Review of Moodle 2 for Teaching 4 – 9 Year Olds by Nick Freear

Moodle 2 for Teaching 4-9 Year Olds is written by Nick Freear who deserves big respect for his perseverance: he began writing the book some time ago for Moodle 1.9 and then was asked half way through to start again and do it for 2.0 instead -so he did :)  What he has done though, and is keen to point out at the start of Chapter 1, is that the activities in the book will work for both versions and there are differentiated instructions for 1.9 and 2.0. So actually the book could be called Moodle 1.9 AND Moodle 2 for Teaching 4-9 Year Olds :)

One of the great advantages of Moodle is that its open source nature means that anyone can contribute to its development by creating and offering new add-ins. Nick is one of those committed developers and has made several plugins tailored specifically for younger children which are put to sound use in the book.

Just a caveat before we begin: to make the most of the great add-ins in the book  you’ll need either to have control over your own Moodle install: ie, have a techie who can add extra plugins to your primary Moodle in your school or else be a part of a county-wide consortium that is happy to install them for you.

That said, the author gets straight to the business in Chapter 1 by having the new user log in and create the course we’ll be playing with. We get a quick run down of Moodle’s activities and resources and then begin to create our first quiz, using images from Wikicommons.  This will be an alphabet quiz and to get sound to match the images the contributed filter SimpleSpeak needs to be installed (for which instructions are provided) Here, I have to confess, I take issue with Packt for calling this a Beginners Guide. While the teacher making the quiz might be a beginner, installing contributed modules is an admin job (as Nick of course points out) I think I’d have put the installation instructions at the back of the book in an appendix maybe and kept going with the teacher instructions so as not to lose the flow.

In Chapter 2 we move from Literacy to Numeracy, searching for open content to embed images and video into labels and webpages. I very much like Nick’s emphasis on Creative Commons work. Far too often teachers are happy to  copy and paste any old stuff from Google and if this makes them more aware, all the better. We then go back to the Quiz to create some numerical/maths questions including use of Nick’s calculated objects question type (installed admin) This is a lovely question type but again, you are dependent on your primary school having control of your own Moodle.

Pausing for a moment, I would suggest that this book is best suited to the admin or talented ICT co-ordinator of your school because I have concerns that some of the language involving coding might be a bit beyond the reach of regular busy primary school teachers – for example,  editing HTML and being instructed to “add an attribution link and close your div element” or being told that the “min-width style rule will not work in older versions of Internet Explorer browser (less than version 7)” I know a lot of top class IT literate primary school teachers on twitter who will understand that – but they are in a minority and my feeling is that many teachers at the chalk face won’t even know (or care) what version of IE their school is on.  Perhaps it is the duty of those minority primary IT experts to educate their colleagues but I just worry that  their colleagues merely want to use Moodle to put on fun learning activities for their students and hacking HTML is a step too far. It’s an interesting debate, worth pursuing elsewhere: when I wrote my book Moodle 1.9 For Teaching 7-14 Year Olds I used the “lowest common denominator” approach, standard activities for non-technical teachers. But my daughter took one look and dissed it “Mum – you are SO patronising!” And I think perhaps I, like Nick,should be aiming to extend their skills rather than work with where they are at currently?

Back to the  book: Chapter 3 makes good use of the database activity for storytelling – the database activity is very powerful and underused so kudos to Nick here. There is also a quick intro to Audacity, always a useful program for any school teacher and their students. Chapter 4 deals with the lesson activity and teaches some image editing with Inkscape.  (There’s also an extra bit at the end relating to enrolling your students  with an enrolment key and uploading with a csv file. Again,  might this  have been better at the end as an appendix along with installation instructions? There is a handy appendix at the end already which has taught me a lot about Accessiblity for online teaching) You can read chapter 4 and try out the activities for yourself as Packt has offered this chapter as a freebie here

Chapter 5 introduces the SIMILE timeline widget, which I haven’t experienced but thanks to Nick’s having a Moodle site to accompany the book, I was able to see it anyway. Check his site out -very helpful! I also found out from the book what Draconian Error handling is in XML parsing – but again – how vital is it for your teacher of 4-9 Year olds to know this? Chapter 6 deals with one of my favourite contributed modules, thankfully updated for 2 – the Game module. This takes its questions from a glossary so we first learn how to create and add to a glossary and then make several games such as Snakes and Ladders or Hidden Picture. Chapter 7 goes into more depth about XML files   – making a wordsearch based on an Excel (or other ) spreadsheet and making a jigsaw from a Flickr picture   and then using http://subtangent.com/flash/ to generate a swf file. Another new site for me and one I will investigate with interest.  Chapter 8 is all about story telling and for this your friendly Moodle admin will need to add the book module (when is that going to be core?!!) along with the contributed Dictionary filter. Nick’s site that I mentioned earlier has resources for this – an E-book based on The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter. Chapter 9 is somewhat close to my heart as it highlights Scratch, a programming language and environment tailored to children and a very popular one  at our school with our resident @teknoteacher If you can add the Scratch filter to your Moodle, it embeds the games very nicely. We also learn about Phet simulations, another new one on me so thanks Nick :)  Finally we make an HTML 5 jigsaw – HTML 5 being as Nick says, the next generation web standard. I do just worry again about a teacher of 4-9 year olds who isn’t familiar with the technology using iframes in the HTML source editor of Moodle. But then if they don’t try, they won’t learn will they?

To finish off the book, Nick deals in Chapter 10 with the important issue of administration – backing up and restoring your course, recording and tracking progress, blogging and the gradebook.

Conclusion? Lots of good ideas for using web 2.0 and contributed modules in your Moodle. I for one am going to go through it a second time to improve my HTML/XML skills. I wouldn’t call it a Beginners’ Guide because of the complexity of some of the activities, but I think that if you are admin of a school including 4 – 9 year old pupils and are keen to get your teachers on board with Moodle then you will gain a lot from this that you can pass on to them. You know your teachers best and which activities will inspire them and their classes the most -and there is certainly a wide choice here.

Next up: Moodle 2 Administration by Alex Büchner

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