Education/News/July 2017/A class of 26 8-year-old Wikipedia article creators

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A class of 26 8-year-old Wikipedia article creators[edit]

Author: Manos Kefalas


Primary education students are not considered to be effective Wikipedia article contributors. Our results show otherwise. Third grade primary school students, working in groups, and using sandboxes for developing content before publishing it in article space, can create articles. Four lessons of inspiring and teaching the basics is needed before editing, for reference and guidance during the editing classes.


It is hard for early ages to become effective Wikipedia contributors. Children at the age of 8 cannot easily practice correct spelling, have not developed adequate structured thinking, are emotional and use their imagination as they write, they do not know the law on copyright and free licenses, etc. But, in my experience, after more than 850 hours of systematically mentoring and guiding any kind of people in Wikipedia contribution and using it as an education tool, I know that adults have to learn most of these, too. On the other hand, I had to repeat over and over things to adults to make them remember them, avoid mistakes and not get lost. This is not the case with 8-year-old kids. Showing once or twice is enough for most of them.

  • During my first visit to the class (feb 28) we talked on what Wikipedia is, in basic, understandable, language. Questions were answered as if they were adults. We were using their experience to make them answer themselves and learn. The best example to demonstrate and inspire here is their reasonable query on our statement that they would become teachers of all others through Wikipedia. The example we used was that they knew the scratch programming language environment, which their parents did not, and the question to them was who the teacher is for scratch, between a parent and a child.
  • During my second visit, their happiness to teach the world turned to productive work. They were asked to write some text, in their workbooks, for their village in the country or where they went on vacations. Having asked to work for 10 minutes, I had to do something myself to catch-up the more than half of an hour they kept on writing with heat, so I started painting the "tree of knowledge" on the big screen. Then each student was instructed to mark with ellipses and rectangles, where "I", "we" and "you" or comments were met in the workbook text of the student beside them. The game after that was that I was reading their texts loud and they said "beeb" when these conditions were met. By the end of this, many had drawn the tree of knowledge in their workbooks and when they were asked what they see in the tree, most expressed how they felt, some used their imagination (the knowledge was accumulated in the tree leafage) and some saw the logic of lines and ellipses forming something like a tree. Then imagination and feelings were distinguished from logic, by their examples, and I cropped the tree saying that some things are left outside Wikipedia, where we behave as adults. They did not like the cropped tree, but that was the rule of the game. So they were prompted to use twice as much of feelings and imagination in their other school work. And they did. Consciously.
  • In my third visit we did copyrights and licensing. First we used the kids' experience to make them understand the importance of preserving a painter's copyrights, in order to be able to feed his children, even after decades of his death (they took it personal). After that we used the ideal example was Gaitis, a Greek painter making works with people who look almost the same, painted in white and black, being all men, wearing suits with vertical lines, wearing curved hats and having white faces. They realized this idea of Gaitis was carried inside each of his works, in various synthesis, and they recognized as Gaitis' works, those that also had people with horizontal lines in their suits, or when five or six bad looking eyes were appearing in the faces of each of the men. They discovered Gaitis' idea even inside a painting with green military suits wearing green military hats, only by their bad eyes. Then we visited Gaitis' article and they saw a painting where three people in colour painting, with hats that were more rectangle and had horizontal lines, shared the six bad eyes in a row (had two eyes each). They said: "Look sir, there is a thief that has put a Gaitis' painting in his article". The picture indeed had come from Wikimedia Commons. And then we said we should be polite and not call someone a thief, and we wrote a polite message in the talk page of the article explaining our findings. During the next weeks, parents were complaining to the teacher that Gaitis' article still had a stolen painting inside and their kids were anxious to see the issue solved.
  • In my fourth visit we analyzed the human brain circuit on amygdala hijack, based on Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence book and our wikipedia article and picture. We talked about fear and anger, and for how long anger has still affected us after an episode (in Wikipedia it affects inexperienced editors for about two days). After a few days they were instructed to draw on a white paper where in the left bottom corner the circuit of the brain was printed, and many painted amygdala as a pirate (hat, beard, black eye, sword) and the frontal lobe as the one who tries to calm the pirate.

Our lessons were paused due to health issues and we continued a few weeks later, starting with selecting themes for articles and making groups of students that work on an article. Kids love cartoons, so that was what they selected to write about. Fortunately, we are not English Wikipedia and we are missing a lot of articles that kids can have a chance with.

The key to success was the using sandboxes. A sandbox is a semi-protected space inside Wikipedia itself, and as long as there is no copyright violation, content stays. So we had the time to discuss, guide, give examples and let kids free to see how they do.

We instructed the students to start by finding keywords, trying to describe their article theme, and let them write a mess of text on them, on a piece of paper or workbook. They did not like the result, so we asked what we should do, to be able to read a meaningful text in flow. Their answer was "Put it in order!". So we developed sections. The kids remembered the rules ("Oh, this is a beep, sir!") and followed instructions. The rest is there to see. We began writing on May 11 and we published the articles on the 8th editing day. Free pictures were uploaded on Commons, fair-use pictures in Wikipedia, and infoboxes were filled in.

We did need two or three more courses to publish articles without having to give a final touch ourselves, upload more pictures, etc. So make sure you can have 16 courses on Wikipedia (between one and two hours each). One group failed to follow to the end, as they preferred playing "the rock-paper-scissors" game and their article waits n their sandbox to be finished in September.

We are planning on how to engage their parents during the next school year, to make parents and children work as a team. Are you wondering who the teachers will be?

This is the result of our work


  • Dimitris Sotirakopoulos (teacher)
  • Manos Kefalas (visitor from Wikipedia Community)

Tags: primary education, innovation