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A Qualitative Study of Children's Exchanging Activity in the Group Work of Software Making

Hitoshi NAKAGAWA <hitoshi_nakagawa@mediakids.or.jp>
Yokohama City Board of Education

Satoru ITABASHI <itasan@mediafactory.co.jp>
Media Factory, Inc.


The important factors of "integrated learning," which starts in elementary schools and junior high schools in Japan in 2003, will be "group learning through the Internet" and "creativity and originality in learning activities." As preliminary research we studied children from different schools and different areas creating software together.

Children researched "software -- easy to use," "software -- easy to understand," and "software -- fun to work with" in various ways and built up their ideas of software with the help of specialists. They discussed how to "work together" and "exchange ideas" and considered the methods of exchanging ideas smoothly on the Internet.


1. Introduction

Although there are many "learning with the Internet" projects, the effects of using the Internet in learning are not yet fully analyzed. We tried to make clear the significance and the future outlook of using the Internet in schools.

Children of different ages, from different schools, and from different areas gathered together using a video conferencing room in a school exchange program on the Internet called MediaKids and designed their "dream software." MediaKids offers a network environment that everyone can take part in for everyday chats, group studies on local life, and events such as MediaKids Camp.

2. Development of the "Software Creating Project"

2.1. Participating schools

2.2. Schedule of the year

(# indicates activity on the Internet)

The first term: "look and touch and think"

+ Arouse children's interest in software considering the present state of the class
+ Experience various kinds of software / Teachers use software in class lessons
+ Show their software to each other
# Show their software to partner schools on the Internet

The second term: "elaboration"

- Discuss ways to improve their software
- Think in detail about the software, full of one's ideas and wishes
# Talk about your "dream software" and get suggestions from friends
- Talk about the kind of software you would like in the classroom and on the Internet
---sometimes it may be impossible to choose only one
- Work out some plans to make real software
# Discuss collaboration work with partner schools
* The first offline meeting in Tokyo with children from the participating schools
Show a rough sketch of the software to friends of partner schools and software specialists.

The third term

- Look over the plan
* The second offline meeting in Tokyo with children from participating schools
---Show the detailed plan to specialists
- Make the software
* CD-ROM "The Collection of Software Made by Children's Collaboration" completed

2.3. The episodes

2.3.1. Software presenter

Children need to have a certain amount of insight into software in general before they can actually design it. This is why we assigned a Soft-Presenter, who brings and introduces fun software to schools, so children can get in touch with what software is all about. Software is brought to the schools with a theme in mind, with the children touching, getting used to, and getting familiar with the software. The aim is to nurture a sense of how to use software, and to come up with ideas to improve the software.

A Soft-Presenter arrived at Mr. Kishi's third grade classroom at Wakayama-Daigaku Fuzoku elementary school during the "integration class." He works for the project sponsor and is the person in charge of the project. His main concern was whether the children would be interested in the software he brought. It was the first time he had taught a class.

The theme he brought to the class was "change." First he introduced the software to the class. The first software representing the theme was called Goo, which is an image-editing software. During his explanation of the software, the children were already simulating their own faces (Fig.1).

Next they experimented in groups. The children took turns working with the software. The children took pictures and had fun with their own faces, using all 22 Macintosh computers, after having some problems installing Goo in the Macintoshes.

Fig. 1

The next software was called Pomdapi World vol.1 "get together and change," which was produced by the Soft-Presenter himself. It is a kind of a fun encyclopedia in which the children can find interesting things in their everyday life through questions and puzzles. The theme "change" is what makes a personal computer interesting. The children were able to fully experience this theme with the aid of the computer.

In this way, the first semester was intended to give the children the opportunity to get familiar with software through many aspects.

2.3.2. The integration process of more than 30 software ideas on the network

The process of producing software started after getting familiar with software through the first semester. At Wakayama and Hage the process started with a student or a group of students uploading their software ideas on the network, using drawing software. In Oguchidai, representatives of the students gathered ideas in the class, initiated the selection of two software ideas, detailed them out on a big piece of paper, and sent them through mail to the other two schools (Fig.2 & Fig.3).

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

On the Net, many opinions were stated and many questions were asked. At the beginning, each child preferred his or her own software idea, before they acknowledged the merits of the ideas of others. This is why there were many children waiting for comments on their own ideas. There were a total of more than 30 software ideas presented.

The children at Oguchidai proposed to do the integration of the many software ideas on the Net (Fig.4).

Fig. 4

Teachers gave advice. They told children about the ideas of other children and encouraged them to think what kind of suggestions would be of help to their friends. This was done also during the integrated learning class and each school finally chose five software ideas (see 2.3.3).

2.3.3. The first offline meeting

Soon after the winter vacation began, the children gathered in Tokyo to show their ideas to the software specialists. There were five ideas and the children had discussed the ideas thoroughly. The children chose one boy or girl as the representative for each idea and carefully prepared for the presentation.

Children, teachers, staff, parents, and the software company members who judged the software -- 57 people in all -- gathered in the conference room of the company.

After introducing one another and reporting about the activities in the classroom, the presentation started. The presentation was rich in the variety of papers and software, each of them carefully prepared. The children asked many questions. They all did a wonderful job participating in the discussion, including the youngest of the presenters, the Wakayama University Primary School third grade student (Fig.5 & Fig.6).

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

A symposium was held after the presentation on the following points.

1) Software on Festivals
-----presented by a third grader from the Wakayama University Primary School
This software introduces a festival for each month from January to December.
( Do we have to start from January and go on one month after another or can we start where we like?)
2) Software on Saving Endangered Animals
-----presented by a third grader from Wakayama University Primary School
This software enables conversations with endangered animals in Japan and seeks information for creating a comfortable environment for them.
(If a comfortable environment for animals is uncomfortable for human beings what should we do?)
3) Another Earth Software
-----presented by a fifth grader from Ouguchidai Primary School
This software searches for "another earth" for us to live on that has a comfortable environment (Fig.7).
(Can the story be made more rich and imaginative?)

4) Japan Rediscovered (Journey and Adventure Software)
-----presented by a sixth grader from Namikai Primary School
The hero travels through Japan with some money in his hands and discovers many things.
(The problem is that money seems to have the leading part in this story.)
5) Writing Letters Software
-----presented by a sixth grader from Ouguchidai Primary School
This software is for easily writing letters on the computer and then printing them out.
(It would be better if the letters could be sent as e-mail on the Net.)

Children became deeply involved with their software through discussions in the classroom and they presented their ideas and asked questions with confidence in themselves.

After the presentation, the main judge declared that he could not choose the best software because of the high quality of all the software and the children's enthusiasm.

3. Results

3.1. The spreading and widening of learning

As has been shown above, five software ideas were chosen. The prototype for each of the software was completed through discussions on the Net and in the classroom and from receiving technical support from the specialists.

Children were able to think about their software from many points of view not only from discussions in their classrooms but also by listening to the suggestions of the children from other partner schools and specialists who could see and think more objectively. The process of creating software also offered them a chance to learn both through face-to-face discussions in the classroom and through the exchange of opinions with others on the Net. The children learned an attitude to search for the real thing through creating their own software. They also learned about the characteristics of the software through experiencing many kinds of software.

3.2. The significance of the project as integrated learning

This project succeeded as a case of integrated learning for the following reasons:

The children were set free from the limits of their experience and what they have learned in school to solve problems by creating their own dream software.

Ms. Satoh of Ouguchidai Primary School indicates that one benefit of the Software Creating Project was fact that "children could work on their own plan not restricted by time."

3.3. Teacher's role

We recognize the importance of the teacher's role in the Software Creating Project. It was common to all three schools. The first role was "to organize opinions in the classroom." The children did not send their opinions directly onto the Net. They held discussions in the classroom and organized their opinions. After making themselves understood by their classmates and teachers, the opinions were put on the Net. By doing this, the discussion, after receiving suggestions and advice from other schools on the Net, was more fruitful.

The second role was "to organize communication on the Net." Six hundred e-mails were sent in eight months in the video conferencing room on software making. There were 30 ideas for the software and the Net was complicated with many suggestions and ideas. The children could not understand the problems that were being discussed, unless they kept reading the mail all the time. So the teacher organized the complicated opinions on the Net and indicated the appropriate opinions for the children to read.

The third role was, together with the second role, to give children advice on how to speak on the Net.

The fourth role was to support the children's presentations. The teachers gave advice on how to present and express the ideas in classroom discussions and offline meetings.

4. The problems to be solved

4.1. You cannot always find a specialist to support you

We were very fortunate to have the co-sponsorship of the software company, receive advice on searching the real software, and get technical support in the final step of software making. But there is no guarantee that every school can receive this kind of support. Preliminary arrangements are necessary for a project that needs the cooperation of organizations and people outside school.

4.2. It is necessary to find an authoring software with which children can shape their ideas more easily

In the final step of creating the software, putting the idea into pictures, the children needed to know how the picture would move by using authoring software. We must provide children and teachers who do not have much technical knowledge about personal computers with an authoring software to put their ideas into shape easily. Otherwise, the project will be possible only in the classroom of a teacher with technical knowledge of computers.

4.3. Teachers' communication with each other is indispensable in the spreading and deepening of children's learning

We have already indicated the fact that even though a common goal among the three schools was to create their own original software, without the help of teachers the communication on the Net would have been mixed up and confusing. The teachers must communicate with each other closely to discuss their classrooms and the Net.

Without the efforts of the teachers, children's learning will not spread or deepen.

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