Digital Adventure 2012: engaging ESL students in digital literacy
One of my favourite parts of my job as a public elementary school teacher in Korea is camp season.
During the winter and summer breaks I get to plan and run a one-week camp for my grades 3-6 students. Last winter I used the theme of time travel to share my love of public history with my students. This summer I wanted to focus on engaging my students with digital literacy by using the theme of “digital adventure.”
This is going to be the first of several post in which I discuss my summer camp experience. My camp had one clear goal – to engage students in digital literacy by making it fun. Did I achieve this goal? Mostly. This post will share things that worked and offer my thoughts about how things could have worked differently.
The first, and biggest, stumbling block in my summer camp occurred three days before the camp even started. I had initially planned to spend half of each 5 hour day in my school’s computer lab, where each student would have access to their own computer. This would allow students to engage actively in digital literacy instead of sitting passively in a classroom listening to me ramble on. Since my students are learning English for the first time, even the best students have trouble following me beyond simple sentences. Using the computers would provide the students with more context for the new phrases and vocabulary allowing them to better understand what is going on.
So much of my day-to-day teaching involves passive learning. My curriculum requires me to show the students a certain amount of textbook-approved video and audio each class. When not using the textbook, my school likes me to use an ESL web service that they pay for which involves showing the students each more videos.
By having the students in the computer lab I wanted to encourage active learning, giving the students agency to explore, design, and create.
Three days before my summer camp started, I learned from my Korean co-teacher that the computer lab was off-limits due to construction in the adjacent school washrooms. This reduced my available computers from thirty down to four.
With my limited access to computers in mind, I went back to the drawing board and decided to focus on three key digital literacy skills: communication, research, and creation.
Day one of the summer camp was focused on communication and research. I started camp by talking about how computers are used to transmit information. To show why computers are better at transmitting information than humans, we played a game of telephone. The students stood in a circle and attempted to relay a simple sentence. By the time the sentence reached the end, it had become unrecognizable.
This activity was a success in both my grade 3/4 class and my 5/6 class. My students had fun playing the game and they seemed to learn the lesson I had in mind.
Then to show how the internet can be used for communication I had both classes make a Skype call to my family in Canada. Each class had about 20 students and in each class only a handful had used Skype before. Both classes were excited about the prospect of speaking to my family since they’re always curious about my personal life and since my school is in a small town in a rural province my students don’t interact with many foreigners aside from myself.
This activity was a success as well in that it exposed my students to a new way using the internet to communicate. It also gave them a chance to practice their English my creating questions to ask my family.
We finished day two of the summer camp by focusing on research. I told the students that each group would have to make an egg-drop container on day two of the camp. I then showed the students how to use Google Image Search in English and gave each group about 30 minutes to use Google to research their designs. The groups then had to sketch their designs and list the parts they needed to make their container.
This activity would have been more successful if each student had access to a computer. Since we only had four computers, groups of 4-5 students had to share. This resulted in one or two students taking an active role with the rest of the group watching or not paying attention.
I was impressed that in both my 3/4 and 5/6 classes that the students used English-language websites for their searches and didn’t fall back on using Korean websites and search engines. The students had fun designing their containers and enjoyed the relatively free-reign they had to research and design their contraptions.
On the whole I was happy with day one of the camp. The lack of computers wasn’t too great a set-back and the students seemed to enjoy themselves. Giving the students a definite goal for their research made the activity more enjoyable for them. My students are extremely competitive, so the research became a game for them as they tired to hide their plans from the other groups.
Using Skype in the classroom proved so successful that I’m going to try to arrange a regular Korea-Canada Skype Club in my school this fall. My aunt teaches in North British Columbia and expressed an interest in a cross-cultural communication project. I think the students in both countries would find it interesting.
To keep this post from getting too long, I’ll leave off here. Look for more of my thoughts about the camp in the following days. I’ll also share my teaching materials and my students’ videos as well.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about what I’ve written. Have you tried to engage students in digital literacy? How important do you think these skills are for students?