Developing Digital Literacy: re-capture the excitement of IT!

(Link to download plans, guides and resources are at the end of the article)

We have all seen the adverts on TV demonstrating that children know how to use digital devices (TV remotes!) with more confidence than adults do. We (sometimes incorrectly) apply the term ‘tech savvy’ to this new generation of digital natives, whilst we, the digital immigrants struggle to catch up and keep up with this rapidly changing world. [1] However, as I’m sure you’ve all witnessed the child who begins swiping on a non-touchscreen, our assumptions can be drastically wrong and lead to us letting children down in their education.

The computing curriculum 2014 brought in many changes to the way we teach ‘all things tech’ in schools. Prior to that, in my experience, the ‘ICT’ lesson consisted in opportunities for cross curricular use of computers for word processing, analysing and presenting data with spreadsheets, researching on the internet and possibly some design. Even this I can see was extremely limited based on what should have been happening, but even now there seems to be either too much focus on coding, or the computing suite/laptops are used for typing up literacy stories, or using maths/ reading software (Sumdog, Times Table Rockstars, BugClub etc).

We need to ensure that our children have a well-rounded and balanced experience so that as they progress through the Key Stages, they are competent at not only solving problems through programming and logical analysis, but they can type, operate a mouse, trackpad or touchscreen properly and can select and use any appropriate software for a given task.

Adventure Quests Digital Literacy IT Primary Computing

These are the parts from the Computing part of the Primary National Curriculum that I feel draw attention to digital literacy in IT:

Computing also ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use, and express themselves and develop their ideas through, information and communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.

Extract from ‘Purpose of Study’ for computing – UK National Curriculum 2013

Pupils are responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology.

Extract from ‘Aims’ for computing – UK National Curriculum 2013

Pupils can select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information.

Extract from ‘Subject Content’ for KS2 computing – UK National Curriculum 2013

General skills that many of us take for granted often get missed or are not embedded thoroughly; such as using a keyboard and mouse/ trackpad, logging into a desktop/laptop, opening and saving documents etc. Then there are the finer, more detailed skills; cut and paste, move, resize, format, insert, edit etc. Finally, there are the more advanced skills such as using hyperlinks, keyboard shortcuts, transparency, layers, grouping etc.

Therefore we are in need of fun and engaging projects that are relevant and ideally cross curricular, to use as a platform for teaching these specific digital literacy skills, that teachers will feel confident to deliver as a legitimate part of the computing curriculum.

So, how do we re-capture the excitement of teaching IT? How do we develop pupil’s digital literacy without them even knowing it, because they are so engaged with a project? My suggestion is to create a project that:

  • lasts around half a term,
  • includes a planning (algorithm) stage,
  • is themed but allows children a large element of freedom,
  • where the outcome is an impressive finished product (rather than just practising skills on generic activities that provide no sense of ownership)
  • Gives you the platform and opportunities to teach explicit IT and digital literacy skills

Adventure Quests

I have developed ‘Adventure Quests’ as a way of immersing the children in a topic/ literacy (as in English literacy) themed project that can be tailored to suit any writing ability, from KS2 to KS3, whilst providing opportunities to develop the general and finer digital literacy skills.

Simply put, Adventure Quests are interactive, non-linear stories, which are implemented as PowerPoint presentations.

Adventure Quests Digital Literacy IT Primary Computing
Screenshots from Adventure Quests story example

To help organise the lesson plan, I have used the idea of levels of abstraction[2] which has been suggested in research as a good way to think about the development of programs. I am treating these levels as the stages that the lesson plan will go through to help pupils develop their Adventure Quest. 

These stages are;

  • Defining the task,
  • Developing the design (including the algorithms),
  • Building the solution (PowerPoint presentation),
  • Debugging  and using the solution (PowerPoint presentation).

In designing the Quest, the pupils decide what choices the main character will have to make. Each of these choices is a rule and the order of these rules will control the progression of next pages in the PowerPoint presentation. This set of rules is the algorithm design for the Quest. 

To help learners develop the flow of rules (their algorithm), flowcharts will be used to pictorially show the order of choices to be made. PowerPoint page numbers will be added to the flowchart to help pupils manage the process of building their solution.  The flowchart can then be used when they are debugging.

Lesson Planning

(Link to download plans, guides and resources are at the end of the article)

Interactive Adventure Quests                             Software: MS Powerpoint

Subjects covered: Computing and English Literacy  

Time frame: Around 6-8 lessons

Themes: Digital literacy, Information and Communication Technology, reading, planning, editing, writing for a purpose, writing for specific audience, relating to similar texts. This project can fit to any topic or subject, to link in with any curriculum area. This could even become an assessment tool in the form of a quiz that pupils create for each other, or simply as a fictional interactive story.

Guidance: Take this at your own pace, at the speed of the children. The design stage, where you develop the rules (algorithms) for the quest ) is essential. Make sure all children carefully and thoroughly complete this stage. Give them lots of support    and check and mark each algorithm as you go along. Don’t move onto the computer to build the PowerPoint until you are sure the rules (algorithms) for the Quest all fit together.

4 stages of the project

  1. Defining the task:

To create an interactive narrative in the form of a quest, aimed at a specific audience, where the reader takes on a role of a character in the narrative and faces choices that determine each stage and the ending. The project must make sense and be eye catching (pictures and layout), as well as adhere to the literacy standards for that year group.

  1. Developing the design (including the algorithms):

Pupils can use any format to create their design. I would suggest A3 paper in portrait orientation. Most pupils should be able to begin from a blank sheet and begin drawing the flowchart boxes themselves, after the teacher input.

Bad Guy Beef algorithm adventure quests primary computing
Year 5 pupil’s algorithm for Adventure Quest ‘Bad Guy Beef’ – note that this pupil has created more than 2 choices for some of her situations.

I have created an example design which is pre-populated (see below, with an example PowerPoint to match). 

Adventure Quest Algorithm Example Primary Computing
Example of planning algorithm to accompany the example Adventure Quest PowerPoint

I  also use an unpopulated version as a writing frame to scaffold learning. Children can add as many choice levels as they wish, however to make the narrative interesting, I’d recommend at least 3 choice levels before the narrative concludes (either positively or negatively). Children can also use the same choice multiple times, for example two or three choices in the narrative may have the same conclusions, so only one outcome is required (as seen in choice 4 & 13 on the example plan). Pupils who finish early can begin drawing characters, settings and enemies around their plan.

  1. Building the PowerPoint (Implementing the design) :

Once their interactive stories are underway, this then gives the teacher the opportunity to cut away groups to teach specific skills. This particular project provides great opportunities to teach the following digital literacy and IT skills:

  • Opening and saving projects in specific folder locations,
  • adding and editing text, and text boxes, (including font, style and size)
  • adding and changing format of shapes,
  • inserting and editing hyperlinks,
  • changing background and themes,
  • safely searching for images online,
  • inserting, resizing, rotating and layering images,
  • working with transitions and animations

You could also use this project to teach the following computing skills:

  • Logical sequence
  • Planning using an algorithm
  • Testing and de-bugging
Adventure Quests Digital Literacy IT Primary Computing

I recommend getting the pupils to create a slide for each box on their designs, and create shapes for each of the button choices. Keep on checking their English throughout the project, as their story must makes sense and be grammatically correct. Try and get them to put as much detail in for the reader, as this will improve the whole experience.

Tip: Each slide has a title text box in PowerPoint. Whatever is typed in there, shows up as the slide title in the slide menu, which will be used later on. So it is very important that the children use the choice from the previous slide as the title of the slide the choice connects to. E.g. If one of the choices is “go to the forest”, the next slide that this choice goes to, must have the title “go to the forest”.

PowerPoint Mode: This must be set up (In slideshow set up) as ‘Browsed at a Kiosk’ mode. This disables the ability to scan or click through the slideshow in sequential order (which is useless for an interactive story). Once this mode is activated, there will be no way for the user to switch slides at all, unless using hyperlinks.

Hyperlinks (as demonstrated in the video below): This is how the reader will navigate and make choices within the story. On each slide, pupils should have created at least 2 choices, by adding text to a shape (or text box, but coloured so that it looks like a button). By right clicking on the shape (not the text inside it) a hyperlink can be added. When ‘a place in this document’ is selected, a menu of slides will appear. Note; this is why it is essential for the titles to be matched to the choice button, as now you can select exactly which slide this hyperlink will point to. Note: hyperlinks won’t work until the slideshow is being presented/ is running.

For pupils that finish early, they could really go to town on the aesthetics of their Adventure Quest; inserting images, slide transitions, even sounds!

Throughout this whole level of abstraction, it is essential that pupils have their designs with them at all times. This will enable them to remember their story, tick off slides they have already completed (as it doesn’t matter if they appear in order within PowerPoint), make improvements or changes, and overcome any complications of slides linking to other slides. It is basically a road map to help them navigate through their coding.

  1. Debugging and running the PowerPoint

This is the opportunity to test out the story; Do the hyperlinks work? Have any been forgotten? Do the hyperlinks point to the correct pages? Children may realise quickly that when they reach the end of the story (either the character is successful or most of the time, rather gruesomely unsuccessful!), there needs to be a ‘home’ hyperlink for users to try again, maybe using different choices next time in order to win the challenge!

Again, as they test this out, they need to have their designs next to them. Can they improve their story? Are there any parts that don’t make sense? Has their friend tested it out and evaluated it for them?

I have run this project successfully from Year 3 up to Year 9, it can be as simple or as complex as you like. It is also a good one to show off at parent’s evenings and drop ins!

Let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear how your pupils developed there IT skills and digital literacy, as well as your thoughts on the levels of abstraction and design process.


Advanced…

The next step for higher ability pupils, or indeed the equivalent of this for KS3, would be to head over to Twinery and use code to create non-linear stories, but this time with the ability to store variables and apply selection (conditions). This means the player/ reader could enter names, select fears or weapons etc, or pick up keys/ artefacts that allow access to areas that would otherwise be off limits (e.g. if you have the silver key, then you can unlock this door, else you’ll have to go a different route).


Download Adventure Quests:

You can download the Adventure Quest example, guide and resources by Phil Wickins from the TES website.


References

[1] See, for example, Prensky, M (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9,5: 1-5. Critiques of the idea of the ‘digital native’ include: Facer, K, Furlong, J, Furlong, R and Sutherland, R (2003), Screenplay: Children and computing in the home. London: Routledge. Buckingham, D and Willett, R (eds) (2006). Digital Generations: Children, young people and new media. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. Vaidhyanathan, S (2008). Generational myth: Not all young people are tech-savvy. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55,413. Jenkins, H, et al. Conf

[2] Levels of abstraction have been associated with teaching algorithm development for some time in Universities such as Perrenet, J. et al. 2005. Exploring students’ understanding of the concept of algorithm: levels of abstraction. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin. 37, 3, 64–68. DOI:10.1145/1067445.1067467.  This has been extended to secondary age learners, for example the work by Armoni, M. 2013. On Teaching Abstraction in CS to Novices. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching. 32, 3, 265–284.Statter, D. and Armoni, M. 2016. Teaching Abstract Thinking in Introduction to Computer Science for 7th Graders. Proceedings of the 11th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education (2016), 80–83. DOI:10.1145/2978249.2978261. More recently levels of abstraction has been extended to look generally at all aspects of program development (not just algorithms) Waite, J. et al. 2018. Abstraction in action: K-5 teachers’ uses of levels of abstraction, particularly the design level, in teaching programming. International Journal Of Computer Science Education In Schools. DOI:10.21585/ijcses.v2i1.23. Waite, J. et al, 2019 Design Toolkit for Primary Programming Activities (in publication)

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