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John Simkin

Developing a Citizenship Course

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I agree with the statements that a "good citizenship" course should focus on rights and duties.

Even though one article of the German constitution explicitly calls for civil disobedience and resistance if/when our democracy is in danger or challenged, civil disobedience is seen by many as something unwanted, something which is not rooted in German history. So I think that thinking critically, being a nuisance or embarrasement(sometimes) for the "good German citizens" is a major aim of education and especially of the subject citizenship/politics.

Encouraging the students to think critically , to question decisisons also helps to boost their self-confidence. Let me give you an example: Two years ago one of my classes (I was their form teacher, their English, History and Citizenship teacher; it was a year 9; age group: 14-15) dealt with the topic "Industrial Revolution" and child labor; in the English and Citizenship lessons I asked them to read and discuss texts dealing with child labour today. One of the articles dealt with child slavery in West Africa, especially on the cocoa plantations. Via the articles they learnt that most of the chocolate they ate contained the "blood" of children in West Africa. They were so enraged that they wanted to start a project to stop child slavery and they decided to write letters to the main European and American chocolate producers and the German Bundestag. Then they took the letters and went through all the classes and courses in our school and asked the other students to sign them. In the end nearly 800 signatures had been collected and we sent the letters and the signatures to the main producers. Very quickly all of them answered and the letters were rather long and not of a prefabricated,suitable- for-all-occassions type. Some of the answers enraged the students again because some corporations blamed them of having become the victims of propaganda and manipulation, which the students had not, unless you call UNICEF and UNESCO material "propaganda". None of the students had the notion that they really did manage to stop child slavery or that we forced corporations like Masterfoods or Nestlé to change their policies, but still they were proud of what they had done; and the students did profit from the project in various ways and one was a recognizable boost of their self-confidence ( the school yearbook and the local paper wrote articles about the project).

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I'm sorry I've been so quiet recently on this Forum. The rest of the family all came down with various ailments, most of which involved bodily fluids spurting about and needing to cleaned up by the only person who was healthy (that's me, David, the night nurse …). Fortunately, they're all now on the mend … but what I've had to do this week shows how useful flexible learning can be in a crisis, because I've more or less managed to teach and respond to students in between patients.

This got me thinking about the Citizenship Project and how you could add a European dimension to it. I was asked by John to become involved as someone who uses ICT in his teaching, and it's in that gestalt that I'm writing now.

Last Thursday I had to run a four-hour seminar on using technology to teach languages over in Borgholm on Öland (the long, thin island off the coast near Kalmar). In the end, I ran it from our spare room at home here in Kalmar, about 40 kms away.

The locale in Borgholm had an 8MB/s broadband connection, which is more or less what I and the other participant, Bryan Carter from Missouri, had too. Firewalls were conspicuous by their absence, so we set up a laptop, connected to their broadband connection and to a projector/speakers/webcam/echo-cancelling microphone, over there. We were going to do this anyway to let Bryan come in, but it suddenly became really urgent.

There wasn't time to warn the participants (teachers at all levels with Borgholm Council - average age, about 50, interest in and experience of computers, very limited) of the change of plan. However, we managed to run the session using Marratech, which included me taking them through how to make interactive Word documents and web pages, running listening comprehension exercises properly, and using video in the language classroom, successfully. Halfway through (when it was 8 am in Missouri), Bryan came on line (so that there were three stations connected up) and we ran an interactive session on more futuristic aspects of technology in schools, such as blogging, podcasting and using 'microworlds' (virtual, often 3D, environments). There was a lot of interactivity, both in the room in Borgholm, and between them and Bryan and me. The evaluation we ran at the end of the session was extremely positive (I'd have invited you to join us, if I'd had time to think about anything other than patients and teaching this week).

I'm busy putting together a reflection of what went on for the participants on Thursday, and I'll be happy to send a copy to anyone who wants one (just mail me - it's a fairly small Word document).

What I thought about this was that the cost of the extra equipment used in Borgholm (I'm excluding the computer and projector, since they're bog standard, and the broadband connection, because that's nothing exclusive to this way working either) was about €1,000 tops. The cost of the Marratech server we used is about €2,000 per annum, but bear in mind that we were using about 1/20 of its capacity for only four hours out of that year. If we were going to use Marratech for various activities on the Citizenship Project, the smart thing to do would be to borrow a room from Kalmar.

There was very little technical difficulty: we just plugged the PC into the wall, and turned it on. Firewalls cause greater problems, but these are basically surmountable, especially if we're talking about a facility you can use for lots of different subjects in lots of different ways.

The bottom line for me is that the technology already exists for both teachers and pupils throughout Europe to work actively with each other from where they happen to be. Imagine a co-operative project between several European countries focussed on a specific subject, such as how you get a lower speed limit to be imposed on the street outside your school. I know that one problem would be language … but isn't the overcoming of that problem one of the things that this whole European idea is supposed to be about?

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I'm busy putting together a reflection of what went on for the participants on Thursday, and I'll be happy to send a copy to anyone who wants one (just mail me - it's a fairly small Word document).

...

The bottom line for me is that the technology already exists for both teachers and pupils throughout Europe to work actively with each other from where they happen to be. Imagine a co-operative project between several European countries focussed on a specific subject, such as how you get a lower speed limit to be imposed on the street outside your school. I know that one problem would be language … but isn't the overcoming of that problem one of the things that this whole European idea is supposed to be about?

Let me first thank you for your offer (that of sending us your reflection on the activity) which I would be delighted to read. Then, regarding the technological possibilities offered today I am most inclined to thinking that any European project demands a certain technological literacy (which in a Comenius 2.1 as ours would appear in the refresher course for teachers in the end) apart from a general knowledge of English and other languages. I tend to think of languages not as barriers (technology is also a language in that sense, as it demands literacy). So whatever we may think there is a need to make our language(s) accessible to a wider community. I believe, with everybody's effort, we can make a worth contribution to "this whole European idea". :lol:

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To set up a "European class", where teachers (and students) are able to interact as you did in your Borgholm course can be a main asset for our Citizenship project. There are a lot of topics that can be used from a Citizenship point of view.

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John's asked me about any special projects Kalmar could be involved in. Here's one idea:

Swedish schools are very active when it comes to democratic participation in decision-making - at all levels of the system. The first parents' evening at our little daughter's day nursery took up, for example, the question of how exactly we can organise ourselves so that 18-month old babies have a say in the way the day nursery is organised! As soon as the children start school (at the age of 7), each class elects a 'Class Council', and also representatives to the 'School Council'. There are parental representatives on all governing bodies, from day nursery right through to sixth-form college too.

What about a documentary film about this system from Sweden? It would be a relatively easy matter to interview various people involved in this, including the local politicians on the Education Committee of the local council (education's run locally in Sweden). It could also be interesting to film a couple of meetings of Class Councils and School Councils at various levels to hear what actually goes on at them.

There's a value in these for Swedish pupils - at least to have something to compare the practice in their particular school with. They could also be an interesting input from the Project web site for teachers and pupils in other European countries too.

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Podcasting is something we could use on the Citizenship Project, both as a way of keeping ourselves informed of developments as we go along, and then later, as we move into Phase 3 as a model for teachers of citizenship of how they could use ICT in their work.

I won't go into the technical details here, save to say that they must be surmountable, because I've surmounted them (and I'm far from technical)! Using Gizmo to make recordings of multi-party conversations is something we've just started doing, and you can imagine the usefulness of that in making discussions of pan-European practice available to everyone.

Podcasting involves pushing broadcasts to listeners, rather than just making sound files available on a web site (which is another use of ICT that we should definitely employ, in my opinion). That makes podcasting inherently dynamic, which could be a really useful feature if, for example, you've got a situation where pupils from several European schools are working on a longer-term project and want to make the latest situation available to everyone very quickly.

There's been a discussion of podcasting on other parts of this Forum (use 'podcasting' as a search term and you'll find the discussions). What do you all think of it as a practice for the Citizenship project?

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So far, I am ipod illiterate, so I have no clear idea about podcasting. After searching for information on the internet, it sounds very interisting. I support Richard's proposal. We all will have time to catch up with him.

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There's really not a lot of catching up to do! I'm not really that clever with computers and such.

If you'd like to take a look at a site with podcasts on it, you could try going to:

http://www.humsam.hik.se/distans/convcomp/convcompstart.htm

Click on the icon in the middle of the page, and you'll arrive at the site for the collaboration between a university in Missouri and ourselves.

You can either subscribe to these podcasts (via, say, iTunes), or listen to them directly on the page. We recorded these ones by linking up three teachers in different places (myself and two teachers in Warrensburg, Missouri) using Gizmo, which is one of these 'telephones on Internet' programmes. The quality is not quite as good as it would be if we were in a studio, but it's quite acceptable (listen to our second podcast, where we actually tested the sound levels in advance!).

Imagine a round table discussion between members of the project about pedagogical matters relating to course development once a month or so.

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