All abuzz over Yuri

Today in my Astronomy class ( year 8 ) we started learning about space exploration.  Students knew who the first person to walk on the moon was, some even knew who the second was.  Nobody knew who the first person in space was – although some thought it might have been a Russian.  Now, suppose I had simply told them who it was ([whispers] It was Yuri Gagarin but shhhhh! because at this point in the story my students don’t know that yet). How engaging would that have been? Right! it would have been boring and the lesson would have been utterly unmemorable.

Instead, I told them we were going to have a contest.  The first student to get a text message on their phone, with the correct answer to the question would be the winner.  Here’s how events transpired…


The truth is, of course that we were all winners.  We’d had fun, learned something… no, not that Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space – just between us, I don’t really think that’s terribly important to remember – you can always look it up if you need to know it – but the important lesson was in the value of a PLN (personal learning network).  If you’re reading this blog, you probably realise the value of a PLN in your own career, but how often do we encourage our students to think about cultivating a PLN?  In a world where information is voluminous, ubiquitous and free, a person’s professional success will not be predicated on an ability to remember facts, but on an ability to quickly access information on the fly.   A PLN is powerful for that.

If nothing else, the lesson was memorable. The engagement of students made it a worthwhile novelty – you could see it in their faces.  Their pupils were dilated, they were smiling and there was a buzz in the air (literally! – from the ringtones).


19 thoughts on “All abuzz over Yuri

  1. Way cool! I love the little comic life (?) pic you shared with this. I’m already thinking of ways I could do this tomorrow.

    I like what you post. Please keep it up. This canadian likes it.


  2. Great idea Douchy. I was thinking of a way in which I could bring in something similar in a geograpy class. Using phones and SMS to try and see who could get a message from the furtherest location.

  3. And at my school we ban mobile phones in classrooms! How do we shift the attitudes of teachers so that they wake up to the possibilities of the 21st century?

  4. what a brilliant idea. and the kids will definitely remember the answer. we are revamping our mobile devices policy at the moment, and this would be a great example of the positive power of the mobile devices in the classroom.

  5. You’re so inspiring Andrew. I wish my students had mobiles at school but they are a bit young. Grade 6’s could manage though. PLN’s are even important in the Prep grade as I witnessed today how they have formed their own PLN’s in reading and writing sessions. The class moves around to suit reading or writing and displays the discrete PLN’s that the chn have formed. However until I saw your post I hadn’t thought of it in this way. Thanks.

  6. Great Post!

    I would love to see schools embracing these types of ideas and learning environments. Just as a question for you and others…

    Do you need a PLN to answer the type of question you posed to your students? As you said the answer isn’t really that important as you can look it up so I wonder when do we need our PLN?

    A good friend shared a service called cha cha [] with me some time ago. With cha cha you can text in your question and with in 2 min you will have an answer texted back to your phone with somewhere around a 96% accuracy rating. Granted you will get three more advertisement texts, but with services like cha cha it poses an interesting situation for teaching and learning. Is this yet another example of the automation of left brain activities?

  7. I agree Brent. (and initially wrote a paragraph about that in my post but then deleted it for the sake of brevity and simplicity – but I’m glad you have raised it in the comments) The concrete factual question i gave did not really need a PLN… a computer with an Internet connection could have returned the answer faster – what a PLN is good for is when you need information or opinions that have passed through a filter of people you trust, who understand the context that you are working in. That’s where I would like to head with this. This particular exercise was just an experiment to test how engaging the activity was for students. The next challenge is to use it to do what a Google search can’t. Having said that… it did make the students think “Who do i know who knows a lot about space and history?” or “Who do i know who is likely to be sitting at a computer right now?” or “Who do i know who will respond to an SMS the minute they get one and has the time to go and look something up for me?”. That kind of critical thinking has value.

    I may be mistaken but i think the cha cha service is not available in Australia. But the potential of it is great. Mind you, in a few years, all phones will have Internet access anyway – so even the need for that may wane. Most new phones do already… but kids are reluctant to use it because of the high data costs. But take the iPhone for example. You can connect that to the school Wifi network.. and use the internet for free.

  8. Andrew great idea. I have battled a little lately with kids taking photos of others in the school yard adding a phrase or word and showing others – not good [year 6] – so its great to be reminded again of the positive advantges. I was thinking about about the power to collect first hand info quickly so that data can be used to info answers to questions: e.g. Are we really planting trees to save the planet – text your network and see if you can get a date to the last tree someone planted. collate results from text poll in excel graph and make a generalisation… Thanks

  9. Andrew. The photo comic strip was a great way of showing the class activity and the thinking that went on about how to do this task quickly is so valuable. I also agree with your tweet that the next personal computer will be developed from the smartphone but I think it will be here in less than 5 years. In fact we are pretty close already.

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  11. Neat idea, but what do you do when not everybody has a cell phone. You shouldn’t assume that everybody has one. That will make the person that doesn’t feel left out.

  12. Neat idea, but what do you do if everybody doesn’t have a cell phone. You shouldn’t assume that everyone has one. It will make the student that doesn’t feel left out and that isn’t fair.

  13. I couldn’t resist! I came in to my VCAL class this morning and took a quick poll of who had their phones with them. All had phones and only one with expired credit. I explained that they would use their phones to answer a challenge, and that there would be no runner-up! Their challenge was to receive a text from someone older than me. Everyone gave it a go. We have decided that this was round one, and we need a few more of increasing difficulty over the last few lessons of the term.

    An insightful discussion followed, exploring the idea of knowledge and how we acquire it. We reflected on what we expect teachers to know for us when we are in primary school, compared to what we need to know now. If I don’t know something, do I know someone who does?

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