How to teach children about the Internet


A couple of weeks ago I was invited by my daughter’s teacher to do a talk about ‘The Internet’ to the year five group (30 x 10 year olds). They had been doing e-safety stuff and the teacher felt that although it’s useful to know how to protect yourself online, it might also be worth knowing some good stuff as well. So, not realising I’m a cynical grump, she asked me.

Here’s the truth upfront:


That is, I am not pedagogically equipped to teach children of this age and lack a deep knowledge of the digital literacy agenda as it relates to ten year olds. All I could do was show them stuff they might like, that wasn’t the rather scary e-safety stuff and was generally positive in tone.

I decided therefore to take the Seinfeld approach: “No learning, no hugging” (I actually began the talk by saying “you might think I’m going to show you stuff that will then build to a point where you will learn something – that probably won’t happen.”)

Although I stuck to the ‘no hugging’ rule I tried to slip in a bit of learning by first throwing in a vague ‘the Internet is kinda like a load of connected computers’ slide and later, telling them about another 10 year old, Martha Payne

The slides are below. Plenty of cats.

They all sat on the floor at the front of the class, were polite, asked questions, and all (30 of them) wrote me letters afterwards. They were awesome and so was their teacher.

Talking pretentiously about animation

For some reason (the details of which I seem to have totally forgotten) I ended up teaching ‘critical studies’ to first year BA (Hons) Animation and BA (Hons) Animation for Games Design students at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. ‘Critical Studies’ is the theory stuff. Y’know, analysing animation films ‘n’ stuff. This post is about how I set the following aim for the students and how they achieved it:

Unofficial Module Learning Outcome:

Talk like a pretentious snob about an aspect of animation practice of your choosing.

I chose this way to express it as it occurs to me that the sooner we make a link between ‘theory’ in film, media or animation studies, and notions of what constitutes professionalism, the better. In a short space of time I wanted to let the students into a Creative Industries networking secret – people like people who talk pretentiously. In fact they sometimes hire people who talk pretentiously as they want to bring a bit of that deep knowledge into their organisation.

I took as my starting point the following video of one of the Brothers Quay talking pretentiously about their influences. The Brothers Quay are astonishingly talented auteur animators. They are also directors for hire. They make ads (here’s one for Galaxy) and I reckon the combination of the creative talent with a sprinkling of pretentious talking does them just fine. The latter might even add a few quid to their daily rate:

So the students watched the video and bought into the idea. They took on the challenge of focusing on an animation practice of their choice and by the end of the module would stand up in front of their fellow students and talk (accurately and with reference to a range of secondary sources) like a pretentious snob.

The module sprinkled in some key concepts around narrative, genre, auteurship as well as a bit of history. For the history part the students made individual contributions to a posterous blog. This resource,, became a focus for their efforts in the early part of the course. I would sometimes choose random categories for them to go research and find examples of (one category was called “the kind of cartoons Dave watched on TV as a kid”) and they would email the Posterous with a youtube link and some text and collectively the central resource was created.

But as they got deeper into an area of their choosing they realised that in order to talk the talk they would have to do things like, watch more films, read more books. The teaching/learning fell into a pattern of short intro to key concept from me, they produce a nicely illustrated poster to show understanding of the concept, they stand up and talk about it to the group. Our most fun lesson was using Tom and Jerry cartoons to help illustrate ‘Genre’ (here’s sci-fi T & J).

So after a period of seven months, at the end of module, by golly they each did a pretty damn good job of talking knowledgeably about subjects as diverse as the political conditions of communism and its influence on the work of Jiri Trnka, to the Disney animators strike and how it re-shaped the US animation industry during WW2.

Great topics, dealt with in depth and with enthusiasm. They easily achieved the actual learning outcome of ‘critically evaluate historical, contemporary and personal practice(s) within the broad context of the field‘. Overall an enjoyable time with talented students who can now take their knowledge to those kind of networking events where dropping a reference to Jan Svankmajer always go down well.

In addition the students used their own blogs to talk demonstrate their understanding of key ideas. Here’s one as an example – pretty good for a first year I reckon.