Digital Antarctic - snow good for kids

Von Brian J

Christchurch experienced a major blizzard recently -- and it wasn"t even snowing. Children from 260 South Island primary schools converged on the city for the fifth Christchurch KidsCongress, which exposes kids to hand-on technology with a theme. This year the Antarctic was the theme.

In a blizzard of IT activity, the children worked their way through 30 hands-on sessions, which saw them use a variety of software, as well as video and digital cameras to create animations, present a news program and create other multimedia presentations on Antarctic themes. They also designed and built robots for Antarctic exploration and other skills-based tasks.

The titles of the projects showed how various they were and included: ?Claymation - why is it called Scott Base?; ?Virtual Tourism? and ?Roamer Treasure Hunt?. Each of the 30 sessions was built around a particular theme and employed the hands-on use of digital media to develop the theme with the aim of maximizing the learning experience of using digital technology.

The whole event was put together by a student committee from Aranui primary school. These students got an extra learning bonus as they also learnt the skills necessary to organize such an event -- including accounting, scheduling, and ensuring that everything is available on time.

?For the students on the organizing committee, it provided powerful authentic work experience,? said project facilitator Mike Andrews.

?It has a transforming effect upon the children doing it. At the same time, it provides genuine learning outcomes in new technologies for the participating students. And the teachers gain new experience and professional development in creating learning experiences ... [that use these] new technologies.?

KidsCongress is the brainchild of Faye Le Cren, a past principal of Christchurch"s Elmwood Normal School. The first KidsCongress was held in 2001 at the Cookie Time factory. Le Cren has now moved on to become chief executive of eTime and the program has since been championed by Andrews, the school development facilitator at Aranui primary school.

The project is run by CORE, which trains teachers in the use of new technology, but the real work is done by the teachers and students. The student committee organizes everything under the supervision of a coordinator; and individual sessions are designed and supervised by teachers from the various schools. The ideas are numerous and creative, and nothing has been turned down yet.

Individual session content depends upon the theme ... and the theme is determined by the venue. This year, the Antarctic Center provided a generous donation in the form of building space at both the center and by the nearby US Antarctic Program headquarters.

This is the fifth year the KidsCongress has run in Christchurch. The concept was exported to Auckland two years ago and there are plans to extend it elsewhere, too.

?It?s hard to get tangible results, but anecdotal input from email shows that the program has an effect long afterwards,? says Andrews.