The Web is child's play

Putting technology into the hands of schoolchildren can make their curriculum come alive.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Instead of looking to its Victorian roots to commemorate its 100th anniversary, a London school looked to the roots of its pupils - and put them on the Internet. The Rosendale Infants School in south London began a year-long project last September using the Internet and the newest digital technology and computer software to create a multimedia family album for its 300 pupils. Two artists-in-residence and a photographer at the school worked with the children, aged five to seven, using photography, video, creative writing and drawing. The result is vivid and multi-textured; there are 56 countries and 22 languages represented.

Rosendale Infants Web page is extensive and colourful. It starts from a simple map of the school, divided into rooms, with three of each level - reception, year one and year two. Once you've clicked on a room, a brightly coloured screen with a child will appear and you can click on a picture of an item of furniture in the classroom. This will lead to multimedia images of and by a child, accompanied by text. Sound will be added soon.

Children were given cameras to take home to photograph families and friends for the project. "At one point, you couldn't walk down the hall without getting clicked," said Diana Jenkins, Rosendale Infant's headteacher.

The young social anthropologists then got down to the task of interviewing parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents, delving into personal histories to learn where their families came from. They brought in old photographs and stories of places far away.

Then came old-fashioned classwork. The children worked with their teachers on the project, which, for all its innovation, looked a lot like the standard national curriculum - language, history and geography. Mathematics was covered by mapping which showed the children where their families had come from.

The children made collages of the photographs, and drew on and around them. They also wrote the text accompanying and explaining the artwork that guides the reader through their pages, telling of their favourite foods, activities and belongings, and describing where they live and their families - now and a long time ago. They also interviewed each other, learning about other new places and cultures.

Next came the technology. The children used the latest digital cameras to photograph themselves and their friends. The cameras have no film, but are plugged into a computer, which downloads images instantly.

The computer program Hyperstudio, created specifically for use by children, was used to combine images of the child with pictures drawn by hand and computer, sound - both spoken words and music - and video to make an interactive package. With help from multimedia artist Shona Illingworth, the pupils put their original pictures on a "card" and then added layers of art and sound to create, in effect, an electronic book. Extracts were knitted together to make the Web site created by Julie Myers and Fiona Bailey, of the Photographer's Gallery in London, who co-ordinated the project along with Diana Jenkins.

Ms Jenkins said the project made the national curriculum "come alive", in addition to helping the children learn about their histories, geography and identity. The children's work will be part of an exhibit called "Displaced Data" at the Photographer's Gallery, beginning in March

Rosendale Infants School's Web page (http://www.artec.org.uk/rosendale)

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