In answering the first question the students do find the environment relatively easy to work with. When modelling how to use the space I have tended to describe it to them as a modular system rather like a construction set. Lets say we want to build a car from LEGO, then we get together a set of bricks with axles, and add wheels, we use transparent bricks to install windows, and other pieces we collect together, we arrange on a base to develop the vehicle, adding modules or bricks as we go rearranging them to gain the effect or shapes that we want to achieve. With think.com we initially have a base, or blank space, and as we want to develop the space we insert modules or widgets to do or hold particular things. If I want to add text, I insert a writing brick, if I want to insert a picture or two I add a picture brick and so on. If I want to rearrange them I use up and down arrows to move them about the page, and likewise if I want to reorganise my pages I can do the same, using up and down arrows to change the order.
I visited our community this afternoon, as I had asked a group of students I am working with on a DT project to set up a new page to record and log the progress of our project to share ideas with each other, and to seek help in collecting materials we might need in order to develop our project when we return from the half term break. I had proposed that the pages could also act as a space to collect together group thoughts about how we might present our project to the judges at the final exhibition day in June. In this example, the student had visited our school website and blog, in order to download images he could use to support his presentation. He has also inserted a hyperlinked list to direct other community members to our project blog, and added a brainstorm/discussion board to his page inviting other students in the community to contribute ideas to his project. Other members of the team have followed suit, and within the discussion boards the group are beginning to share their thoughts. He has also contacted me through think, using email, to ask questions consolidating his thoughts about the project, and offering suggestions about how I could alter and edit the web pages we have uploaded. As an active member of the community, he also takes on additional responsibilities offering support to other students who want to know how to do things when an adult is not online, and acting as a "think buddy," highlighting and pointing out transgressions from our online agreement when visiting other pages. What was touching is how as a year six student he has also kept a Blog, during SATs week that made very interesting reading. Within our community he is not alone in this.
Although we have some students who use their spaces as display boards for favourite footballers, pop stars, wrestlers and the like, this weekend has been a bit of a special time for Bristolians, with the confirmation of a double promotion in the football league, and this has been a stimulus for a change in the upload process, with male students particularly and as young as year 3 suddenly uploading images of the Gas and the Robins with supporting text, and photos from the local newspapers. This is I feel more than justification for providing spaces like this for students, particularly as we have many reluctant recorders, and in order to engage with this environment and the community as a whole, the students must engage textually. Writing about city or rovers, is a start and something which interests them, this space has enabled and facilitated a sharing of interests. Writing for a purpose, identified by them, and for an audience of peers.
As an environment Think has many possibilities, and everytime I visit it I encounter student innovation and creativity. Three of my favourite favourite spaces are a gaming space developed by a year 6 student, an e zine style space constructed by one of our year 6 girls and the agony aunt style spaces built by our school councillors, who regularly update in order to seek opinions through the use of votes and discussion boards. During our end of term review, the year 3 and 4 students who were introduced to the environment for the first time this term, suggested a host of things they would like to develop with their class teachers, such as utilising the space to collect ideas and thoughts for their VCOP work, and the big writes they engage in in class. They suggested publishing research and topic based pages to their think spaces, and unlike many of their older peers who have tended to use Think rather like MSN and My Space, these students were keen to write and publish material about what they were doing in class, have written short poems and uploaded images relating to topic work, before going off to engage with their peers, through interactivities published around the material they had uploaded. This bodes well for future developments and use of the space as an embedded tool for cross curricular ICT development. What needs to happen now however, is full involvement by colleagues to build on the enthusiasm and excitement that the space has generated in their students, to structure the space for their use as a collaborative learning environment. It would be great to see think used regularly within literacy hours, as a starting point for or as final outcome for the presentation of classsroom activities. Watch this space.