Moodle 2 for Teaching 7-14 Year Olds Beginner's Guide

4 (1 reviews total)
By Mary Cooch
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  1. Getting Started

About this book

Moodle is a very popular e-learning tool in universities and high schools. But what does it have to offer younger students who want a fun, interesting, interactive, and informative learning experience? Moodle empowers teachers to achieve all this and more and this book will show you how!

Moodle 2 For Teaching 7-14 Year Olds will show complete beginners in Moodle with no technical background how to make the most of its features to enhance the learning and teaching of children aged around 7-14. The book focuses on the unique needs of young learners to create a fun, interesting, interactive, and informative learning environment your students will want to go to day after day.

This is a practical book for teachers, written by a teacher with two decades of practical experience, latterly in using Moodle to motivate younger students. Learn how to put your lessons online in minutes; how to set creative homework that Moodle will mark for you and how to get your students working together to build up their knowledge. Throughout the book we will build a course from scratch, adaptable for ages 7 to 14, on Rivers and Flooding. You can adapt this to any topic, as Moodle lends itself to all subjects and ages.

Publication date:
May 2012
Publisher
Packt
Pages
258
ISBN
9781849518321

 

Chapter 1. Getting Started

We're at the very start of our journey here. We know where we are heading—we want to create a fun-filled, interesting, interactive, and informative learning environment for our young students. We want them to have access to all of our resources that would normally be on paper, plus any new activities that we hope are out there, but that we haven't actually discovered! Ideally, we'd like a situation where our initial efforts will be rewarded by saving us a lot of time in the long term. We want Moodle to occupy our students usefully, mark their work, and record their scores so that we don't have to do it. A tall order, but one that is perfectly possible!

In this chapter, we shall:

  • Take a tour of the Moodle course page to get familiar with all of the options that we have; so that we are ready to set it up for our classes

  • Choose the most suitable layout for our course, and make each section attractive to the students

  • Take a look, add, and edit the blocks on either side of our work area to make these blocks useful for us and our class

  • Add text and images to our work area to improve its appearance

  • Learn how to make click here links to various websites for our students to easily access them

First impressions

Let's assume you've been given an empty Moodle course page. When you first go to your course page, you'll probably see something that looks like this:

Don't be disheartened if this doesn't mean much to you at this stage. If you were to flick through to the end of the book, you would find our completed work far more welcoming:

Let's go back to that first screenshot, of the empty course.

Note

Don't be put off by the word course. A course can be anything you want it to be—a teacher's class page, a single unit of work (such as ours), a project, a year's lessons shared among a group of teachers, and so on.

There are three columns; two narrow ones on the right and left, containing some blocks, and a wider column in the middle. This wider column is the work area, to which we will start adding our teaching materials (this will be covered in detail in Chapter 2, Adding Worksheets and Resources).

The name of the course (empty, for now) appears on the upper left, and an abbreviated version (empty) will appear in the bar below it (the bar is called a navigation bar). The block called Navigation shows different things to students and teachers, but basically it helps us find our way around the Moodle site.

The Settings block has a Course administration area just for the teachers. It allows us (teachers) to perform various actions for our course. Let's start by changing the course name to what we want, and setting up the work area to something more suitable for us.

 

First impressions


Let's assume you've been given an empty Moodle course page. When you first go to your course page, you'll probably see something that looks like this:

Don't be disheartened if this doesn't mean much to you at this stage. If you were to flick through to the end of the book, you would find our completed work far more welcoming:

Let's go back to that first screenshot, of the empty course.

Note

Don't be put off by the word course. A course can be anything you want it to be—a teacher's class page, a single unit of work (such as ours), a project, a year's lessons shared among a group of teachers, and so on.

There are three columns; two narrow ones on the right and left, containing some blocks, and a wider column in the middle. This wider column is the work area, to which we will start adding our teaching materials (this will be covered in detail in Chapter 2, Adding Worksheets and Resources).

The name of the course (empty, for now) appears on the upper left, and an abbreviated version (empty) will appear in the bar below it (the bar is called a navigation bar). The block called Navigation shows different things to students and teachers, but basically it helps us find our way around the Moodle site.

The Settings block has a Course administration area just for the teachers. It allows us (teachers) to perform various actions for our course. Let's start by changing the course name to what we want, and setting up the work area to something more suitable for us.

 

Time for action — customizing our course page


We're going to change the course name and add some sections in the central area for our work!

  1. 1. In the Settings block, click the arrow next to Course administration and then click on Edit settings.

  2. 2. Next to Course full name, type in the full name of your course (such as Rivers and Flooding).

  3. 3. Next to Course short name, give your course an abbreviation, which will be seen on the navigation bar. For our example course, we'll use R & F.

  4. 4. In Course summary, write a sentence or two to explain what the course is about.

  5. 5. Scroll down to the sections shown in the following screenshot:

  6. 6. For Format, you can use Weekly format to include one section per week, or select Topic format to use numbered sections that you can set up as you like. For this example, we will select Topic format. (You might have other options, but these are the two most useful ones for us).

  7. 7. In the Number of weeks/topics field, choose the number of days, weeks, or topics that you want to include on your course page (you can change this at any time). For this example, we will specify 4.

  8. 8. If you want your course to start on a particular date (and not immediately), specify this date in the Course start date field.

    For now, as a beginner, this much will be enough.

    Note

    If at first you don't know what it means, it's safe to ignore it! This applies to Moodle activities as well as the course settings.

  9. 9. Click on Save changes. Your course page should now look something like this:

What just happened?

We just began customizing our course page the way we want it to look. We've now got the title we want, and the middle section (where our work will go) is now divided into separate numbered sections—four, for us—which will help us to organize our project.

At the moment, there's nothing next to these numbers. We need to get into each section, give it a heading, and prepare it so that we can add our worksheets and lessons, which we will do in future chapters of this book. There's something called News forum too, which I'll describe later.

We've also still got those blocks on either side. We need the Navigation block to find our way around, and the Settings block lets us organize our course and lets everyone manage their profiles—but what about the others? What are they for? Do we need them? How do we change them? In fact, how do we change anything on the page?

 

Making changes on the course page


If you point your cursor at one of the sections in the middle and start typing—nothing happens! We can't actually add any text or make any alterations until we have clicked on the Turn editing on button which is on the upper-right of the screen. (You can also get to it by clicking into the Course administration section of the Settings block). When you do, everything looks different, as shown in the next screenshot. Don't panic!

A lot of symbols (icons) have appeared. These icons have different roles in helping us to edit the course. They help us to add content, delete content, duplicate content, or alter what's already there. Let's take a tour of the blocks, and use this as a way to understand these icons.

Getting the best out of the side blocks

Every course in Moodle has a central work area and a selection of blocks on either side. These blocks serve various purposes such as telling you the latest news, letting you know who's online, displaying quiz results, and so on.

Shortly, we'll have a look at the blocks available, and I'll give you my thoughts on how useful they might be. Some schools may decide for you which blocks you must have, and the blocks that should be made sticky throughout Moodle and some schools might have decided only to have blocks on one side. If you're allowed to have your own blocks on both sides, then the next section will show you how you can move them around and take away the ones that you don't really need.

First, let's take a closer look at the Activities block. The following screenshot shows the Activities block, although the icons shown are available in every block. According to your Moodle course's theme (its appearance or "skin") these icons might be a little different from those pictured here:

 

Time for action — moving, adding, and deleting blocks


We're going to look at how we can deal with the side blocks!

  1. 1. To hide a block from students, click on the eye. (You will still be able to see it grayed out). Click again to make it visible to students.

  2. 2. To choose where else to display this block, click on the hand/pen icon. If you're unsure, leave it.

  3. 3. To delete a block from the course page, click on X. (You can add it again later; it's not gone forever).

  4. 4. To move a block, click on the arrows and then click inside a box with dotted lines that is where you want to move it to. (Boxes will appear once you click the arrow).

  5. 5. To add a new block, find the block called Add a block, and then click on Add (as shown in the following screenshot):

  6. 6. The face icons are used to set who can see and edit the blocks (ignore these for now).

  7. 7. To keep a block out of the way while you're working on a course page (known as "docking" it) click into the slim, central box (numbered as 1) as shown in the following screenshot. It will then bounce to the left of your screen, with its name vertically displayed. To get it back, click its name and then click the right box (numbered as 2) as shown in the following screenshot:

What just happened?

We've learned how to deal with the blocks that appear on either sides of our central work area. Let's now take a look at what they all do.

Useful and less useful blocks

Here's a table of the standard blocks that are available in Moodle, and that you could have on your course page (if you're allowed). I've explained what they do, and what I think about them:

Block name

What it does

Why use it

Activities

Shows the different activities that you've set up.

If you want your students to get to certain activities quickly, or see them listed.

Navigation

How you get to different parts of Moodle.

This block follows everyone everywhere in Moodle!

Settings

Where you can organize your course and everyone can manage their profile.

This block appears on course pages and each activity has its own Settings block too.

Blog menu/tags

Allows you to add and view blog entries and keywords in blogs.

Not really necessary as a block (we look at blogs in Chapter 6, Multimedia).

Calendar

A calendar is where you can show course, individual, or site wide events.

Useful if you have a lot of events that you want to remind your students about.

Comments

Allows people to add comments.

Useful block to add in lots of places for feedback.

Community finder

If an admin has turned this on, you can search other Moodles for useful resources.

Worth a look if it is turned on for you.

Course completion status

Lets you see the progress of students towards finishing the course.

We'll look at this advanced block in the final chapter.

Courses

Lists students courses.

A quick way for them to get around their courses.

Course description

Shows the course summary that you put in the course settings.

Not really essential—they're doing the course now, after all!

Feedback

A way in which an admin gets feedback from students on all courses.

Later we'll look at how you can get your own feedback.

HTML

A blank block for your own use.

Very handy—more details later.

Latest news

Displays what's in the news forum.

If you want that, it's fine!

Logged in user

Shows a picture and details of the logged in user.

Could be a nice touch but not essential.

Mentees block

Advanced block allowing mentors to "watch" students.

We don't need it at this stage.

Messages

Moodle's instant messaging service.

Needs to be switched on by your admin; useful for instant communication, but younger students may find it very distracting!

My private files

A way for everyone to store their own stuff.

Handy block for your students—good one to add.

Online users

Shows who's accessing your course online at the moment.

Useful for making sure that everyone's there, on task.

People

Lists those enrolled in your course, and when they last visited your course page.

Another useful block to keep a check on your participants.

Quiz results

Displays recent quiz results.

Handy for encouraging competition among students, by providing a league table of scores.

Recent activity

Who's done what and when.

Useful for students to see what's new, and for teachers to see who's sent in their work.

Recent blog entries

A quick link to blogs about your course.

Useful if you are using blogs in your course.

Random glossary entry

Shows a glossary entry at a certain time (if you've got a glossary).

Think about this when we are making a glossary in Chapter 3, Getting Interactive; it's up to you.

Remote RSS feeds

Shows news feeds of your choice.

Can be very useful—we'll look at this in the final chapter.

Search forums

Allows students to search through forum entries.

Don't bother with this; I've never found it useful for my classes.

Section links

A quick way to get to a numbered section.

If you want to, fine, but you can click the links in the Navigation bar instead.

Self completion

A way in which students can mark their course as finished.

We'll look at this advanced block in the final chapter

Tags

Makes a "cloud" of tags which people have added.

Pretty—but can be dangerous if your students added unsuitable tags!

Upcoming events

Information about what's coming soon, taken from the calendar or activity deadlines.

If you have a lot of events or deadlines it's useful.

Have a go hero — get the right choice of blocks for your course!

Ok, now it's time to put the theory into practice! For our purposes, the best blocks will probably be the ones listed as follows. Using the instructions on the previous pages, delete the ones we don't want, add the new ones, and then arrange them equally on either side of the middle section! Let's have:

  • A People block

  • A My private files block

  • A Comments block

  • A Calendar block

  • A Messages block

  • An HTML block (which we'll customize now)

 

Making our own side blocks in Moodle


Let's take a closer look at the HTML block that you just added:

 

Time for action — configuring an HTML block


Let's learn how to configure an HTML block for our course page.

  1. 1. Click on the editing icon in your HTML block.

  2. 2. In the Block title field, enter something for use as the title of your block.

  3. 3. In the Content field, type a few words of welcome:

  4. 4. Click on Save changes.

What just happened?

We made a side block of our own! At the moment, it only has a couple of words in it (and a smiley in my case, although you'll only have one if your admin has enabled them). Later in this chapter, you'll add an image and we'll make it the 'Welcome' block for our new course. I like to use HTML blocks with images to brighten up the page—younger students appreciate this. You can even set them up so that you can click on the image to get to a particular website, which is both attractive and useful.

As we did this, we came across the editing box—which we'll call the text editor—for the first time, into which we can type text and add images. (It's sometimes called the TinyMCE editor or HTML editor too and is like some text editors you might see on blogs or online forums). We're going to investigate it further now as we venture into the middle section—the main focus of our students' learning.

Note

HTML is just a term meaning website code. An HTML block is one where we can add text that Moodle interprets as code, and displays as we wish. Likewise, in the text editor, we can type the words as we want them to appear, and Moodle will code them (with HTML) to make that happen.

We don't need to understand HTML in order to get Moodle to work for us.

 

Customizing the middle section


It is finally time to get to grips with the middle section—the one we shall be focusing on in the next few chapters. So far, our Rivers and Flooding course has got four empty topic sections. Our next task is to get them ready for action—ready for the materials that we will create and upload, from the next chapter onwards.

If you look at the following screenshot, you will see that at the top it says Topic outline. We cannot change these words easily, but we can use the blank space at the top to provide a short description of what our course is about, and we can add headings to each of the four sections.

Remember that to do anything on this page now, we need to have editing turned on (via the button on the upper right) and then, in order to type directly into Moodle, we have to click on the pen, hand, or paper icon that we had came across in the HTML block. You can see one above the News forum, and one next to the numbered sections:

Clicking on the very top one, above the News forum, sends us to a page—Summary of General. It would be the same if we had clicked on any of the numbered topics (or weeks, if you've chosen them). It would say Summary of week/topic and provide a textbox in the text editor.

Using the text editor

We enter our descriptions/headings directly into this box. You will recognize some of the icons from many popular word processing programs, and if you move your cursor over a particular icon, it will give you a hint as to what it does. Younger children like bright colors in a large font, so I'm going to make my headings big and red, but it's worth bearing in mind here that you might have children in your class who are color blind or have other visual impairments, so check with your Special Educational needs specialist which would be the safe colors to use.

Go along the layers of icons and find out what they do. Type in some text and experiment! Some are pretty self-explanatory. The following table explains a few of the icons you might find useful, but that are less obvious. The numbers in the table refer to the icons in the following screenshot:

Icon

What it does

1

Improves the look of your text if you paste it directly from Microsoft Word.

2

Lets you cancel what you just did and revert to an earlier stage.

3

Enlarges the text box to make it easier for you to see and type.

4

Lets you create a link to a website or an online file.

5

Lets you insert an image.

6

Allows you to easily add sound or videos.

7

Lets you create a table to improve the layout of your text area.

8

Lets you into the HTML code area (some uses for us later!)

9

Allows you to check the spellings of words you type.

Once you've typed in your text and adapted it according to your requirements, scroll down and click on Save changes. Only then will your efforts be visible on the main course page. Until that moment, you can change whatever you wish.

Have a go hero — give titles to each section of your course

We have just given a heading to Topic 0—the top section of our course. If you click on the editing icon for each of the other four topics, you can do exactly the same with them. Remember to change the color, font style, and size (if you wish) from a rather uninteresting default style. Either go for it and add your own titles to the sections of your course, or practice with the ones we're going to use in our ongoing example. They are:

  • Famous Rivers of the World

  • How does a river flow?

  • Why do rivers flood?

  • Flooding case studies

Note

Want to make your section headings easy to see in the Navigation block?

If you take out the check in Use default section name as shown in the following screenshot, and then add your title, the section heading will appear in the Navigation block once you've added some resources. If you type into the text editor box instead, it will just show the section number.

What just happened?

We now have headings for each of our topic sections. The page looks more personal and brighter already! A few photographs would enhance it though; let's put some on our course page now!

 

Brightening up the course page with images


"What is the use of a book", said Alice, "without pictures?"

I'm sometimes fortunate enough to be given temporary access to other schools' Moodle sites. Almost invariably, the websites that are most successful in attracting the young students are the ones that catch the eye immediately on entering the course. Those with nothing more than the default text and a long list of exercises (usually named worksheet 1, worksheet 2, and so on) are barren and lonely places, devoid of any youthful spirit.

I can't emphasize this enough—we as adults might think it's the content that matters (and of course, that's true), but our children will be drawn into our Moodle course by a colorful photo or a smiley icon. Once they're there, we can help them learn!

We don't have to be qualified web designers to make our course page more attractive. We've made a start already, with our headings. Let's now add a small, relevant photo to each topic section. By small, I mean a photo with a size of not more than 200 x 200 pixels (we'll look at photo resizing in Chapter 7, Wonderful Web 2.0). Although you can upload a large photo and resize it by dragging at its edges, this distorts the image in Moodle, and doesn't display it as well as it should.

Note

You can't really copy and paste images from Google onto your course page. Apart from copyright issues, this doesn't always work. You might be able to get away with this in PowerPoint, but in Moodle, it's more reliable if you save your chosen image to your hard drive first, and then upload it. We'll take a look at copyright later on.

 

Time for action — uploading images to our Moodle page


Now that we have set up our Moodle course page, let's make it a little more attractive by adding images.

  1. 1. Turn on editing.

  2. 2. Click on the editing icon for a topic section (for us, Topic 1).

  3. 3. Click on the icon that helps you insert an image, as shown in the following screenshot:

  4. 4. In the box that is displayed next, click into Find or upload an image:

  5. 5. In the box that is displayed next, click on Upload a file (1) and then click the Browse or Choose file button (2) to locate the image that you want on your computer. (It should end in either .jpg or .png or .gif).

  6. 6. Select your image and then click on Open, and it will appear in the Browse box.

  7. 7. You don't need to save it with a different name or select an author or even choose a license. None of these will affect who can see it.

  8. 8. Click on the Upload this file button.

  9. 9. Your image will be previewed in the next screen:

  10. 10. In the Image description box, add some descriptive text, explaining the photo. Don't just say photo! (The description box for visually-impaired children who will have the words read to them by a machine and they'll know it's a photo already).

  11. 11. Click on Insert.

  12. 12. Click on Save changes to make the image appear on your course page.

What just happened?

We've now added our first image to our Moodle course page to brighten it up! It probably seems like an extremely long-winded way of adding an image, but that's only because it's the first time that we did it. I can add images now in a matter of seconds; you will be able to do so as well, with practice. Just bear in mind the following points:

  • Get your image to the right size before you upload it to Moodle. While there are ways to change its size once you've uploaded it, it isn't the best way forward. Make sure that you are uploading an image file—usually having the extension .jpg, .png, or .gif (more on this, later).

  • Don't copy and paste an image from the internet. If the site—that the image comes from—ever goes offline, your image will vanish, and you'll end up with a red X.

What if you don't have any good images on your computer?

While it's not advisable (as we said) to copy and paste any random image from Google, you might have noticed, when we clicked the image icon in the text editor to upload our picture, that there was a link in that list on the left to the well-known photo-sharing site, Flickr.

If your admin allows it, then you're able to search sites such as Flickr or Picasa Web albums and use one of their available photos (if you want to add an image).

If I click on the Flickr public link (1) (instead of Upload a file) then I can type in some keywords into the Full text field (2), or add some tags, or even sign in to my own Flickr account and get a good picture to pretty up my course page.

The next screenshot shows what happened when I typed in River Thames and then hit the Search button (3):

I click on the image that I'd like to use, then on the next screen, click Select this file. If I only want to link to it (and not import it into my course), I check the Link external box:

We can resize its dimensions through the Appearance tab if we need to. We then click on Insert and it's done.

Have a go hero — add an image to your HTML block

Remember our Welcome block? If you click on the editing icon there, Moodle will operate in exactly the same way as it does with the topic summaries. Go back and insert an image there! (Again, not too large an image! For a block, I'd suggest 160 x 120 pixels). Then move the block so that it is positioned on the upper-left of our page, where the eye will naturally start reading from when a student enters the course. You should now have something like this:

Compare this screenshot with our first view of the course page, as shown here:

Better already!

Note

If you want to get rid of News forum, as I have, then you need to change the number of news items to 0 in the course settings, in the Administration block. Then, with the editing turned on, click on the X icon next to News forum, to delete it.

 

Adding links to other websites in Moodle


Did you notice that I made a click here in Topic 0 that links to National Geographic Kids' site? This is a really useful feature of Moodle, as it saves you from having to write a website on the board or in a worksheet, and it saves your students having to copy it, and then retype it when they get it wrong. One click and they're there! Let's end our introductory tour of our Moodle course by adding a relevant website link (or hyperlink).

 

Time for action — making a click here link to a website


There are two ways in which we can link to other websites in Moodle. For now, we're going to use the text editor and make a link in one of our topic summaries.

  1. 1. Turn on editing, and then click on the editing icon in one of the topic summaries.

  2. 2. Type in some text.

  3. 3. Select the text that you want the students to click on to go to your chosen website (It doesn't have to say click here—it can say anything you want).

  4. 4. Click on the chain icon, as shown in the following screenshot:

  5. 5. In the box that is displayed next, type in (or copy-and-paste) the URL of the website that you want them to visit, next to Link URL. (If you copy-and-paste, make sure that you only have http:// at the start).

  6. 6. Next to Title, enter the name of the site, which will be seen when students hover their cursor over the link.

  7. 7. Make sure that Target specifies new window.

  8. 8. Click on Insert.

  9. 9. Back in the text editor, scroll down and click on Save changes.

What just happened?

Selecting some text (for example, Click here) and clicking on the chain icon enabled us to link directly to a useful site for our students. Choosing new window means that the site will open in a pop-up window. The children can close it with the X and will still have Moodle open on their screen. If you test it out yourselves, you'll see what I mean. The linked site can be resized and moved around, without losing Moodle.

Another neat feature for us to take advantage of!

 

Summary


In this chapter, we got to know our new Moodle course page and started customizing it with ready-to-add materials and student activities. We discussed how to alter the layout to suit our subject, students, and teaching style. We also looked at how to move and add useful blocks on either side of the main work area, learned how to add text and images to our course page to make it more attractive to young children, and how to add clickable links to external websites from our course.

There is nothing magical about what we have achieved so far—it's all very basic. Just think which website would your young students would be more inclined to visit and linger on—a bare page with a list of numbered topics waiting for an even longer list of Word-processed documents, or a bright, colorful website that is full of potential, waiting for the fun, resources, and activities that we will produce in the following chapters? Style over content? We've got the style—now let's get some content!

About the Author

  • Mary Cooch

    Mary Cooch has taught Languages and Geography in the UK for over 20 years. She manages several websites, even more Moodles, and runs her own Moodle blog. A Moodle Certified Teacher, she now spends part of her working week travelling the country as a VLE trainer specializing in Moodle. She regularly promotes its benefits in Junior and High schools and has a deep understanding of what works best for younger students. Known online as the moodlefairy, Mary is a frequent contributor to the help forums of Moodle.org where she aims to enthuse others with her passion for this open source Virtual Learning Environment.

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