Bill And Ben's Outstanding Adventure: Closing One Chapter to Begin a New for Online Learning

Another lively week has come to an end. An evening with Alan November on Tuesday was an enlightening and thoroughly thought provoking experience, but as I am sure he would agree from the sentiments he expressed regarding Networked learning the highlight for me was my DT challenge group's Airbus event on Thursday, Sorry Alan, I will get back to my thoughts on what you had to say later, but this event and the processes leading up to it backed up strongly many of the powerful things he had to say about the power of ICTs to support collaborative online learning, even if still at a very embryonic stage in our school.

From the beginning I was keen to tie ICT to the development of the project, and members of the team were expected to use their think spaces regularly in to develop and share ideas about the vehicle they were developing. Each of the older students particularly installed "Airbus Project pages." In the beginning they all developed very different ideas about how the space should be used, doing simple research about the aircraft that the company makes and uploading images, while other's used the space to keep simple blogs of their activity. As the project developed however, they also began to install brainstorms and question and answer spaces so they could talk to their friends about and share what they had been doing, including hyperlinks as referrers to the team's project blog, and the web page we were building iteratively around the project as it unfolded. As the project drew to a close and we were preparing for the challenge day, thinkspaces gradually became a hub of activity for our presenters, who used the space to share the PowerPoint presentations they were developing with each other, and as a way of geting home developed files into into school. The students also used email as a means of keeping in touch with me, asking for advice and seeking support about how to do some of the more adventurous things they wanted to achieve with their PowerPoint shows.

As well as online activity a number of really nice activities emerged from the project as it developed. I love cross curricular work and so this "off Curriculum" project was a real diamond for me. Design and Technology as a process rather than a subject is often seen not as a guided series of interelated activities, but chunked into Focussed Practical Tasks, then Investigative, Disassembly and Evaluation activities, before an independent or group based Design and Make Activity. Design and Technology for young students particularly is rarely seen as an ongoing iterative series of interelated events, we expect our youngsters to plan make and test from the outset, though as research by colleagues such as Gill Hope suggests, this is something which many young students find problematic, while I know from experience that teachers find more iterative processes difficult to manage and keep track of. Using Webpages and Blogging enabled us to faciliate this through the recording of our Practical DT activities through text supported digital photography, and to plot the process as a "narative of learning" as we worked, through tasks as they emerged. From the outset students had a clear design brief, this was chunked and success criteria identified, before we engaged with the required scientific concepts, or the making skills required to develop our vehicle. Disassembly and evaluation activities were mixed in with focussed practical tasks as required, and the internet used as a source to find examples of ideas used in the real world to meet our needs in developing the project. Working in small groups the students developed prototype designs, and these were tested unpowered, using Excel to help us make our tests fair, testing each vehicle several times before finding the average distance travelled. The students then redesigned or borrowed aspects from each other's prototypes to improve their designs, before retesting in the same way, and chosing one final vehicle to develop as a group. All of this developmental work was photographed and included in the ongoing learning story.

Once we had our final design came the development of presentations to share our work, the back story to the project and so on. We used PowerPoint to create a supporting frame for oral delivery, the children used content from their think spaces, the group blog and project web pages to do this. We delegated and shared out roles, and two of the older students spent out of school time developing this aspect of the project as I said above using as a mediating space. One of the students independently also chose to use photostory at this point to create a video slideshow, which he uploaded to his think space, and which I felt needed to be shared. Since he had already digitally shared this online, with his permission I was able to download it and include within our project web pages. The two students working on the PowerPoint Presentation, in school were shown how to combine their shows and in class sessions spent time together improving and removing repeated content, choosing the pieces they wanted to use in the challenge day on Thursday, and adding animation effects to support their delivery.

As well as this 3 students made an animated short using Digi Blues, PhotoStory and Movie Maker. They used the Comic Strip from my previous post, in PhotoStory to make a video clip they could include, adding a flash effect after the explosion of the volcano. Using Lego, and a can of gunge they had brought from home, they added a short stop motion clip to create the "run away, run away" scene, before exporting the finished animation to the network for inclusion in the final film. Using Movie Maker, the two clips were brought together, and the borrowed music track, titles and credits added. Albeit short, I think the effect was fantastic, and have chuckled several times at the outcome. In our final presentation to students in school during a celebration assembly this also gained gasps of appreciation from other students too, who spent much of Friday playtime either asking me about when they would be doing things like this or asking th students how they did it, while students in Year four and six who have been using the tools themselves, suddenly seemed to see new things they would like to try when they next do animation work. It was also an incredible learning curve for me, setting my mind racing about possibilities for the next time I set out to plan either an animation unit or better still how I embed this into a series of literacy Sessions. The PowerPoint students were so impressed that they went off to find the file on the network, and embedded it into their show.

The Project has been enormously successful on a number of levels.
  • Modelling the value of structured use of online learning environments, with physical practical outcomes I can share with colleagues
  • How the careful choice and use of ICT tools can support and motivate student engagement
  • How ICT can be used not only to develop and support student learning but also to provide and suppor the development of evidence bases to track developments and support assessment and evaluation
  • How use of Online learning environments can motivate out of school engagement and independent work mong our students.
So how did we do? Well we didn't win overall, but our vehicle did win the prize for travelling the furthest, arriving in one piece with our heroes safely strapped inside it 7.2 metres away from catapult initiated starting point. The students were amazing, polite, courteous and gracious, a credit to us and their community. once again they have taught me a number of lessons, which I have been able to bring back and share with colleagues. What more could I ask. Congratulations and thanks one and all!

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