digital literacy and sixth-graders

Albertine Aaberge teaches high school students digital media, and noted in a blog post yesterday that she’s had much the same experience with them as I described in my presentation in Oslo last Thursday: teens have a fair bit of experience with digital and social media, but they tend not to make the connection between that and their learning environments. They may have a form of “digital literacy” but it’s not the kind that is expected by teachers, universities, or, I would argue, their future employees.

Thinking of this made me think of my eleven-year-old daughter’s homework yesterday. She’s in sixth grade and had finished the chapter on geometry in her maths book, so her maths homework was to spend fifteen minutes working online on maths using links her teacher had provided in her school’s LMS. Forty minutes later she called out “Look at this, Mum!” She’d been playing with a symmetry game at and was thrilled at the groovy patterns she could make.

Now this symmetry game is actually very close to the Flash-based games she loves to play anyway. She enjoys drawing games, and solving “missions” and decorating her igloo in Club Penguin, and various rather insipid decorating your bedroom sort of games at Games2Girls. She’s bookmarked sites like ninja kiwi, Miniclip and Scribble, a game where you draw lines to help your “blots” get through hindrances. She’d now far rather play Flash games of a Saturday morning than watch cartoons on TV, which used to be the thing to do on weekends when mothers don’t want to get up early. Going to her computer now to check out her bookmarks, I see her browser is open to “storytime” at the BBC, which is also a link provided by her teacher in the LMS.

A site like gives kids maths in a medium they already know – fun little Flash games that you can play with and explore as you play with plasticine or drawing equipment or lego blocks or dolls. So kids can use the digital literacy they have – basic browser and gaming skills – to learn maths.

A site like Mathemania transfers maths skills into the kids’ area of digital literacy or competancy. That’s great.

But we also need to be helping kids to learn to transfer their species of digital literacy into the kinds of demands the adult world will require. We can’t just translate all knowledge into Flash games and the Wikipedia and Facebook and expect young people to intuitively “get” how to, for instance, conduct productive web searches, evaluate information critically, present it to others using appropriate digital means – or even, for 95% of them, to learn to PROGRAM those Flash games or make those critical remixes of popular culture that we’re so thrilled to see when we discover them.

I really think that schools and educators are increasingly aware of these issues – and I think that we need to keep that focus.

I might have to try to find Aurora a summer camp or something that teaches her how to make Flash games 🙂

21. November 2007 by Jill

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