Sunday, 27 April 2008

Encouraging Self Reflection and Thoughtful Decision Making.

Not the most attention grabbing title, but I promised Amanda I would blog about this and I was determined to get it done before I went to bed tonight (which is now this morning).

We’re in the middle of our school holidays right now, but about 3 weeks before the end of term my class spent a week creating advertisements about themselves. They were required, as part of our Team 5 integrated topic “Advertising Me” to create a television type commercial. This commercial had to have a jingle and some form of catch phrase. It was suggested that they use Movie Maker to create their advert. I was concerned that Movie Maker would be too complex for some of these children, especially as we had a very short time frame to complete their advertisements in and many of the children were unfamiliar with the programme.

After sharing the task requirements with them, I asked the children which software they felt would be the most useful to create their advertisements and they came up with 3 possibilities
  • Movie Maker
  • Photo Story
  • Power Point

We had 2 full days and 3 half days available to us in the ‘Discovery Centre’ (our school’s tech suite) so I knew our time was limited. Prior to going to the Discovery Centre the children had spent a couple of weeks working out their slogan, writing their jingle and story boarding & scripting their advertisements. We had also viewed several examples of television advertisements and had developed our own criteria for what would make a good advertisement.

Our first session arrived and I had made the decision to take things up a notch. I could have made the decision as to which software they would use and tell them they were all going to use it. However, as I believe in challenging my kids and encouraging them to think for themselves/ use problem solving strategies, I decided to give them the choice. In order to make an informed choice I felt it was important to provide the children with an opportunity to simply play, explore, experiment with each of the programmes so that they could see the potential and pitfalls for themselves.

The children were asked to create a mini movie about a recent class trip or a story they had written. I had folders with pictures suitable for both possibilities set up on the intranet ready to go. All they had to do was to recreate their mini movie 3 times – once in Power Point, once in Photo Story and once in Movie Maker. They spent the day working on their movies, calling each other over to come and look or to help with suggestions and solutions. I kept myself moving around the room asking questions and encouraging them to think about the pluses and minuses of each tool.

At the end of the day I asked the children to gather together in their “table groups” (groups of 4 that they regularly work with) and discuss & record the pluses and minuses of each programme. They then had to make a decision as to which particular programme they were going to use for their advert. As each advert was an individual piece they could all choose something different if they wished. They had some interesting opinions (Click on the image of the table below and it will take you to a larger version that you can read).

Now this was the first time they had been asked to do something like this and they were mostly 9 years old, but I think they did well for a first time. This is certainly something I will continue to encourage during the year. For most of these children their only previous independent experience had been with Power Point. They’d watched me create a quick movie for our “Voices of the World” contribution on Photo Story, but hadn’t used it before. I was very careful not to influence their decisions by telling them which programme I thought would be best for this particular task (Photo Story) so it was interesting to see what they thought. In fact, about two thirds of them opted for Power Point – the main reason being that they were familiar with it and they liked the pretty backgrounds and the whiz bang effects. About 5 of them picked Photo Story and only 2 chose to use Movie Maker. There are 27 kids in my class in total.

The children spent the remainder of the week working on their creations. This included taking photos or short video clips and putting it all together to create their advert. Many of the children started to re-evaluate their original choices as the week progressed, especially when they found the tool they had selected was not able to do what they needed it to do, or it did it, but not in the way they wanted. This was particularly true for the children who had opted to use Power Point. Most of them persevered with their existing choice though, some saying they would use something else next time, others saying that they still preferred Power Point despite the fact they were unable to do all the things they needed to in order to meet class criteria. A couple of them wanted to transfer their Power Points to Photo Story so they could use the features available through that programme, so I taught them how to save their whole slide show as a set of jpegs so they could import them into Photo Story. (As an aside I felt they adverts created using a combination of programmes ended up being the best examples produced. The children were able to take advantage of some of the best features of both programmes).

Finally we had our class viewing session and adverts were assessed by self, peer and teacher review according to the criteria we originally set. The final task I set for the children was to complete an evaluation of the whole process and product. I asked them to say which programme they used, did it do what they wanted it to – they had to explain their response and would they choose a different programme next time & why? Here are some of the responses:
“I would stay with Power Point because I find the other ones hard to use.”
‘I think I would use Movie maker next time for a bit of a challenge”
‘I would rather use Movie Maker or Photo Story next time because they have more features.”
“I would use Photo Story again because if you want to go back and fix something you do not delete your progress.”
“I would choose a different one so I could learn.”
“I would maybe probably use Photo Story next time because I think personally it’s the best.”
“I would use Movie Maker because you can put in movies you have recorded.”
“I used Power Point because I was familiar with it and I would use it again because there was nothing else I needed.”

I found this whole week to be an interesting and useful learning experience for both the children and myself. They have covered several curriculum areas and have been required to use problem solving strategies and be reflective about their use of technology as well as the other aspects of the unit. I can’t wait to see the progressions they make as we move through the school year


  1. A great exercise for children to take part in. Not only in the content but the process- and chance of seeing some of the finished products?

  2. This is an excellent post and fantastic way of encouraging and expanding the student's own learning. It's so empowering to see how much your students gained from the task - well done!

    This is probably how we should be offering professional development for educators but it's the same old issue that insufficient time is being allocated to the learning.

  3. What a great post! Thank-you for sharing your unit of work and how you went about it. The chart is such a help for teachers like me, overwhelmed by the number of tools around and which is best to use for what purpose. I’ve used photostory with students before but I like the idea of giving the students a choice. It’s so important to allow kids to take the initiative and make their own decisions as creators and what a great way to do it.

  4. Great post and fantastic way to get the students to think about the "best" way to produce their work. I would guess there was as much learned in the discussion after about the 3 different programs as there was in the using of them. I would also be interested in seeing some of the finished products.

  5. That sounds like a great approach. All too often we get caught up wanting to have a perfect understanding of the technology before letting the kids loose on it, but this approach allows them to become critical USERS of the technology. Well done!

  6. Thanks for sharing this process with us. Creative collaboration or is that collaborative creativity? Either way the kids win.

    Can I be in your class?

  7. If 9 year olds can do this, why cant adult students?!

  8. Your plan is elegant and inspiring.

    I've been a bit more pedestrian:
    In one of my classes, we're finishing 8.5x11 personal collages. We're going to scan them and mix pictures and put them through Animoto a few times to see what we come out with.

  9. Thanks everyone for visiting and leaving your comments.

    Allanah & Jane - I'd love to share their finished products but unfortunately I am not allowed to put anything online where the kids faces can be seen. Allanah - I'll have some on my computer at ULearn so I'll be able to share then.

    Sue - Thanks so much for promoting this post via Twitter, it really made my day. I agree that it would be a fantastic way to offer PD. I also agree that time is an issue here. I'm also hoping that by doing this I can provide concrete examples of how it works in order to encourage others to give it a go with their kids.

    Grace - I'm glad the chart was useful. I totally agree that it is important to encourage kids to take the initiative and make decisions. I really want them to think critically about the best tools for the job. I also encourage my children to justify their opinions with examples to back it up. I don't mind if they don't agree with what I think, as long as they can justify it. Having said that, I still say, "Your way is one option, could I show you what I might do so you can compare them?" This is something I do when encouraging them to share solution strategies in Maths and I am now trying to extend this into other curriculum areas.

    Jane - Interestingly, I learnt an awful lot about my students as individuals. Who were the risk takers? Which children tended to follow their friends? Who was able to justify their choices? etc.

    Soulcradler - Thank you:) I used to stress about them understanding the technology. Then I thought about how I'd learnt to use it - trial and error, playing, exploring, experimenting. I try to allow my kids to do this within a scaffolded and supportive guided situation.

    Kate - Anytime :) The more the merrier.

    Sarah - I couldn't agree with you more.

    Jan - Wow! Thank you so much - I'm blushing. I don't think that sounds pedestrian at all, sounds really cool to me. I'd love to see the final results.

  10. Great work. Students relate so well to multimedia. I find their imagination and creativity can be wonderfully inspiring. A picture paints 1000 words but I would love to know what mutli media paints!!!It will be interesting to see what they are able to produce further into their school lives.

  11. Your chart is fantastic -- I love the pros and cons that would allow for a decision by students.
    Really, a nice piece of sharing out.