More Than ‘Just a Message’ – Collaborative Messaging in KS1.

Messaging is a perfect example of where computing lessons can be incorporated into cross-topic learning. It also combines ‘Information Technology’ and ‘Digital Literacy’ objectives for KS1 end of phase expectations in Computing 2014:

KS1 Phase Objectives
Computing in the National Curriculum. A Guide for Primary Teachers.

This post explores how meaningful computing content linked to topic learning in Year 2. Where did we start?

Introduction Y2: the lesson began with finding out what our students already knew.

Q: what does sending a message mean, have you ever sent one, which medium?

A: a postcard, a letter, a post-it in my lunchbox from my Mum, a gift tag on my birthday.

Q: has anyone seen or sent a message on a mobile device?

This is where students started the list rolling …

‘Skype my cousins while on holiday, mum and dad phone messages, emailed grandma, Facetime, writing some words on my painting before I give it to someone’, and so on.

Our students were clearly aware of how messages can be sent, but did they know what content of one should really be? We unpacked that next.

  • Recipient – who are you messaging?
  • Interesting information – what would you like to tell/share?
  • Keep the conversation going – ask a question, that will engender a Reply.
  • Sender – tell the recipient who the message is from ✓

Once we established what a message contains, I demonstrated Maily via iPad and IWB, explaining that our 3 classes were going to message each other in groups.

Creating Messages: Interesting information – what would you like to tell?

Lesson 1 > students created messages by selecting background, text + image + stamps or painting. Maily tools include pen, pencil, paintbrush and stamps. The app now offers a selection of preset backdrops as well as paper colours/sorts.

The first message topic was ‘Share an image of something in the classroom that helps you learn’ which generated a lovely selection of words walls, connectives, and topic displays. This had a hidden extra – it showed us which areas of the classroom were informative to which students, very useful.

We screenshot the photos they captured and shared great examples via IWB.

Lesson 2 > ‘Australia’ was the current topic during the Maily pilot, and students were given the task of telling their message buddies some facts they had discovered + asking a question to find out what the parallel classes were learning.

Messaging Is More Than ‘Just a Message’

While drafting messages students engage in a broad range of skills, without being explicitly aware of learning. For example; topic and technical language is reinforced, PSHE to take turns, geographical understanding (some took photos of classroom maps in Australia topic).

Along with these, students are drawing on word knowledgeself-correcting, writing for an audience, formulating appropriate content, speaking and listening, reviewing replies, and formulating questions to ‘Keep the conversation going’.

Incorporating Messaging Into Topics

Geography topic of Australia – exchanges encouraged sharing of ‘what we know’ with other classes. The excitement of awaiting a reply adds another dimension compared to simply going and asking peers in person, or writing paper messages.

Literacy topic of James & The Giant Peach – sharing messages about this broadened opportunities for understanding and retelling.

Science topic – messages followed up on ‘Spring Detectives’ work and involved data handling. Students were tasked with asking peers about what they found on their Spring walk in the outdoor areas around school.

Our Learner Profile has 8 elements and messaging comprises several of them, such as Effective Communicator, Confident Contributor, Creative Innovator, Collaborator (in a team peers can tutor each other and improve the group message as in Clip1 below) and Self-Directed …

Here are some snapshots of learning in action:

1) We are Collaborators – look at this for teamwork! (and listen in to the conversation of a 2nd group working alongside).

2) We are Self-Directed Learners: grammar & checking question marks.

3) We are Editors > Layout: deciding what our messages look like [selecting tools to create the message we want].

4) We are Authors > this group included a photo of themselves, as well as topic images in the photo. Letting us see the message authors ‘makes it real’ (the girls mentioned that book authors have their photo in the blurb, so they wanted to show who they were in their message) in addition to using theirs or a team name to sign off.

Their choice created an opportunity to discuss Safeguarding and appropriate image sharing with the class, e.g. Do we know the recipients, are they trusted and known correspondents?

image1-2 (1)
Unprompted ‘Selfies’ – Safeguarding: see notes below. Image blurred to protect student identity.

Safeguarding & Digital Literacy

To create a message, students first select their own group account, e.g. Gazelle 1 and the recipient group (see Logistics – Account Setup). Naturally, when the message group icons first showed new messages numbers they were greeted with MAJOR excitement.

This means you can immediately mentioned digital etiquette and safeguarding key Qs such as:

  • is it ok to open a message that isn’t in your (group) Inbox, i.e., addressed to you?
  • is it ok to take a photo of anyone else, or their work without asking permission?

We noticed that 2 of the groups ‘selfied’, which we hadn’t asked them to do but are so used to taking and sharing on devices at home and they did this without checking with us. As it was a garden fenced mail exchange photos were only contained within the app, this was ok, and provided an immediate opportunity to talk about personal safety and appropriate use.

  • should you send images, or take images without permission?
  • do you know exactly who can see the images
  • is it appropriate to take a picture that shows your location etc.
  • what’s the difference between taking photos on own devices at home and school ones?

This was the first time I’ve taught using Maily in Year 2. The conversations that resulted were very interesting, particularly the topic of ‘selfies’ (in their words) to look cool.

Logistics – Account Setup

As with so many apps, Maily is intended as a one account, one device setup. My intention was to have class sets so that multiple accounts could be accessed on multiple devices. This took a bit of a workaround and quite a chunk of time to setup and link accounts. What solution worked?

I set up a main teacher (classified as ‘Parent Account’ and ‘Parent Mode’ in Maily) for myself and set up a series of sub-accounts within that, 4 for each class, named as Gazelle 1-2-3-4, Elephant 1-2-3-4 and Kangaroo 1-2-3-4-. Each account was personalized with an image of the relevant animal for easy visual recognition.

Each Class teacher opened up their own account and I linked them to the parent account. This way all teachers were able to access all the class accounts.

I asked class teachers to divide the 3 classes up into messenger groups, e.g. Gazelle 1, Kangaroo 2 and tag these to a recipient group in the other classes. Each student group made a note of their ‘to mail’ peer group and quickly remembered which group they were in.

Snags Along The Way

I like to think of us as testers, and as is the case here, often the ideas I’d like to work into learning go beyond the app intention. In such cases I like to give the app developers feedback, and to pass on ‘what wet well’ and ‘even better if’ with our projects. During learning, students themselves often come up with questions about whether something is possible to adapt, and when you are using apps across multiple devices, invariably one thinks about what ‘could work’ if certain features are adapted or added to.

In The Semantic Web – 2.0 Moving On I referred to Maily as progressive developers, in that they welcomed this input from end users AND are clearly responding to user needs by updating some snags in the app.

In our first lessons, we noticed an icon resembling a speech bubble/letter that children took to mean ‘add speech bubble’ or add a note. In actual fact this was the ‘Go Back to Main Menu’ icon, which consequently deleted the message they were in the middle of creating. In the next app update, Maily updated it by an arrow, as you see in the ‘Dear Elephant4’ image above.

Document Source:

Computing in the National Curriculum. A guide for primary teachers.

eBook version available at:


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