I first came across the whole idea of digital leaders at the Rethinking ICT Conference organised by Chris Leach at Winchester House School in Brackley way back in 2012. Sheli Blackburn, the ICT co-ordinator from Roydon Primary School in Norfolk was inspirational when she explained how she had given her Year 5 and 6 children the opportunity to become digital leaders – to help other children in their learning, support adults in ICT lessons, and to build on their own computing skills at the same time. Over a year later, when I look back at my notes from that day I see that I have highlighted Digital Leaders in red with the note – must do this next year.
For me, there was no question as to whom I should invite to become the first group of digital leaders in our school. I had a group of boys who had been coming to my computing Zing! club for several years and who were continually challenging me to stretch them. I had been using many things – Scratch, Minecraft, Dance eJay, Kodu, etc – to keep them interested, but I knew that it would take their knowledge and enthusiasm to another level if I started to develop them as digital leaders.
As you can imagine, they were delighted, and asked if I could get them badges (like the school council reps and house captains), which a year on they wear with pride. I set up a timetable for three afternoons a week where teachers in other year groups were interested and willing to trial student teachers in their ICT lessons. These sessions could not have been more successful, with the digital leaders helping Year 1s to log on to the school’s learning platform independently, assisting Year 2 with different Purple Mash activities and supporting the Year 6s when they were creating animations using ZU3D. I, for one, could not have managed to teach Kodu to Year 5s without their support and occasional group teaching. As a teacher, I not only benefitted from several experts who could help the Year 5 children but I also learnt how Kodu works much faster than I could ever have picked it up by myself.
For the digital leaders, these sessions became a highlight of their week, and fed their enthusiasm for computing in general, but also, and surprisingly in some cases, their keenness to help other children. I saw children transformed in their learning relationships with others. Collaboration between small groups of children became the norm, and across age gaps; listening skills improved; as did the ability and confidence of the children involved to hold meaningful conversations with adults throughout the school.
After the initial term when the buzz had died down and digital leaders had become the norm in school, I became concerned that the group was all male. As there had been no Year 6 girls attending my club the criteria I had used to appoint the boys was irrelevant. However there was a group of children (mostly girls) who had been operating the audio visual mobile unit during assemblies and plays and 2 of them had shown themselves to be very adept at this, punctual and helpful to the staff using it. I decided that they should join the group, and it has been interesting to see the effect that they have had on the other digital leaders. The girls have proved to be highly motivated, especially when it has come to presenting their work to school assemblies, and creating and maintaining the Digital Leaders’ room on our learning platform.
With the implementation of a new school curriculum (see my last post) it was important that the ICT department spread knowledge and expertise of both our existing software and new freebie stuff around the staff. The digital leaders were excellent in facilitating this – they learned new software or genned up on existing during their club sessions and then in class they could spread their knowledge and help the teacher. Other opportunities presented themselves during the year, including helping me conduct a survey, and then create a presentation showing the results for an e- safety parents’ evening, and also to help me run the weekly Zing! Club where they have become the main go-to source of information for much of the finer details of Scratch and ZU3D that the younger children are learning. For the end of the year, after their SATS tests, I asked them to complete their own projects where they could showcase their own skills in a certain area, whilst at the same time creating a useful resource that can be used in school as their legacy.
So for next year, I am currently looking for a new set of leaders, because, my goodness, I will miss this lot, but also the staff, pupils and the digital leaders themselves have gained so much from the experience. We are holding a Year 5 taster session next Tuesday to see who is interested for next year. The best bit about it all has been that all I’ve had to do is book the date – my digital leaders have done the rest.