I suppose this is a confessional! Today I pushed myself out of the comfort zone and made a conscious decision to intentionally lie to my class.
We have been looking at e-safety in class and have had discussions with the children about their online activity. It has become clear that many children in class frequent sites such as Bin Weevils and Club Penguin (they are 6 and 7 year olds). Sites where users can chat with each other. Some even play Minecraft on open servers using older siblings’ profiles where they have encountered people destroying their creations as they thought the young children were their older siblings.
With this in mind, I devised a lesson to tackle people being unkind to each other online, but also to explore how some children will share personal information easily and finally look at the fact that, although we may think we know who we are speaking to online, children can be deceived relatively easily.
But before I go any further, I have to explain that this lesson came after a lot of scrutiny. After reading Tim Taylor’s blog about a school that lied about an alien’s egg landing in a school’s grounds, I had reservations about this whole episode. I decided to press ahead because of the check list that Tim gives near the beginning of the blog. Number 1 on the check list in the reasons to lie to children is to keep them safe. That is what this lesson was about. It was not a creative writing session. It was about keeping the children in my class safe online.
My class has been studying a UK author called Shoo Rayner . He is a fantastic chap who writes great books and has his own YouTube channel with lots of videos that show people how to simply draw lots of things. We had a Skype conversation the week before this lesson and it had a huge impact on the children. They were talking about it all week. That was where the idea came from.
I emailed Shoo to ask for permission to create a ‘Fake Shoo Rayner’ account on twitter to talk to the children. Shoo was brilliant and granted his permission, with the proviso that I deleted it after the lesson. I also kept the account private and we used direct messaging rather than the open twitter forum so that this was strictly between our class and ‘Fake Shoo Rayner’. I had set up the fake twitter account on my phone and had spoken with my teaching assistants about the kind of things I wanted them to say as they were playing the role of ‘Fake Shoo Rayner’.
I had planned on the conversation being nice and amiable to begin with and then trying to find out where a child lives before mildly insulting the children.
The lesson was successfully executed and the children were all shocked when Shoo Rayner turned nasty. Here is a transcript of the conversation. The Y2 parts were suggested by the children but typed in by me. The names of children and addresses have been changed:
(This message came to our school twitter account at 9:00am)
FSR (Fake Shoo Rayner): Hello Year 2. Would you like to chat with me on here at 1:30?
Y2: We would love to!
FSR: That would be great. Thank you so much for doing this.
(At 1:30 this next message arrived.)
FSR: Are you there Year 2?
Y2: Sorry Shoo. We are here. We are a bit late because we were reading some non-fiction. Are you OK?
(The message was delayed her because our teaching assistant got locked out of the phone!)
FSR: Hi guys. Sorry about that. I just had to let my cat out. I am fine. How are you?
Y2: We are awesome. What has been the best part of your day today?
FSR: I have just enjoyed a lovely lunch.
Y2: What did you have for your lunch?
FSR: Pizza and chips.
Y2: Who do you think Viking Vik is like in our class?
(‘Viking Vik’ – who is one of Shoo Rayner’s characters – was the trigger phrase for the teaching assistant to change the direction of the conversation towards focusing on finding where a child lives. I had selected the child earlier in the day and had phoned his parent for permission to do this. At this point the children were still really excited to be talking to Shoo Rayner again.)
FSR: Is Bertie there? I think Bertie would be cool as Viking Vik.
(Bertie beamed with delight as he had been chosen. Others in the class made a bit of a fuss about him being chosen.)
Y2: Bertie said “Hi Shoo! Thanks for choosing me!”
FSR: Hi Bertie. How are you today? How old are you?
Y2: Hi Shoo. I am 6.
FSR: You looked older than that.
Y2: How old does he look?
FSR: You looked older. Where do you live?
Y2: 999 Letsbe Avenue
(Bertie shouted out his address straight away without any cajoling from me. He is a good reader and had read the sentence before I could read it out loud to the class.)
FSR: Is that in Camberwick Green?
Y2: Yes! We loved you coming into our classroom. Would you like to come again?
FSR: Yes please. Are you allowed to play out on your street?
Y2: Could you draw us please?
(This was the next trigger sentence that meant that the teaching assistant had to start being meaner leading towards some mild name calling.)
FSR: No. Why should I?
(The class were crest fallen. Their faces were a mixture of shock, anger and sadness as this man, who had been so lovely to them, had seemed to change. They asked me to be mice back to him and were trying to reason why he would have said that. At this point, I almost told them that it was just a set up for a lesson but I decided to take it on just a little bit longer.)
Y2: Because we would really like you to please.
FSR: I don’t want to. I don’t like you.
(Now, the children were questioning whether someone else might have taken over on his computer because “He would never be that mean”.)
Y2: Why don’t you like us?
FSR: Because you are all horrible.
This is where I stepped in and told them the truth. Some of the pupils were physically relieved when I explained what had been happening and the teaching assistant came to the front of the class with my phone. As proof, I took as silly selfie and sent it in the direct message conversation so they knew it was us.
The conversation on twitter took about 20 minutes and during the time we were waiting for the messages to arrive, we discussed access to the web. But the most important part of the lesson came after the conversation when we looked back at what we had told ‘Fake Shoo Rayner’ and how he had spoken to us. We discussed what to do if this happened at school and at home. We talked about not sharing personal data. We explored the differences between our personas on the web and in real life and we thought about how we should speak to people.
I wrote an email to parents explaining the whole lesson and what happened in the hope that they would speak to their child about it and I know that some of them have as they have emailed and spoken to me in positive terms.
My conscience is clear that I have acted in the best interests of the children in my class setting up a scenario that made them feel uncomfortable, but if that lesson keeps some of these children safe online, then that is a price I am willing to pay.
Coding seems to have had the most focus in the run up to the new curriculum being enacted in schools across England, but there is a part of me that thinks that the section that states:
- use technology safely and respectfully, keeping personal information private; identify where to go for help and support when they have concerns about content or contact on the internet or other online technologies.
deserves a lot more coverage.
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