even create challenges, or mini-lists of books to read. 

In conclusion, the site isn't always perfectly intuitive, but it's improving.  I'm not sure it gives me completely accurate information about what my students are reading, because they make mistakes using it, but it does give me a snapshot of what books they like and encourages them to reflect on and share their reading.  And I care about that a lot more than I care about page numbers or Lexiles.
Other Reviews:
@ExpatEducator (6/6/12)
@EdLab (6/18/12)
@Kleinspiration (1/10/13)

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