Chris Flanagan on the infinite benefits of creating your own mini-web
Do you get tired of having your lessons disrupted by the children from 5C who wonder if your class could just spare a few moments to answer some questions for a survey on favourite foods that they are doing?
If so, the intranet - which allows one computer to communicate with all the others in your school - is the answer to your prayers. It is the ideal means to collect such information and have it in a form that children can later use and manipulate.
With an intranet, teachers can present pupils with information tailored just for them and, using a web browser - the frame in which your web page sits and which you use to navigate your way around the Net - and other Internet tools such as e-mail, it can prepare them for using the web for real.
It also empowers the learner - such as Jamie, with special needs, who can have the computer read instructions to him; or Melanie, who can create new things on her own or with her friends; or Joella, who can see her work published for the rest of the juniors to read.
Some activities, which illustrate exactly what is possible, were carried out in my own school as part of a book week.
Never-ending story An obvious choice was a collaborative story, added to each day by classes in turn. This provided a good opportunity for shared writing during the literacy hour. We decided that starting and ending the story might prove the most challenging tasks, so these were entrusted to Year 5 and Year 6 - the older children started and finished the story, while the younger ones continued. (Here's a crossover point. Sandpiper class: The wolf dragged her into the forest where the rest of the wolves were having dinner. "What are we having for dinner Boss?" said a ruff voice. "We are having roast girl!" Avocet class: "Please don't eat me!" said Emma. The wolves got closer and closer - they were dribbling at the mouth! Emma was getting scaredI) Knowing that others would be reading their writing was highly motivating - the children wanted to make strong contributions, and spent considerable time refining their work before they released it for others to read. After an extensive draftredraft stage, with the class teacher or most keyboard-capable pupil acting as "scribe", a class contribution was entered into a web page. Those who had already made contributions logged on regularly to see how the story had progressed.
Buried treasure Children like a challenge and an element of competition. Hence our second activity was a treasure hunt. This involved a bit of preparation by teachers in finding good literacy-related sites to send the children scavenging off to where they could find clues. The challenges were sent to the children via e-mail by the bookworm - me - operating from an e-mail address that I created with our Internet provider for the task.
We chose sites that were child-friendly and provided things to do while they were there. So engrossed did one group become in the activities at Willie Wonka's site (www.wonka.com, operated by sweet-makers Nestle) that they forgot to get the treasure and had to go back again later - or was this a deliberate ploy, I wonder?
The "treasure" can be anything from finding a fact to collecting a graphic from the site - being careful about copyright issues, of course. Having to e-mail the treasure back to the bookworm made the children think about the best way of collecting a lot of information - copying from their web browser and pasting into their e-mail isn't always the obvious thing to do if children are not already aware that information can be exchanged this way between different software programs.
Market research Using the intranet is a good opportunity to access some of the data information-handling aspects of the numeracy and ICT curriculum.
We decided to put this to good use in our book week project. One class wante to find out about the book habits of children in the school, and set about designing some questions. With help from a teacher these were translated into a form that could be completed by any child using the intranet. Answers were saved to one file in a text format (Text Only or Word) that were then imported into the database program (in our case Junior Pinpoint, from Logotron, call 01223 425558 or visit the company's website at www.logo.com).This saved hours of translating from paper and allowed the children to immediately begin sorting the information and displaying results in brilliantly coloured graphs.
The next logical step is for the children to publish the results of their survey as a web page on the intranet. Once again, because the children know that there is a real audience for what they produce - and one with a vested interest as the provider of the original data - they are keen to get it right and won't publish it until they are sure it is.
Art and design Our next activity allowed the children to use art and design skills. We came up with some fictitious titles for the children to design a book cover for. The designs were completed using our standard desktop publishing program, Multimedia TextEase (published by Softease Ltd, call 01335 343421 or visit www.textease.com).
This has a useful set of drawing and painting tools and allows full control over the layoutorientation of page elements such as text and graphics. Multimedia TextEase also makes it possible to save work as a web page, so it is simple to publish the finished designs on the intranet.
Working on design activities in this way allows children freedom to experiment and try things out that they would not be able to do using paper-based methods. It takes just a few seconds to try out the main title at the top, middle, and at the bottom, even running it vertically at the side of the page. Some children found it useful to be able to save work at different stages of completion, to provide a record of how their design developed.
This activity could be developed further with older children by introducing a collaboration element. We tried such a venture across the Internet earlier this year with a school in New Zealand. One group created a text-based description of the book cover, describing the layout and a pictorial scene. Children 14,000 miles away attempted to create this visually and sent the result attached to an e-mail for comment.
The children found that they had to be very precise in the instructions that they gave for modifications. Communicating ideas clearly proved to be a skill that needed practice.
After several exchanges, an "approved" design was created. This could just as easily be done across an Intranet.
Title deeds Have you read the book How to Stay Awake All Night by Mustapha Kipp? If your answer is "no", I wouldn't be surprised, as it is one of more than 50 book titles invented by the children during book week and posted on the intranet. Contributions became infectious, with children taking a theme, developing and improving upon it. What better and more enjoyable way of encouraging children to play with words, their meanings and language?
There are pitfalls, of course, and in our case this was in children getting carried away, and making one or two contributions that were a bit "near the knuckle". However, good came of it as it was turned into a letter-writing exercise to the bookworm to apologise for any offence caused to less broadminded readers! Nonetheless, gems such as Hunting Panthers by Leo Pards and The Egyptians by R K Ologist more than outnumbered the trivia.
Chris Flanagan is head of Sutton-on-Sea primary school. Visit www.sutton.lincs.sch.ukLiteracy weblinks can be found at:The TES Primary website:www.tes.co.ukThe Learnfree website:www.learnfree.co.uk. BECTA's Virtual Teachers' Centre: http:vtc.ngfl.gov.ukresourceliteracyindex.html