3The learning verve starts here

7th January 2000 at 00:00
Why should pupils be passive users of multimedia when they can write their own programs? Vivi Lachs reports on Hackney schools that are discovering the educational value of pupils as authors

Not much gravity on the moon, You can find more on the Earth." As the rap came to an end showers of balloons fell on a delighted audience of pupils. Each red, yellow and blue balloon was stamped with a title - 1 2 3, The Genetics Fair, Expedition Space and The Electricity Line - and pupils scurried to find one bearing the name of their own project to take home as a souvenir. Because this was no usual audience of Hackney pupils, but the authors of CD-Roms of curriculum software, produced to present science and literacy classwork to other pupils.

Pupils are familiar with multimedia's mix of text, images, animation, sound and video thanks to computer games, CD-Roms and the Internet. However, they don't usually make their own. Which is a shame: authoring multimedia teaches a variety of skills from planning to designing. And rather than be a passive audience, pupils as multimedia authors have to consider their audience. They must research for accurate information, and write in clear, concise language that is easy to understand, entertaining and interactive.

Interactivity gives the audience something to do: choices about where to click on the screen and ideas to talk about. This changes the multimedia presentation from a linear narrative to a more complex structure where one screen may lead to several others. Such appreciation of audience and non-linear narrative is apparent in the latest crop of humorous and informative CD-Roms produced by Hackney pupils.

1 2 3 consists of five whole-class projects by children in years one, two and three. A sense of audience encouraged pupils to spin a good yarn and give lots of choices for the player. Told by six and seven-year-olds of St Dominic's Infant school, Petsy is the story of Nadege and Matthew who find a strange creature in the playground and don't know what to do with it. The screens are full of images of uniformed seven-year-olds. Clicking on a child gives you their conversation: "It looks like a colourful hedgehog," and "I hope it doesn't bite." In an attempt to find out where Petsy comes from, the two main characters travel (in whatever order the audience decides) to a rainforest, New York, Marks and Spencer's in Hackney's Mare Street and Saturn.

Each screen contains a hypertext word that links to rhyming words. For example, The word "ring" in "Waiting for the bell to ring" links to other "Iing" words, and the class teacher described how the girl who came up with "sing" sung the word when they were adding sounds to the program. This prompted the other pupils to re-record their voices singing their wrds because they thought it would be funnier for other children to listen to.

In Expedition Space, a class of 10 and 11-year-olds from Sebright school were taught how to program a graphic so that it could be dragged across the screen. This allowed it to become part of a game in which the audience had to drag pictures into the right position: pupils produced half-planets that had to be dragged and joined to their correct other half; draggable arrows showed the forces acting on people in different situations; and they made draggable kit and equipment to clothe an astronaut. Their teacher admitted this new-found technical know-how had its drawbacks: "When they found out they could make objects draggable, they wanted to do it with everything even if it wasn't always appropriate."

Secondary students brought their appreciation of audience to the fore in The Genetics Fair, which made work on evolution and genetics accessible to a younger audience. This meant fine-tuning sentences, testing them with each other until they felt they were simple enough. Two 14-year-old girls from Cardinal Pole school were working on the inheritance laws of Gregor Mendel. They explained: "You have to make sure the language goes with the sort of people you want it for. If you do it for older people and it's too babyish then older people will find it too babyish. If it's for younger people and it's too old, they won't understand it."

This pair had made a collage of peas from coloured paper and added a line drawing of Mendel that they scanned into the computer as a background to their written information. One of the girls explained how important it was to use illustrations and diagrams so that younger children "wouldn't get bored and go on to something else".

The final CD-Rom, The Electricity Line, from Gainsbrough Primary, explores the day-to-day science of electricity through the illustrations and animations of the Year 5 pupils.

In launching their CD-Roms the pupil-authors showed off their work to an audience that contained the Department for Education and Employment's Ralph Taberrer, the mayor of Hackney, London Electricity and BBC Education, as well as teachers and fellow pupils. The software titles were celebrated in poetic style: "So well done to y'all, let's cheer like the proms, For our pupils who made four CD-Roms."

Vivi Lachs is the author of a teacher's guide with CD-Rom, Making Multimedia in the Classroom, to be published by Routledge in April 2000. This can be ordered direct by telephoning 01264 342939 and quoting ISBN 0415216842123, Expedition Space, The Genetics Fair and The Electricity Line Price: pound;5 each Available from TAG's BETTstand: F50 or by contacting Theresa McAndrew Tel: 0181356 7431 www.hackney-making-multimedia.org.uk

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