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.

Discussion Topics

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.

Food Discussion Government Discussion

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.

Travel in China, terracotta army chat
Food in China, dog and turtle, Chat
Longer Food in China Chat
School in China Chat
Full Chat Transcript – Government and freedom (rtf format)

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.

Resources:

Final Videos (nb sound volume varies!)

Video 1 – China Mediated

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4 – A glimpse of China

Lesson Plans – not in order, also some lessons changed after we created the lesson plans.

Lesson Plans 1

Lesson Plans 2

Lesson Powerpoints

Introduction to China Powerpoint

Human Rights Issues in China

China in Crisis

example homework

Flashmeeting Presentation of the Project from teachmeet (about 10 minutes)

http://flashmeeting.e2bn.net/fm/fmm.php?pwd=759b1f-3229&jt=02:50:20

Our Rickypedia VLE is still very much a pilot website with only a selection of students and teachers on the system. I’ve added new students and classes as I’ve been ready to experiment with them or as I have had requests from other teachers.

One of our student teachers (or beginning teachers as they are now known) approached me about a month ago to ask if Rickypedia would be able to help her year 7 English class with their non-fiction projects. She was looking for somewhere where students could upload their writing, she could mark up changes and the students could then refine their work and resubmit it for further review. I realised that Moodle wasn’t necessarily the ideal solution (something like Google docs or a wiki may have been better) but it did provide a solution so I explained the system and what it could or couldn’t do. Next step get the class up and running.

The year 7 group in question is also a class I teach for ICT and this seemed an ideal opportunity to get them using Rickypedia for two subjects simultaneously. It also meant that I could use an ICT lesson to get the students started on moodle to make it easier for their English lesson. All students were enrolled in an ICT course and an English course and were given access to the “Student Room” a general discussion course open to all students on Rickypedia. I gave the English teacher a brief lesson on course editing and we were off and ready to go.

It’s always fun starting off a new class on something brand new but I was overwhelmed by the reaction of the class. They loved filling in information on their profiles (see earlier post). They loved their homework to create and upload an avatar. Some of them started exploring other features such as blogging and personal messaging and word spread (especially word about personal messaging). The enthusiasm from students blew me away and when I or the English teacher added something to the site they often discovered it before we told them about it. Students log on at all hours, before school and after school. I’ll try and keep you posted about their progress but so far it has been overwhelmingly positive, a few logging on issues but nothing major. One immediate issue that has come up from the English department is the lack of a spell check on moodle, this is something that I will look into.

Here are a few things that I’ve noticed about year 7s on Rickypedia compared to year 9 and upwards that I had so far added to Rickypedia

1. They don’t mind reading and writing on screen, in fact many of them seem to prefer it to paper – maybe this generation are natural technology users?
2. They love personal messaging each other and often do so about school work – I guess older students have other communication systems that they prefer to use.
3. They are not scared of messaging teachers. I seldom receive a message from older students but get a couple a week from year 7s asking about homework or technical problems – fewer inhibitions or less independent workers?

As I write at 12:30 on a sunny Saturday afternoon my Rickypedia site log shows 122 actions on the site this morning – all by pupils from this class.

One neat and simple feature that Moodle has is a glossary. (I’m sure you could replicate this functionality easily enough using other features of other VLEs).

The glossary lets the teacher or students put definitions of words, hence the name glossary. As it’s such a simple and easy to understand tool it’s one I have started classes using early. It also makes for a great homework and it’s easy to explain to other teachers how to use. As with all pupil generated content I’ve found the results mixed and surprising but very positive. Below are a few examples of glossary entries (not all from my classes). As you can see they range from the sublime to the ridiculous. I think the silly entries are just as valid as the serious entries. If my students log on to see the funny entry their friend wrote they are more than likely to take a browse through all of the other definitions and maybe learn something new.

I’ve not put up the inevitable glossary entries with mistakes in. These too are valuable, I can both edit and comment on posts. By leaving a comment with feedback students can learn from their mistakes and improve their entries. Assessment for learning in action!

AS English Frankenstein Glossary Entries – these two are rather impressive

Gothic: A story of terror or suspense which includes reference to the supernatural

Romanticism: Romanticism is a movement that typically refers to the late 18th and 19th century. The period was marked by a rejection of the ideals and rules of the time and new emphasis was placed on freedom of expression and thought.

Romantics were against the monarchy and against the industrial revolution. They thought that the industrial revolution would destroy and pollute nature, and that people would move away from the countryside and nature.
Romantic ideas: nature; the relationship between human and natural moods; experimentation; journeying; power of the female; genius and the power of imagination, spontaneity; and individualism.

Quotes:

  • “Vivid flashes of lightning dazzled my eyes and illuminated the lake, making it appear like a vast sheet of fire.” (p56)
  • “black and comfortless sky” (p40)

Year 9 ICT Entries:

Keyboard :QWERTY or otherwise, it is used to type letters and numbers – wholly useful for general computing.

Hands: the things you find on the end of your arm. They usually have 5 fingers on each

useful for:
1] typing
2] hitting your computer when its being stupid and purposly annoying you
3] throwing things at annoying siblings
4] stealing peoples shoes to put in high places

Year 12 Chemistry:

OILRIG:
OILRIG is the ingenious way to remember that:
Oxidation Is Loss (of electrons)
Reduction Is Gain (of electrons)

Redox is both (Reduction and oxidation squashed together to make one word)