SecretBuilders.com: new immersive virtual world for kids 5-14

Posted on Dec 22, 2008 by kjarrett 7 Comments

Good morning all,

As schools in many parts of the world head into winter / holiday recess, it’s easy to guess that kids will spending at least some of their free time online. What sites will they visit? What will they do once there? Will it all be play or will there be learning opportunities as well?

Today’s featured site, http://www.secretbuilders.com/, comes to us by way of Richard Byrne of the fabulous and recent Edublogs award-winning blog, Free Technology for Teachers. In fact, if you’re not reading Richard’s blog, as well as Larry Ferlazzo’s, you should be! Both of these guys are amazing. Between the two of them, I’m giving serious thought to changing the focus of this blog – these guys have the resource-sharing thing nailed!

Anyway, I saw Richard Twitter about http://www.secretbuilders.com/ and tagged it for later sharing. You can see Richard’s review here. I went in for a closer look, since, unlike Richard, I *am* a gamer, and virtual worlds are of great interest to me, especially in education.

Let’s start with the home page. It’s goregous, visually and aesthetically:

sb01

As you can see it is extremely expansive, with a variety of activities for single and multi-player experiences. It is designed for kids from 8-14, and the signup process is simple and clear. A parent’s email address is required to validate the account for kids under 13.

Once logged in, you choose a world to explore, and are surrounded by other users and a familiar interface. Click to move from place to place, chat in the provided window (“Safe Chat” is an option but was not required for me, probably since I registered as an adult.) The sound effects and other environmentals created an engaging experience – at least for me!

sb02

Everyone gets a multi-level room of their own and some money to furnish it (not much).

sb03

As you’ll see below, I was easily able to add some basic features to the room (a Christmas Tree and a blue chair, lol) and change the wall colors.

sb04

Decorating one’s personal space is a pretty big deal with kids I’m told, but to do that you’ll need Shills, the currency in this game, which players get for playing games and completing quests.

The neatest part about this site is that kids take an active role in creating it. Although the “building” process is more of a “feature request” than actual construction of items as in Second Life, it’s still a neat way to get the kids involved, and to make sure the world reflects their interests. For more about the building process, click here.

I see many educational implications for this site, from prosocial skills to cybersafety to math and social studies. Without having seen more of the site, it’s hard to say, but I can say without a doubt that this is one of the most well-designed, feature-rich, graphically pleasing and easy to use virtual worlds I’ve encountered yet. The “For Teachers” section has more about their philosophy and outlook. Check it out!

Hope this helps,

-kj-

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