This project has been on my list to write up for a long time. A successful presentation at the Teachmeet North East London Conference gave me a bit of kick to get it done.
This project was a cross curricular project for gifted and talented ICT and English students in year 9 (ages 13 to 14). We used a range of technology including shared network folders for online information gathering, digital video, digital photos and both synchronous (live chat) and asynchronous messaging (discussion forum) using our VLE.
In our school all subjects have the option of running extra after school classes for gifted and talented students (cleverly branded GATE in our school). This year our gifted and talented coordinator wanted to have a shared theme running through classes and in a meeting with representatives from all curricular subjects we decided on the theme of China. We also agreed that all classes should have two curricular subjects joining together. I joined forces with an English teacher (Ed Macleod) and we started work on a course where students would make videos about China after synthesising and analysing a variety of sources of information about China such as articles, prose, poetry art and music. Eventually our brainstorming and discussions came up with the following structure (the original was slightly different but this is what we ended up with by the end of the course). Nb all classes were 1 hour 45 minutes.
Week 1: Introduction to China – writing an introduction to your movie – will your film be positive or negative?
Week 2: Trip to China Town with cameras and video cameras (along with Food Tech. and Geography groups) Experience Chinese culture and collect media for use in films.
Week 3: Human Rights issues in China – internet research saving documents and resources in a shared folder.
Week 4: The Cultural Revolution in China – looking at art and writing and using it for inspiration to create their own pieces of writing.
Week 5: Introduction to IMovie. Playing with the software using footage shot from China Town.
Week 6: Script Writing – writing scripts for movies and putting together other written materials.
Week 7: Movie Editing.
Week 8: Movie Editing plus live online chat.
Lesson plans for all lessons and powerpoint presentations for some are available below. Some topics were particularly hard to cover. Human rights in particular was an issue that I really wanted to cover but at the same time I didn’t want to overshadow all the other positive aspects of China. It’s very hard to show a fair picture of such an emotive subject. You will see at the end of the presentation I looked at a comparison of human rights in the UK to show that there is plenty to criticise in any country.
It didn’t take long to realise that the knowledge of myself and my colleague, on China, was not enough to fulfil the needs and answer all the questions of our inquisitive students. On a Tuesday evening a solution came to me.
I am in my final year of an online Masters degree in ICT in Education at the University of Leeds. While looking through our University VLE (Firstclass) I noticed a posting from a fellow student originally from China. A few messages later and I had a real Chinese person very willing to help answer questions from our students.
Our willing volunteer Fiona Shen, originally from Shanghai, is a teacher at Harrogate Ladies College in the North of England. Even better her English is perfect!
I set up a Moodle course for our group on our VLE (rickypedia). The first step was to get a discussion going for students to ask questions to Miss Shen. This was set as homework for students. You can see the list of topics they asked about in the following screenshot.
I’ve picked two questions as examples. The first on food is a great simple discussion about Chinese food. The second is a question about the honesty of the government – I think this was superbly answered by Fiona Shen.
The level of questions, and dare I say learning through the process, was astounding though as you can see from the topics not all students asked questions.
I decided that as we had a willing volunteer to answer questions we should take things one step further and try a live online chat with Miss Shen. It took a few weeks to get this organised and we ended up doing this during our final lesson. My original plan was to bring students into the chat room in groups of four for about 10 minutes each. It ended up being about 20 minutes until I could get the first group to leave and even then we had a mixture of students from different groups, some of whom I let stay on for well over their allocated time. The reason for this was the reaction of some of the students. One girl pleaded; “Sir, please let us stay on, we’re learning so much from this!”
I’ve put a few highlights from the chats in the screenshots below. Some of them have been edited slightly to get them to fit on the page or to get rid of some of the more inane chatter. I also include a full transcript of a section of the chat to give you an idea of some of the chit chat and silly comments that happened in between the serious ones.
As you can see from the chat there was some incredible thinking and learning going on.
The final part of the project was creating the documentary videos on China. All the videos are viewable on teachertube and all are amazing pieces of work. One or two aren’t 100% finished and two of the groups spent a significant amount of time outside of the lessons finishing off their films. One example which I think is particularly powerful is embedded below. All the script, poems and prose were written and read, edited and produced by the students. Most images are still images but some footage from our trip to Chinatown was included.
Conclusions and thanks: Masterclasses are normally six week courses but thanks to the foresight of our gifted and talented coordinator Lacey Joy, who has some experience of film editing and realised we would be tight for time, we were offered two extra weeks. These weeks turned out to be essential. We were able to incorporate such a wide range of ways of learning and I think this was key to the success of the course. The expertise of Ed Macleod my English teacher colleague facilitated some amazing creative writing that I would never have been able to get out of students alone. His powerpoint China in Crisis gives links to some resources he found. Two other colleagues Sally Jessett, a geography teacher, and Janet Staerck, a food technology teacher did all the legwork and more importantly paperwork organising the trip to Chinatown and allowed our group to tag along and join them for a meal. This cultural experience was such an eye opener for students in ways we didn’t envisage beforehand. My ICT and technical experiences helped with the internet research (thanks to our network manager Roger Baron for setting up the shared directories) and also with the use of our school VLE. Fiona Shen answered questions from students patiently and expertly. And the students Mr. Macleod and myself all pitched in together with IMovie (thanks to Matt Earles our Apple Mac network manager for helping us out technically). There are of course improvements we could make for “next time”, we could have done more work on assessment (though all students were assessed by teachers at the end), we would have liked to do some work on our group presentation at the end of the course and we would have liked to try and spend more time concentrating on the positive aspects of China. But all in all the experience was positive for both students and teachers and the results speak for themselves.
As always I would be glad to hear comments, feedback, ideas or questions.
Final Videos (nb sound volume varies!)
Lesson Plans – not in order, also some lessons changed after we created the lesson plans.
Flashmeeting Presentation of the Project from teachmeet (about 10 minutes)