Emotions and technology might not seem to be natural bedfellows, but the right project can catch imaginations, says Alex Savage.Bringing more relevant themes into technology is a challenge. However, it can be done, as this project, dealing with children's feelings about learning, shows. It is also helpful to find ways of bridging the gap between the ways pupils use computers in school and at home.
My school is involved in Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL), the government's drive to help schools improve social and behavioural skills.
My Year 7 pupils created presentations about their family and hobbies, but this was rather dull and the content of what they produced did not teach them anything new.
So we used an "emotions tree" diagram, with images of lots of people in a tree, their faces all showing different emotions. I asked the pupils to choose which characters best summed up their own personality and to write about why.
I decided the best way to get my pupils to share ideas and find the best descriptive language for their emotions was to use www.edublogs.org, a free educational blog site, to create "My Emotions Tree".
Ideas were put up quickly on the web and the pupils were invited to contribute comments.
This is a safe and easy way to use web2.0, as there is no need to generate accounts and the comments are moderated by the teacher before they go live on the internet.
The faces elicited quite emotive responses. One pupil chose a figure who looks afraid to climb higher up the tree. She wrote: "I feel like this person when I am in a class that I am not so good at, so I must cling on to hope that I will still get a good result." Another identified with the smiley fellow at the very top: "I feel like this person when I do well at lessons and get it right, because I have tried really hard."
To add a global dimension to our research, I created a project page on eLanguages, a Department for Children, Schools and Families-funded website enabling teachers around the world to link up and swap ideas and resources (www.elanguages.org).
I soon had a response from a school in New Delhi, where pupils were posting their descriptions of emotions.
You can imagine the cries of excitement when my pupils were reading their comments and found phrases written by Nikita, Dhruv, Eashan and their classmates in India.
I have found that my pupils prefer creating presentations about their feelings towards school life rather than their families and hobbies.
I have also been surprised at how personal some of their phrases are.
SEAL is an interesting theme to explore with my pupils, not only because it gets them talking about their emotions, but it also teaches them valuable lessons about positive attitudes towards learning and the need to understand themselves better, which will help them learn.
Often in technology, we concentrate more on how to create a product rather than the message that it is trying to communicate. I believe that allowing pupils time to produce work on themes relevant to their lives leads to better results and progress.
Alex Savage is an Advanced Skills Teacher in technology at Notre Dame High School in Norwich.
Website: Richard Finnigan, a technology teacher, has created a website with lesson plans and tutorials provided, covering databases, LOGO, control technology, photo editing and other resources, all freely available, with a gallery of work and worksheets. www.richardsthings.co.uk
Software: Control Insight 2.5 (Logotron, pound;89). This flexible tool allows computer simulation or real-life control components to be used for measurement, recording and controlling. Good graphics and an excellent teaching and learning guide. www.logo.comcontrolinsight
Book: KS3 ICT Dictionary by Steve Neal (Letts, pound;6), helps pupils understand the terms in use. Linked to the QCA scheme. www.lettsed.co.uk