PrimaryPad in the classroom

Age Range: 7 - 11

Here is an outline of my use of PrimaryPad in the classroom...

The situation:

We had started another unit of persuasive writing, which required the children to write persuasive letters. Last year, we wrote a number of letters to various people about banning plastic bags (as it was a regular topic in the press), and the children received lots of responses (with replies from the Queen, the Prime Minister, celebrities, local / national shops etc.). This was a fantastic unit, and it gave the children a real purpose for their writing.

This year, I wanted to repeat this activity, but give the children to opportunity to think of possible topics for their persuasive letters first. PrimaryPad seemed like a simple way of collating the children's ideas. I set up one document to gather ideas, and another one where children could collect persuasive words and phrases from examples given to them (including letters from local / national newspapers). These could then be used when we write our letters later in the unit. So, we actually had two PrimaryPads on the go at the same time!

The positive:

  • PrimaryPad coped perfectly with lots of machines collaborating on two different documents. There were one or two occasions when a few of the children's laptops lost the connection to the site, but clicking on the large 'Reconnect Now' button which appeared solved the problem straight away.
  • The site provided a fantastic tool for gathering these ideas. It allowed the whole class to contribute, sharing their points of view / findings, and building up a large collection in very little time. In just over twenty minutes, the class had gathered nearly 80 different ideas / persuasive phrases for use in our future lessons. These documents were on display on our interactive whiteboard, so we could see what everyone in the class was doing as the lesson progressed. They are also stored online, allowing us to access them during our future lessons.
  • The activity was also a really interesting opportunity to see what issues were important to the children. Some of them suggested new additions to the school grounds, whilst others were concerned about national and global issues (such as the environment or animal welfare). Many of the children were worried about money-related issues (e.g. prices of food / people losing jobs / shops closing down), showing their high levels of awareness of the current economic issues.

A few problems:

Despite the overall success of the activity, there were a number of minor issues which arose:

  • Although the children were given a demonstration of the collaborative aspect of the site at the start of the lesson (with myself and my TA using different computers to edit the same document at the same time), the children were initially a little disturbed when they started seeing others editing 'their' document. When they work at school, they usually have control over their work, and a number of them found it disconcerting to see their work being edited by others! I am sure that these concerns will ease with further practice, as they learn to trust the collaborative features of the tool, and take advantage of the opportunity to work together in this way.
  • As we were making lists, the children numbered each of their entries. However, some children typed in the number of their idea and were then slow to think of an idea and / or add it to the document. In the meantime, other pairs were able to 'hijack' their number, adding their idea at someone else's number. This caused a little concern for the original pair, as their number had been stolen from them! The pace at which the document was edited meant that this happened on a number of occasions. The numbers also got a bit jumbled (see the image on the right!).
  • A few of the ideas were repeated, but as the documents became quite large, this wasn't surprising. The children were extremely keen to add their ideas, so I wasn't too worried about duplicates appearing.
  • There were a small number of complaints that others were deleting some of the ideas. In many cases, ideas were simply moved around, as new line breaks were added to (or removed from) the document. Having said that, I'm sure that a few little fingers may have removed one or two of the sentences (accidentally or otherwise!). With repeated use, the novelty of this will soon wear off (I hope)! By saving revisions regularly however, it is possible to go back through previous versions of the document to see if anything has been removed.

Tips for the future:

So, when I'm using Etherpad in the classroom again (which I would definitely like to), I might try some of the following to make things run a little more smoothly:

  • Stop numbering ideas - it only added confusion in this activity, and the numbering can easily be done later by an adult, or by a child given a moderation role.
  • Use sections - if the activity is to simply gather ideas, it might be useful to split the document up and give each child / pair a section within the document... where they (and only they) add their text. Although this isn't really developing the collaborative aspect of the tool, it may ease the children's worries about others editing their work.
  • Encourage children to type their names into the document itself. Unfortunately, once a person has left the Etherpad document, their name (and their associated colour) is lost from the contributor list. By typing their name at the top / bottom of the page, it's possible to save a record of the children who added each particular idea.
  • It might have also been a good idea to give the children a chance to 'play' with Etherpad before doing an activity like this. By giving them some time to explore the tool without the pressure of completing a task, they would be able to discover what it can do, and learn to collaborate in this way. This may well reduce the occasional incidents of silliness in future activities, as well as increase the children's confidence in seeing others adding to and editing their contributions.

Despite the few problems which arose, the activity was incredibly successful, and PrimaryPad is an amazing addition to our classroom toolkit. Have you used it in your classroom yet?

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