Going Home:
Putting Your Class on the World Wide Web

 

Elizabeth Lumby

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Even before the word was invented teachers have had to be 'multiskilled'. And with the current escalation in technology this problem gets worse, not better. So how does an average computer-owning but not particularly computer-obsessed primary school teacher set about teaching her class to build an internet website. Surprisingly, it's far easier than it might seem at first glance.

The ingredients, apart from the ideas and the willpower, are simple - a computer (and scanner if you want personalised images); an internet provider to give you webspace and an address; and software to write the material you want to put in that space. Just as publishing a book has come a long way since illuminated manuscripts and woodcuts, so web-authoring technology has long progressed past keying in complicated hypertext markup language (html) codes. In fact, if you can use a word processing program, you can use a web page software. And if you've ever wrestled with bloatware such as Microsoft Word 6, you're in for a pleasant surprise because even the most sophisticated authoring software will seem like a breeze in comparison.

The software you choose, of course, will depend on your needs. A full professional program designed to set up complicated interactive sites for a major company is obviously not the choice for a class full of 7-year-olds. Both Claris Home Page and Microsoft's Front Page have the reputation for being easily affordable and very 'user friendly' programs, quite suitable for kids to use. Of these we chose Home Page, kindly donated by Claris Australia, and it has certainly lived up to its reputation. It is, in fact, remarkably sophisticated and quite capable of producing very professional results.

All these useful nuts and bolts, of course, are irrelevant if you have nothing to say. The internet is already crammed with tedium, so this Web site was certainly not going to be allowed to swell this already overburdened universe. Planning is, therefore, a key element. As is explaining to the class just what it is that they will be doing. Most people have heard of the internet, but whether or not they are really able to conceptualise it is quite another thing. Explaining in basic terms that the World Wide Web is an enormous number of web pages stored on computers around the world which are linked by software which makes it possible for any one of these computers to home in on another requires a bit of teacher ingenuity and a certain amount of visual dexterity. It is, of course, this ability to link all these isolated pages which makes the Web a 'web'. The act of transferring created pages onto one of these computers makes these become part of the web itself.

Similarly, the structure of the web site needs to be understood before it can be created. A Home Page is the starting page for a web site. It is an introduction and provides a table of contents for the other web pages in the site, each of which are linked to that home page (and often to each other). Web pages are like sections or chapters, except on the web the order they are read is often (but not always) unimportant.

Thinking about what to put on the class web pages is clearly not a problem. Choosing from the suggestions will be. Basically there will be text and images - sophistication such as frames (where you can display 2 web pages side by side), tables (which always seem fiddly) and interactive forms can wait until the kids are more adept at designing. Initially it seemed best to design a web page which would, quite simply, introduce the class to the world. What would strangers need to know? Obvious choices were pages for Our Class, Our Classroom, Our School, Our Stories, Our Pictures, and Our Neighbourhood. The Home Page will link to each of these web pages and they will have buttons linking them back to the Home Page.

Pictures and graphics are important elements in a web page. Individual photos of everyone in the class, as well as the class photo, and pictures of the classroom, and the school buildings have already been scanned to a format suitable for the internet. Each student will have a personal web page with a photo and will write their own introduction. It's a good start. And writing and designing will certainly be both entertaining and educational for all involved.

Elizabeth Lumby teaches Room 14 at Kingsford Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand.

Visit the site on edoz.com.au/kingsford.html

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