Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thoughts on Student Web Pages

Our fourth and fifth graders create web sites using FrontPage. The focus of the page varies from class to class. Some teachers want the site to be an eportfolio. Some tie in with a science or social studies unit. Others are open to student choice.

I'm liking how enthusiastic students are about the project. They are busy creating backgrounds in Kidpix and creating logos at However, they are already comfortable using Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. They aren't learning much by creating web sites using FrontPage. It does the coding for them, so at the end of the unit, they really won't know much about creating a web page.

I've been toying with the idea of teaching them to write the pages from scratch. I see a number of benefits in this...
  • Being able to create something from nothing is empowering.
  • Coding web pages is more constructive, more generative than using a WYSIWYG editor.
  • Pages will only be as complex as students learn to make them-- this may motivate students to learn on their own, to learn by reading.
  • As motivated students learn new skills, they will become experts in the class and other students will come to them for assistance. Although it sounds like that could be destructive to a classroom community, I find it usually has the opposite effect.
  • Being able to read and write HTML source code is a transferable skill. Even though I use a tool as easy as Blogger for creating this blog, I still need to be able to read code to add items to the sidebar. Knowing basic HTML tags comes in handy when posting to bulletin boards and forums. It transfers to working with other Web 2.0 tools such as wikis and Moodle.
  • It is a programming language of sorts. Our elementary curriculum does not have any programming in it yet.
  • Microsoft Office 2007 will not use the proprietary formats we are used to such as .doc or .xls. The new Office applications will save as XML, a mark up language. It isn't the same as HTML, but from what I read about it, having experience coding HTML will make XML easier to understand. (Makes me think of the days when I used Word Perfect and would use the Reveal Codes command to troubleshoot when something wasn't working correctly.)
Of course, in this day and age, part of me says it's daft to code by hand. No one does it. It is too tedious, too easy to mistype something and then spend ages pouring through code to find the error. I'm also turning an easy to teach unit into something much more challenging to teach. I seem to do that often.

I did look at using a combination of blogs and wikis instead of creating web pages. However, that was presenting hurdles that I don't have time to resolve at the moment. For example, none of the school-friendly wiki platforms work well at my school due to how tightly the computers are locked down and because we only have Internet Explorer which often seems to play poorly with Web 2.0 apps. There are battles worth fighting in there, but I can't do it all right now.

So what do you think? Do the benefits outweigh the hassles? Is HTML a dying language or a valuable skill for the future? Is it age appropriate for 9- 11 year olds?