DKFindOut! research tool for ages 7-11 years

Illustrated non-fiction publisher DK is developing a range of digital resources the latest of which is DKFindOut! a free educational website for children, parents and teachers. We asked teachers and librarians to tell us what they thought of the new website.

DKFindOut can be used in the classroom, library and at home to explore a range of educational topics at Key Stage 2 (7-11 years).

The website covers key points of the KS2 National Curriculum including science, mathematics, geography, history, animals and nature, Earth, the human body, music and English, with the facts on the website authenticated by experts, says DK, which also promises to expand the range of subjects covered in the coming months.

The online information is supported by sound, video animation, photography and quizzes, making it a fun way to explore new subjects.

Additional content and functionality includes a teacher area with tools for teachers to create lesson plans, and there is support for parents. Further features and content will be added throughout the coming year.

We asked librarians and teachers to take a look at the website for us and to provide some feedback about how useful they found it and whether they felt children would enjoy using it?

Finding on-line information at an age-appropriate level for this age group (seven to 11 years) can be a challenge says Anne Thompson from Notre Dame School in Cobham, Surrey, so she welcomes the a new site from a "trusted, well-known name", especially as it is freely available.

Librarian Katherine Richardson from East Riding in Yorkshire agrees, saying, "I am always looking for resources that are safe to recommend to children who are studying on their own in the library. I tend to stick to our paid subscription of Encyclopedia Britannica because it is easy to use, at an appropriate level for primary school children and, most importantly, is authoritative.

"This website look to be in the same league. DK is already a trusted provider of information and it is presented in an interesting way that will help children explore and learn without feeling like they are studying." She adds, "I have always liked DK reference books for children because of their excellent pictures and it is good to see that the website is based around the same type of content."

The information on the website is divided into subject areas, linked to the school curriculum. "The section on the natural world is extremely good with plentiful detail and there is also a key facts list that is a very useful feature," says Thompson. "It would be helpful if a geography area was incorporated to include countries around the world." Other suggestions from our reviewers included sections on workhouses/poorhouses (although there is already some information under child labour in Victorian times), as well as more on transport and also famous people.

As well as its good range of subjects, Thompson says the website has clearly been designed with the child in mind. "The clear, uncluttered style looks attractive and the hot spots make searching intuitive for younger children. Younger Primary children may find the text a bit of a challenge but those of about 9+ should be able to manage." She felt it could also be useful for younger secondary students because of the information provided and the level of text used.

The level of interactivity the website offers and its layout makes it appealing to reluctant readers and especially to boys, says Emma Nicholls from Westcliffe Primary School in Scunthorpe. She suggests listing the associated DK book that can be used to further a child's research alongside the website. Richardson would also want to use the website to encourage reluctant readers to browse the physical books, to see how they correspond to the website that they have just been playing on.

Richardson points to a number of child-friendly features on the website, including the short chunks of text and information plus the number of hyperlinks to click on. "The pictures are very attractive and children like websites where they have to click around a lot to find the information, that is something they definitely like to do."

Navigation also looks straightforward, although Richardson would suggest having a 'home' symbol on every page - something that is familiar to children - rather than a cross to exit specific pieces of information. She was concerned that, since their library, like many schools, blocks YouTube, children wouldn't be able to use the videos on the website.

Westcliffe Primary School has been using the website with its children for the past few weeks, mainly during lunchtimes and the morning library session when the children have opportunity to use the computers and ipads. The KS2 children have enjoyed accessing the site and found it user-friendly says Nicholls, especially as topics they are currently studying featuring on the site. She would use the website with Year 3 and above and adds, "The website could be used by teachers alongside other forms of media when doing topic work as the vocabulary and text level are age-appropriate."

She found that the children enjoy the interactivity of the website, especially the quizzes which were the most popular activity among KS2 pupils, as well as the sound element (for example, when looking at dinosaurs). They would, however, liked to have seen more videos.

Richardson would also like to see the videos and quizzes linked directly to the relevant content since children wouldn't necessarily search out the videos or quizzes themselves. But overall, she says, "I think the website it really intuitive. It is simple to navigate and search plus all of the hyperlinks are really obvious."

There were some criticisms, for example, having to scroll through longer paragraphs by pulling down on a red button, which Richardson feels can be off-putting as many children find that level of control with a mouse difficult. "It would be much more user-friendly to have up/down arrows at the bottom of the paragraph that can be simply clicked on to scroll through the text".

Overall, however, Nicholls says, "The website is useful for children and simple for them to use and the content is appropriate and accessible for those aged seven to 11 years." She adds, "I'm interested to see how the parental element is incorporated into the website as we are always looking for ways to involve parents into their child's learning."

Richardson says she would "definitely" encourage families to use it and has already emailed the link to some local homeschooling families that she knows. "Homeschooling seems to be a growing trend and I think the intuitive nature of the website would be particularly attractive to parents who wish to educate their children in this way."

Although the site is still new and currently in beta phase, initial impressions are "very good" says Thompson; "This is definitely a website that will be useful both at home and in school as a research tool."

In response to their feedback, Sophie Mitchell, publishing director for education & children at DK, says, "We created DKfindout! for children, parents and teachers so it is fantastic to receive such detailed feedback here. It's really important to us, and will help us make the site even better. Our vision for the site has always been to turn learning into a completely interactive and compelling experience that appeals to children."

DKFindOut! research tool for ages 7-11 years
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