Over the past few months, Kids Learning Code has partnered with MakerKids to create interactive digital literacy curriculum under the project name MakerSchools. From Kids Learning Code, we decided to focus on finding ways to make educators feel comfortable providing digital literacy support. We created three sample lesson plans across different curriculum subjects for grade 6 (science, social science, and visual arts) to demonstrate how collaborative tech and digital literacies can be incorporated regardless of topic.
We first needed to decide on what we meant by “digital literacy.” In the 2004 Literacy for Learning: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy in Grades 4 to 6 in Ontario, “literacy” is defined as:
…the ability to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, speak, view, represent, and think critically about ideas… [enabling] us to share information, to interact with others, and to make meaning. Literacy is a complex process that involves building on prior knowledge, culture, and experiences in order to develop new knowledge and deeper understanding. It connects individuals and communities, and is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a democratic society. (5)
We maintain, therefore, that digital literacy incorporates all these concepts, with the focus on connecting, sharing, and making meanings. Digital literacy is not simply the ability to write in HTML and CSS, but incorporates all aspects of creating and understanding through growing technologies.
We also wanted to stress the importance of training and testing digital literacies through the incorporation of tech education within existing curriculum. We wanted to demonstrate that digital literacy is not just a concept to add to lesson plans, but is something that can enhance greater critical understanding of the topic at hand while also improving students’ tech skills. We focused on lessons that also required creativity and collaboration, within classroom groups and larger Internet communities. None of our lessons are meant to be set in stone, and are easily adaptable to the learning abilities of the students and teachers, and to the subjects themselves. Our hope is that each lesson demonstrates how critical thinking and creativity can be encouraged at all times.
We want both teachers and students to feel empowered through our project. We know that teachers are hesitant to begin discussions on topics they may not feel entirely knowledgeable. Students have often demonstrated basic understandings of the tech and can even be intimidating to the teachers in this sense. It is important that both teachers and students understand that tech is always changing and that no one can know everything about everything, BUT the only way we can even begin to learn how to effectively use it is by being comfortable to ask questions and to make mistakes. Teachers can guide students to think critically about how they use current tech and encourage them to think beyond this use.
Testing and Learning
We were very excited to be invited to MakerKids' space to introduce our new content to teachers interested in digital literacy. The group was small but we meant some amazing educators who had excellent questions for us. The teachers expressed interest in developing stronger coding and tech skills so that they could support their students to find new ways to present their creative projects and research. We could not have asked for a more eager and attentive test audience.
We discussed how Wikis can be used for collaborative projects that require considering different viewpoints with a focus on evaluating resources. We also explained how Flickr can reinforce understanding of visual design concepts while also teaching students how to create effective search terms and tags AND understand Creative Commons and fair use.
While Kathryn gave a great quick crash course (we only had three hours) in HTML and CSS tags, she also introduced the teachers to resources for developing students' and their own web design skills. For these projects, we relied on Mozilla's Thimble and X-Ray Goggles. We started with X-Ray Goggles for the Wiki project to show how students could begin to learn basic HTML tags and re-mix popular websites. Building on that knowledge, Kathryn then showed a sample social media profile and grade 6 science review page that she had created on Thimble. The project was shared with all of the teachers and we spent the remainder of our time playing and re-mixing (and learning about) web design.
It was great seeing how excited the teachers were to become comfortable with these resources. Just as we do with the younger learners, we asked the teachers to make changes to the code and see what happens, without worrying about breaking anything. It was a learning experience for us, and from their questions we were able to edit and adapt our model lesson plans. We would like to thank the teachers and MakerKids for giving us this opportunity.
We are looking forward to continue working with teachers and helping them discover how they can further support digital literacy skills in their schools. Just as we offer on-site after-school programs, we are now creating after-school and lunchtime programs to support students at their own schools. If you are a teacher interested in discussing Kids Learning Code partnering with your school, please contact us at [email protected] for more information. We look forward to hearing from you!
In the meantime, please check out what we were working on with the teachers at MakerKids on Thimble!