The Axe, The Toaster And Internet Safety

Astrid met several times with the class teacher and at the first meeting it was decided that this was not going to be a project about the Scots language, as first muted, but would be more relevant and useful if this project would be about internet safety. A project on internet safety led by a Luddite, who doesn't know how to use 'Snapchat' or 'Xbox live'… Suddenly a project on the Scots language seemed a lot more appealing.)

Not an easy topic or one that Astrid is an expert on, but one that is essential for a group of P6/7 pupils who are online through many different apps and are maybe not be aware of the potential dangers or consequences of their online life. The teacher and Astrid met several times after that initial conversation, to discuss approaches, topics, and the idea that the class should lead their own learning. Astrid also had to be aware that as a composite class there would be younger pupils with less internet experience, so she was not to scare them!

Astrid did have an advantage: the teacher and class had already worked in a creative, explorative, and challenging way with Paul Gorman, Hidden Giants, and the teacher was supportive of a more creative approach to learning and therefore happy with the idea that the first session would be planned, and follow-up sessions would take the lead from the pupils.

The class started with an introduction of who Astrid was and that she was there to work with them on a project. The pupils could see there was a range of objects around the room (including an axe and a toaster) that they had to look at to see if they could make any connections or work out the uses. There was also a table covered with mystery objects, no further explanation was given as that would be looked at later. As the pupils moved around the objects trying to make connections and discussing amongst themselves what the project could be about, one pupil suggested that the project could be about ''The colour of romance, because there are paint brushes, red paint, wine on the table, Astrid is an artist and its February''.

A big debate ensued about whether the axe was indeed the most dangerous thing visible, and it was eventually decided that it wasn't, as it depended on how you use it. It was only dangerous if used carelessly or if you didn't follow the instructions. They then decided that this was the same for all the objects: it was how you used them, you could get hurt by them if used wrongly, they all had potential danger.

It was at this point that Astrid unveiled the mystery objects - a mobile, laptop and iPad. Instantly the connection was made that these also could be dangerous through the internet, and that ''There was a story in the newspaper about cyber bullying and the person died''.

As a group they highlighted what they used online and as Astrid didn't know how to use 'Snapchat' or Xbox Live,' instructions were written up on how to use them. What kept you safe was also identified. This then led to a challenging discussion around whether we can be taught common sense or life experience, with pupils giving examples of both.

This information was then used to create a series of Top Trump cards recording the perceived deadliness and safeness of the objects on the table. The criteria list included deadliness, safeness, common sense, life experience and privacy settings.

Over the next few sessions, they worked together to identify what was personal information, who needs to know what, how they could protect it, and what to do if they share some of this accidentally, as we all can do. They explored how to know if they have upset somebody in class, and online and the differences between the 'virtual' world and the classroom, what they could do differently and how statements made 'online' can continue to circulate with consequences for both parties. (While initially being private, all messages are stored for a year by the internet provider and could be used as evidence.)

Masks were made, partly to protect identity, but also re-enforcing the idea that you don't always know who you are talking to online or see if they are upset. Finally, the pupils worked in small groups and composed a short film to share their learning. (This linked in with a topic that they were working on with their class teacher.)

There were time constraints and challenges such as a group not working well together on the final filming but with a bit of support this was resolved, and the task completed. Together, they were inquisitive, persistent, imaginative, collaborative and disciplined with this project.

Having the evaluation sometime after the project was possibly a good thing, they could identify what they had learnt, had used, and the pupils were still enthusiastic about the approach. The evaluation shows the value of doing an important topic in a creative, pupil led approach. This more collaborative approach had a deeper impact than just a lesson where the pupils are given the facts as a traditional internet safety lesson. The pupils liked that they were ''Hands on, and a part of it. It was easier to remember because it was fun''. Furthermore, it gave the pupils space to explore issues that were important and relevant to them. The pupils reported that they are consciously acting safer online. The class teacher indicated that there were no further reports of online bullying.

''Vygotsky's social learning theory promotes learning contexts in which students play an active role in learning… learning therefore becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and teacher.'' Astrid knows that this how she learns best. This approach to an exploration of online safety with a P6/7 class has shown that the pupils likewise value this way of learning also.