Choosing an educational content provider is a big decision because there’s so much cracking content out there. Some services are more video and photo based, some offer more character-led activities, worksheets and competitive gaming, whereas others provide greater curriculum coverage. One of my favourites, though, is Planet Sherston.
I should say at the outset that I’ve long been a fan of Sherston Software, having used and reused many of its titles in the classroom. I’ve always felt the company understood the needs of teachers and pupils and its resources have always delivered. I still get excited about my fabulous Crystal Rain Forest CD-ROM, which is just one of the many classics Sherston has produced.
But things have moved on and digital education content is now very much housed online. In response, Planet Sherston has been introduced – a virtual world that gives round-the-clock access to loads of award-winning resources. To be precise, Planet Sherston is an online portal with over 3,000 curriculum-mapped activities, videos and games for children aged 3-11. And although much of this is from Sherston’s back catalogue, over 600 new colourful, creative and dynamic activities have also been added ready for the 2014 curriculum.
From a pupil’s point of view it’s a great world to be in. Each child has his or her own alien avatar with its own ‘home’ on Planet Sherston, which can be accessorised with items bought at the Space Bazaar, with children earning currency (Space Bitz) each time they complete an educational activity.
However, for me the star of the show is Sherston’s adaptive learning engine, which assigns activities to children based on their performance in the virtual world. It does this by collecting and analysing the results from completed activities, using this information to decide how best to serve each pupil’s learning journey.
Of course, you do need to check on this, but in my experience it gets it pretty much spot on, which helps you to support all children – not just the struggling few and the high flyers, but that tricky chunk of pupils in between that so often get forgotten. For example, for every five maths activities a pupil plays, he or she is given three assessment questions to monitor and chart progress.
The benefits of this online world for children are huge because they have interactive games, activities and topic-based video resources galore to choose from for developing key skills. Within the vast array of resources is a fantastic tool called Creative HQ, which enables children to create and evidence work in storyboard form using mind maps, annotations, drawings, audio, video and stills. It’s marvellous.
For teachers, the Sherston world is a treasure-trove of learning materials ideal for personalised and whole-class learning. You can build tasks and assign them to individual children, groups or en masse. The activities mark themselves, which saves you precious hours, and it helps with comprehensive tracking and reporting. The control panel is very easy to use and enables teachers to manage their class and pupils, look at pupil scores, assign tasks, and see home / school log ins.
So how much is all this going to cost you? You may be surprised to discover that schools can use Planet Shertson for free, with the option to buy additional premium packages. There is, for instance, a premium computing module with 10 adventures and 128 activities that focus on coding, esafety, spreadsheets and databases. Or schools can invest in the Premium Home Access Module that allows pupils to use the maths, science and English content at home at any time.
I’d recommend using Planet Shertson for planning and enhancing lessons as you can lift objectives from the ‘teacher zone’ and plop them straight into your own plans. This saves time and you can rest easy knowing the activities will be appropriate and stimulating. It is also the perfect partner for bridging learning between school and home, giving children and parents access to further tutorials, explanations, downloads and resources.
With versatile features and options galore, Planet Sherston is personalised, game-based learning at its very best. It’s a colourful, exciting world that will leave children saying, “Just one more go!”. Schools can sign up on the website (planetsherston.com) and use the resources for free. If you want to upgrade to the full Planet Sherston package, it costs £800* for a school of around 400 pupils. I’d say that was a steal.
*Planet Sherston have also produced a new coding module. The Premium Rainforest Coding Module is available at an additional £200.