On Wednesday, I took a group of 4 Digital Leaders from Year 5 and 6 to the Mozilla HQ in Central London to take part in  a range of digital learning tasks. The day was held as part of the research towards The Children’s Museum of London, an organisation created to provide a learning space for children, by children, and is an exciting development for London and for learning. The museum will provide a place of magic, wonder, curiosity and adventure, helping children to find, think, make, and show. At this point it is important to say a big thank you to Tom Doust for the invitation to the event, to Oliver Quinlan for putting me in touch with Tom in the first place and to Mozilla for hosting the event.

The following is a quick reflection of each task the leaders participated in. I have tried to focus on the skills and understanding children developed through each task and my reflections on the potential impact back at school.

Task 1 – Play-Doh Circuits

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The first activity the children were introduced to was focused on exploring circuit making using Play-Doh, LEDs and batteries. I was reminded at this point of the cross curricular reach of technology and that my role as ICT coordinator is to keep on top of developments in all areas of educational technology. At the moment, it is very easy to get caught up in all things computing – the ‘Silver Bullet’ of the moment – when in fact there are other areas of technology that can support the development of the important skills prioritised by the new programme of study.  And indeed, the children were discussing their learning applying vocabulary such as ‘input’, ‘output’ and ‘sequence’. A big part of the session was, in some ways, focused on ‘debugging’: detecting and correcting errors. Only in this context, the children were resolving problems with circuits.

Task 2 – Coding

We then moved from ‘Monty Python’ to the ‘IT Crowd’ (the rooms at Mozilla were named after popular shows) and began coding using Mozilla’s Thimble Webmaker project. This project is designed to help learners (of all ages) create online content and also understand how such content is created. Here, the children had the opportunity to ‘Remix’ a project tutorial and create their own ‘Keep Calm’ poster. It was incredible to see how quickly the children grasped the concepts behind HTML coding and began adapting and personalising the content simply through exploring and playing with the code. At one point, I got slightly confused with what <br> meant and was quickly taught by one of the Year 5’s that, “It’s easy Mr G, it means a line break!”

The digital leaders now plan on accessing the Webmaker tools back at school and are hoping to begin teaching other pupils (and staff!) how they can create their own ‘cool’ content for the web. Below is one of the group’s finished poster, which I love! 🙂

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The Webmaker project ‘starter makes’ are definitely worth a look and can be easily introduced into the classroom to kick start a focus on coding (just check accessibility from your current web browser before using). There are a variety of coding languages and I think it will be important to expose children to this range when introducing coding in the classroom. Some learners will have more experience than others and it will be great to be able to celebrate ‘CAL’ in our classrooms: Coding as an Additional Language!

Task 3 – Electric Paint

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After lunch (and a couple of snacks from the ‘help yourself’ cafe…a dangerous thing when I’m around!) the children moved on to the third digital making session. Electric Paint was the focus of this workshop and the children had the opportunity to apply the knowledge they had gained from the first workshop by painting, yes painting, an electric circuit on to an image of a robot.

During the session, whilst we left the paint to dry (which took a long time – an issue that is being improved in the next batch of paint), a really exciting conversation began into what the digital leaders would like to see in a museum specifically for children. The ideas that the children came up with were imaginative, inspiring and fascinating. From a time travelling elevator where instead of floor numbers you would choose periods in history, to a space where you can go and experience what it is like when certain animals hibernate, the children’s ideas were on fire! We even discussed that it would be great if you could walk around the inside of an animal’s body and see ‘how it sees’. The entrance for which, it was suggested, could be an “escalator into its bottom”.

Whilst this was, at times, a hilarious conversation, it really made me think. We should be harnessing more ideas from children about learning space and design. We should challenge those who make decisions about learning spaces and environments in school and consult the learners themselves. It also made me think: I want to go to this museum!

Task 4 – Drawbots

As the day drew to a close we finished our day of digital learning with Tom Doust creating mini robots with colouring pen legs powered by electric motors. Split into two teams, the children raced to design a mechanism that would help their robot to move faster than the others. Testing ideas and then evaluating their impact was the key to success in this session and the fast-paced nature of the challenge kept the ideas flowing. To challenge themselves, the children attempted to make their drawbots travel in certain directions and worked carefully to perfect their designs. Here is a link to the instructions for how to make these bots.

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Impact on learning

So, what was the impact on learning for the digital leaders? And what will the impact be on the wider school in terms of the development of technology and learning now that we have had this experience? Well, the children were deeply engaged in all four activities, through which they solved problems using critical thinking; designed and redesigned tasks both on and offline; tested their ideas instantly; evaluated the impact of their choices before reapplying new ideas to a problem; and had the opportunity to fail in order to move forwards and succeed. These are all skills that are applicable back in the classroom and much more importantly in life!

Now that we are back at school, the digital leaders are keen to bring some of the ideas they experienced into the curriculum at our school and share the development of these skills with others. This will start with a meeting next week where the children can consider which age groups are best suited for such activities and how they can adapt what they learnt to work in our school context. This will certainly be an interesting conversation!

In terms of my vision for ICT at school, I was reminded that the digital leader role should not just revolve around devices such as iPads and computers and instead should be broadened to consider the range of #digitallearning tasks that provide great learning opportunities for children (and adults!) of all ages.

For the digital leaders, this was the “best school trip ever.” I couldn’t put it better myself.

Update: Since writing this post, I have received a letter from one of the parents of the digital leaders who went along to the event. In her letter she explains how since the trip, her son has been prising apart old toys and making all kind of circuits and that the session really captured his imagination. Clearly, the impact of this session has breached the four walls of school and encouraged #digitalmaking at home.

2 thoughts on “#digitalmaking

  1. Great reflections Alex. Glad this has made you consider some new ideas about digital making, and your reflections are really useful for us who are involved in organising such events.

    That last paragraph alone made me very happy to have connected you with this. Fond memories of doing similar when I was a child, and often since!

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