From Sandaig to Sydney
CHILDREN ENJOY novelty, change, drama and excitement. But schools work best where there is planning, structure, organisation and control. This tension between learners and teachers is why many of the latter have grey hairs.
It is also why kids love computers but their teachers take to them more slowly. Technology can bring the unpredictability of the outside world into the classroom, says John Johnston, who teaches at Sandaig Primary in Glasgow. But there is another perspective.
"There has been a lot of talk about how Web 2.0 blogs, podcasts, wikis is creating a revolution. But in a way, it is simply more of what we as primary teachers have always done. We display children's work to help them realise it's important and to generate feedback. What we're now doing with blogs and podcasts is displaying our children's work on a much bigger wall."
The worldwide wall has exactly the same function as children's drawings, paintings, photos and poems displayed on classroom or corridor walls, says Mr Johnston.
"If a child gives me a poem and I say, 'Make me a good copy and we'll put it on the wall', that encourages and motivates him or her. If he or she gets feedback from an international audience, it has even greater impact. Then again, you are always trying to set tasks that feel real to kids. If they're doing a podcast and they know it's going to be listened to and commented on by people from Bangkok to the United States, it can't get much more real."
Checking class blogs becomes part of the daily routine and often throws up pleasant surprises. "A comment has gone up from a woman in the United States on a poetry project blog we set up some time ago. She says Lucy's poem about an elephant is fantastic and is going to use it in a presentation. That is real validation of a child's work. Lucy is in secondary school so we'll let her know via her sister."
Feedback from the worldwide display wall is usually more immediate and can take teachers and pupils in educationally productive but unexpected directions, says Mr Johnston. "We were looking at a class blog in Australia where they'd made these things called flic-flacs in a science lesson. Our class left a comment on their blog saying, 'Sounds interesting what are they?'"
The Sydney pupils posted instructions for making the jumping cardboard toys, he says. "Our class followed the instructions, then shot a wee video and posted it to our blog so they could see us doing their thing. The Australian kids said they'd been trying an electricity experiment they'd found on our blog. So there you've got validation and good feedback for both classes from the other side of the world."
John Johnston will be sharing his ideas on the worldwide display wall at this year's Scottish Learning Festival at the SECC in Glasgow, September 19, 12.30pm
BLOGGING STEP BY STEP
Blogging is easy to set up but harder to establish in a classroom, says John Johnston. It takes time to get the organisation right and to keep it going unless you think of it as an activity you would be doing anyway. Here's his advice on starting out:
Read some of the blogs at ScotEdublogs.org.uk.
Test out blogging software. Take time to play with features and learn to upload images, audio and video.
Start whole-class blog as shared reading exercise.
Comment on other school blogs.
Set the tone; devise blogging rules if necessary.
Organise rota of pairs of pupils posting.
Set up short-term blogs for activities such as poetry competitions or school trips.
Keep it going.