Interview | Why Sharon Lowe Believes in Habitat Heroes

Sharon Lowe is the Chief Crusader and Founder of Habitat Heroes. An Australian entrepreneur and mother, Sharon was inspired to create Habitat Heroes while watching her children enjoying online games; she came to the conclusion that while online gaming is great fun for kids, it could be educational as well. During 2007-2008, she built a platform based on the premise that children love to play, and they should play and have fun. She asked, “What if playing games online could help children become socially aware?” Sharon then enhanced the Habitat Heroes site with detailed educational elements, so that children could be aware of social and environmental issues, and learn about them at an early age. Constantly updated with activities, the site includes treasure hunts, competitions and more to entice, educate and engage with children. Educators have been impressed. Sharon has built partnerships and relationships with international environmental groups and charities including the Green Schools Alliance, Yahoo Kids, National Association of Independent Schools, Greening Australia, Australian Conservation Foundation, and PlayPumps International. She lives in Australia with her husband and three children; here she shares her views on education, technology and the story behind Habitat Heroes.

Victor: Why did you create Habitat Heroes?

Sharon: I started Habitat Heroes after seeing that there were many start-up companies offering websites and games to children that had no redeeming social or educational value. Seeing children’s natural enthusiasm for the web platform, I decided I want to offer a more meaningful alternative. A fun children’s site that uses games, educational material and safesocial networking to teach children the problems facing the planet and ways to make things better.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Sharon: The name Habitat Heroes means being someone who does his or her best to improve the environment and state of social being. It refers to people being good global citizens and doing a little bit extra to help our environment and social responsibility then they did previously.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Sharon: I created Habitat Heroes (www.HabitatHeroes.com) to be an exciting online world where children can have fun and interact with friends around the world, while learning about ways to protect the planet and its animals.  Education-based games and activities, treasure hunts and puzzles entertain and teach children about animal extinction, healthy eating, water and land rejuvenation, recycling, global warming and others challenges facing Planet Earth.

We have partnered with Yahoo! Kids, The Green School Alliance, Al Gore’s The Climate Project, Zoos Victoria and Greening Australia as well as relationships with other organisations such as the National Association of Independent Schools and the Australian Conservation Foundation to bring the most current expert information to the children. As well as the virtual world, Habitat Heroes developed School Safari which we specifically designed for schools. It has no social networking capacity and is topic driven. Schools and individuals use both areas of the site.

Outside the website, we strive to bring the lessons from the website into the real world and to empower children. Programs such as the Climate Quilt Campaign (www.climatequilt.org) which launched in New York during Climate Week (Sept 22nd), ultimately serves as a material symbol, made from recycled materials, of children’s hopes and dreams for the future of the Earth and their commitment to doing their part to save their world. Educational events for students are also regularly held.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Sharon: The goal of the site is to entertain kids while teaching them about the world around them.  Habitat Heroes is also about giving kids a voice and teaching them that together they can be a powerful force for change. The world has become such a small place and we truly are part of a global community as well as a local one. Children need to understand that no matter what areas they are interested in they can make a difference whether it be through education and awareness, performance, science, politics or arts. There are lots of ways to have an impact. 

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Sharon: Habitat Heroes has brought entertainment and games for children with a real educational focus. What is unique is that we have melded 21st century learning with environmental studies. We are the first website to combine lessons on the planet and sustainability into a games platform that encompasses multidiscipline learning with sustainability, multiculturalism and social values. There is a great emphasis on our impacts and how they affect others. This point is highlighted through our partnerships and alignments with various charities around the world. Habitat Heroes has also brought a large variety of experts in all these related areas together.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Sharon: I came up with the concept for Habitat Heroes in 2007. Research and development of the platform progressed through 2007/08 drawing upon the resources of international experts in all the related technology and social networking areas, as well as experts in all the environmental, species and planet disciplines.

What we came up with is a well balanced website that is responsible and well-researched as well as fun and entertaining to kids in the target age group. Habitat Heroes was tested and reviewed by a cross section of students and educators culminating with its launch on Earth Day April 22nd 2009.

We constantly update Habitat Heroes with games and activities, including treasure hunts, competitions and more to entice, educate and engage with children. Educational professionals have been enthralled by the concept.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Sharon: I am Australian but being internet based, it is International. If you have internet access, you can access Habitat Heroes. It is easy to use since there are no downloads involved making it ready to use anytime, anywhere.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Sharon: The virtual world is free. There is also a premium membership rate which give members access all areas to the site:

[first shown: US$, then $AUD]

3 months -

$14.95

$16.95

6 months -

$29.95

$32.95

1 year -

$49.95

$54.95

There is also an educator section known as School Safari developed with the classroom environment in mind. This section provides loads of activites, lesson plans, teacher’s notes, videos and other cool resources in an easily accessible way.

[first shown: US$, then $AUD]

Teacher (30 subscriptions)

$69

$85.95

School (350 subscriptions)

$495

$590.26

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Habitat Heroes is being used in schools as well as in children’s homes and is being developed in consultation with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD). In addition to our relationship with the DEECD, Habitat Heroes has partnerships with Yahoo! Kids, The Green School Alliance, Al Gore’s The Climate Project, Zoos Victoria and Greening Australia as well as other organisations. Habitat Heroes is featured on Yahoo’s Kids Homepageeducation and games network areas. You can see footage of Habitat Heroes on ABC News9AM and The Today show.

Habitat Heroes is an innovative company which also strives to bring the lessons from the website into the real world and empower children. Programs such as the Climate Quilt Campaign (www.climatequilt.org) which launched in New York during Climate Week (Sept 22nd), ultimately serves as a material symbol, made from recycled materials, of children’s hopes and dreams for the future of the Earth and their commitment to doing their part to save their world.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it NOT for?

Sharon: Habitat Heroes is aimed at 6-14 year olds who love to play and have fun, but have a keen interest in the world around them It is also a great multi discipline resource for parents, teachers and other educators to assist teaching children about our recycling, endangered animals, water, environmental disasters, biodiversity, culture and modern social values at the same time as general educational competencies such as ICT, literacy and numeracy. It is a place for children to safely play and learn, not for people who are interested in bullying or disrespecting others.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Sharon: Despite worldwide cuts in education funding, educators and teachers are being proactive and being resourceful. Educators K-12, are embracing Web 2.0 technologies in ever increasing numbers to bring the world directly into the classroom making all sorts of educational experiences accessible in ways previously unseen. 21st-century learning principles are key for the next decade. Children are being taught how to be active and responsible citizens of the planet, so that they become the strong, active and empowered adults who are inheriting our planet.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Habitat Heroes?

Sharon: I am a very visual learner. Using enticing resources like Habitat Heroes would have helped me have a better understanding of difficult and sensitive topics and to engage with them more actively.

Victor: How does Habitat Heroes address some of your concerns about education?

Sharon: The “no child left behind” strategy is key in Habitat Heroes core values and is reflected in our content development and the programs we run externally (to the website) which provide lots of opportunities for students to learn about their world in their own unique ways.

I am concerned about children being isolated from education opportunities due to issues such as socio economic status or simply because of the isolated nature of where they might live. It is for this reason that I have kept basic membership of Habitat Heroes free – to give access to everyone.

In fact, I deliberately structured areas of the website into free or premium based on this very platform. Areas that we think are necessary for children’s education in the 21st century, that teach valuable information or important core values have been left free for this reason.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Sharon: The next decade is going to be all about 21st century learning. It will overtake current traditional pedagogical practices. Interdisciplinary, project-based learning incorporating web 2.0 technologies is the future of education.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Habitat Heroes? What makes you say that?

Sharon: Habitat Heroes is a great resource for the classroom that keeps children enthusiastic and engaged using a platform they enjoy which is safe and comprehensive. It is a leader in this new Web 2.0 educational revolution. In additional to all that is offered through Habitat Heroes, we provide lots of resources to support teachers.

We try to conduct ourselves in a manner that it very responsive to their needs, providing facilities like School Safari which deliver Habitat Heroes games content in a closed (no social networking) environment together with lots of lesson plans, teachers notes, quizzes, and other resources to be used in the classroom.

We are open to suggestions and communication from educators and leaders and take all feedback seriously – in fact, this is the best way we know to deliver what educators need to help them excel. Currently, we are running a series of webinars to inspire and assist educators in their classrooms as well as some fabulous pilot programs designed to activate students even further. For enquiries contact us at schools@HabitatHeroes.com, we would love to hear from educators everywhere.

Victor: Excellent—sounds exciting, Sharon! Anything further you care to add or emphasize?

Sharon: Habitat Heroes (www.HabitatHeroes.com) is an exciting online world where children can have fun and interact with friends around the world, while learning about ways to protect the planet and its animals. Education-based games and activities, treasure hunts and puzzles entertain and teach children about animal extinction, healthy eating, water and land rejuvenation, recycling, global warming and others challenges facing Planet Earth in line with the Resourcesmart AuSSI Framework.

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of Edtech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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One Response to Interview | Why Sharon Lowe Believes in Habitat Heroes

  1. Pingback: 50 Fascinating Edupreneurs | edtechdigest.com

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