I have been asked many times by fellow educators how Gamequarium came to be, so I thought I would share the story. If this story gets dull or boring, you can certainly hit the back button, and enjoy a fun, learning game instead of reading this. I won't be offended. In fact, I will assume that Gamequarium has met its goal!
First, I should probably explain a little about myself. My name is Diana Dell. I am a wife of 24 years, mother of 21 years, an elementary educator of 20 years, and a life-long learner of 42 years ... so far. You can probably tell from that statement that much of my life centers on children and learning. As a mother, teacher, and student, I have developed a philosophy of education. I believe:
This philosophy guides my approach to teaching. In the days before my classroom had an Internet connection, my students were actively involved with many hands-on learning activities and games. A classroom Internet connection didn't change the way I taught, but it certainly enhanced it. The more that I used the Internet with students, the more I came to believe that the Internet is the most powerful teaching and learning tool of all time. In fact, it is the next best thing to a dedicated teacher. Why do I believe this?
You now understand my philosophy. You can easily see why I was initially attracted to online, learning games and activities. The idea for a learning games portal had been slowly creeping into my brain. Last summer, I vacationed with a group of friends who happen to be teachers. We stayed at a lovely condo on Okaloosa Island on Florida's sunny "Emerald Coast." We recharged our batteries by lounging on the beach and by the pool reading our favorite books. I was beginning a Specialist in Educational Technology Degree Program from the University of Missouri - Columbia when I returned home from vacation. I wanted to get a head start on my studies so I read books about HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and allowed my thoughts to drift.
It suddenly occurred to me how I could make my idea for a learning games portal work. Because of the beautiful waters of the "Emerald Coast" (which are also a lovely shade of turquoise a great deal of the time) my thoughts were of the ocean and such. I knew that an underwater, ocean theme would appeal to students. This is when the name "Gamequarium" was created. As soon as I returned home, I registered the Gamequarium domain.
In August 2000, I began creating my first classroom website. I used the free services of Myschoolonline.com, as my district did not have a web server in place at the time. One focus of the website was Internet resources that facilitated student learning. It was here where I first tried out my idea of a learning games portal. I began searching for online learning games and activities that related to the curriculum goals of the subjects I taught. I was amazed by the number of quality, interactive, learning experiences that were merely a click or two away.
The feedback from students, teachers, parents, and administration was overwhelmingly positive. I continued to find and add more resources to the website. I placed a counter on the website to monitor student use. It was clear that students were using the site frequently at home. The success of the website motivated me to do more.
In the fall of 2000, I was enrolled in an online course called "Introduction to Web Development." The final project was the creation of a website. I chose to develop Gamequarium. This was an ideal situation. As I worked on the project, I received feedback from my instructor and teacher-classmates from all over the world. I also shared the project with my students each step of the way. I asked for their opinions in matters of design, graphics, and navigation. Many times I received feedback from teachers that conflicted with suggestions from my students. The teachers disliked the yellow text and cautioned me about using too many animated gifs and too much music. The children loved the yellow text, wanted more animation, and were thrilled with the music. You can tell from the current website whose advice I chose to follow. This site was for children, so I considered children the experts.
I completed the course and the original five-page site, with links to about 300 learning activities for students in grades 3-6, in December of 2000. As luck would have it, we had a snowy December here in Missouri. Lots of snow means no school! This gave me time to arrange web hosting and upload files to the server. On December 21, 2000, Gamequarium was introduced to the world.
I decided to begin publishing a weekly newsletter in conjunction with the site so that I could share these activities with other teachers and students. I continued to search for online learning activities to add to Gamequarium. I was and continue to be amazed by the wonderful learning opportunities that the Internet makes possible. The Gamequarium site now contains more than 90 pages and more than 1500 links to online, learning activities and games.
In January of 2001, I began a course called "Advanced Web Design and Development." Again, the final project was the creation of a website. I chose to create Gamequarium Junior, using the same concept as Gamequarium. The intended audience of Junior is preschool through second grade students. It was completed and launched in April of 2001.
In May of 2001, I taught my students to create online learning games using the services of Quia.com. Students worked in cooperative groups to choose a topic, conduct research using the Internet, develop the game concept and questions, and create the game using templates at Quia.com. Student then played each others games and provided feedback to other students. Email links were included in the games so that students can receive feedback from others around the world. The results of their efforts are posted on Gamequarium. Student-created games are indicated by a flashing light bulb. I invited teachers and students to replicate this project and submit their game URLs to me so that they can be posted on Gamequarium.
I am amazed by the response I have received from these websites. Gamequarium has had more than 129,000 visitors in its first six months on the Internet. Gamequarium Junior has been visited more than 13,000 times in its first two months. More than 100 schools and classrooms have linked to Gamequarium. My newsletter subscriber list is approaching 500 teachers from nearly every state in the United States, and many countries around the world, including New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia, France, and the United Kingdom.
If you made it to the end of this story, I applaud your interest and attention span! You may be wondering what I plan to do next. I will continue to maintain and improve Gamequarium. Next year in my classroom, I will have one computer for every student! All teaching and learning will be completed using the resources of the Internet. I am not sure who is more excited by this opportunity, me or my students!
To prepare for the year ahead, I am designing online inquiry and literature units, an online math workshop, and an online language arts lab. I will let you know when I have them ready. For now, hit the back button and learn something new on Gamequarium, my gift to the children of the world.