Structuring Web Use With Students

Our year 1 students are currently working with me in our Online Classroom to explore the internet. I may appear a bit of a party pooper in saying this, but there are key skills and concepts to learn even for these younger students, and a host of potential e safety issues surrounding suitability of websites, and how we manage access to those sites we want them to work with. My experience tells me how children click off a site when they are bored and wander off. In my early days within my current role, students would ask if they were going to play on the internet today. When given access to the web during freetime at the end of a unit of work, they would gravitate towards a handful of very limited sites, such as cbeebies, paperdolls or in the case of the older students they would try to access or search for gaming sites, frequently blocked by the LA firewall. There are some questions around the wisdom of generically blocking websites, but for the time being , perhaps this is an essential prerequisite step, in the protection of all, though as anyone with any web surfing experience can tell you you cannot bolt down the system completely, and often the most unlikely keywords within search requests can return some dodgy (a very technical word) search outcomes, some of these which may not be readily evident on the surface or until pages are reviewed, or regardless of the relevance to the subject you set out to find.

With very young children it can be difficult to limit and provide "Safe Opportunities" to explore, and at times a chore to set up the Network room or Computer so that they all have the same web sites in front of them as starting points for the session. We do however need to emphasise the role of the internet as a learning resource, as well as a place to have fun and play. And I particularly want to emphasise the role of the teacher, as with all ICT based activities, in planning and preparing these experiences.

It was interesting in my student interviews recently when asked about the ICT experiences they enjoy, how students openly said they had enjoyed using the internet with me, but were disappointed that they didn't "play" their anymore. I took this as a backhanded compliment, when they went on to say that the sites they had visited with me were fun, and had helped them to learn about what they could use the internet for, and helped them find out things. The older students loved for example using, because they had made their own web pages, it was a bit like MSN because they could sticky their friends and send email and the other social webspaces they had used at home, because they had used stuff they had found out or collected on their pages. They also mentioned how they had enjoyed making PowerPoints that were like the CDs they had played with. The Three Bees had helped them to think about what they were doing. So even though not free play or free searching, structured learning and fun were not exclusive, just different to prior experiences. It is possible by selecting the sites we wish our students to use carefully we can enable a balance between what is considered play and what is the purpose of the internet in school to support cross curricular "work"and the specific teaching of ICT skills. How do we manage this process however requires time and careful consideration of the resources we select and use. My strategy for this has been to use web technology itself to support me.

There are a number of possible strategies, some more difficult to manage than others, and dependent on the age and experience of the students, but all involve careful preparation for the sessions by teachers or other adults and the collection of bookmarks. For this post I offer 2 ways of doing this one, an individual teacher solution through the making of simple web pages to provide direct links to the pages you want the students to use, and the second a whole school approach through the inclusion of bookmark collections to your school web site.

Making a Simple Web Page Book Mark Collection with MS Word

For many years I have used Microsoft Word as a platform, to set up simple computer based web pages to support web based work with students. This is not dependent on the abiltity to code pages, and requires only a change in the way you save your pages, the rest draws on your ability to wordprocess an type. It is not as difficult as you may think.... HONESTLY!

You may have noticed how when you type a web site address into a Word document, the software automatically inserts a hyperlink. Some of my colleagues find this an annoyance, but I have learned to see this as a benefit, as this also happens if you copy hyperlinks from the web browser's address box and paste them into Word inputting a space or return afterwatds. You can then insert a picture next to the link or a text description to remind yourself or point older children to what is available on the site when they follow the link, or what you expect them to do when they get there.

Copying further useful links and repeating the process builds up a bookmark collection, around the theme you are working on or as in the case of the year 1 students I am currently working with it would provide links to a range of sites I had chosen for them to explore around the objectives and outcomes I have identified.

Once the list is complete you can use all your wordprocessing skills to bullet the lists if in plain text, add and resize images as reminders, organise and group your links into categorised lists by copy and paste or drag and drop, add headings to the catgories, change the font etc. If you feel adventurous you might even explore using a table on your page to act as a place holding device.

When finished your list you should save the file not as a word document (.doc) but as a web page ('htm, or .html), and in Word this is quite straight forward. You click save as, locate the place you want to save the file, give your file a name, and then in the file type box, where it usually says word document, select web page from the drop down menu, before pressing the save button. You can come back to the file and edit, make additions or remove links by opening it in word later too, and then resave to update the file.

To use the file you have made, find it on your computer, it will have a web page icon, with blue e, if you saved it as a Web Page, it will open in Internet Explorer or your default browser, and clicking links should take you to the pages or sites on the web you have linked to.

Managing use of this file is possible by copying and pasting it to the computer desktop, I have tended in the past to keep a copy of the original safe, and to copy and paste this for students to use, on the desktop of classroom computers. On the network, I place one copy of the file in a shared folder, and then show the students or support staff where to find it, and how to open it.

Using The School WebSite or Learning Platform

On our school website, each year group has a "learning Community Area," and within these community pages a collection of web links which we are building to support theme based work. Our school website has been set as the home page for all browsers within school, so when we log onto the internet, the first page we see is our school home page. My aim is that all students and staff see this as a starting point for school based internet work, and something they can contribute to. As we educate our students about the internet as a virtual place, I hope we can enable a progressively more open approach to the web as a learning tool. Our site does not prevent web searching, and indeed in the lower corner of the page a Google search tool is embedded, however this has been set to safe search, and as I know this may not always return "suitable sites," we have recently installed Hector The Protector, and I have actively encouraged students to either hide or turn off monitors and then point out pages they are uncertain about. I have also set up an account for staff with the social bookmarking site, and intend this as a central place where teachers can add web sites they find useful and reviewed, or want to use with their students. From here as the webmaster for our school site, I will eventually be able to use these bookmarks to make additions to the school's resource bank and year group community pages, on a regular basis.

Returning To Year 1

Our Internet work with year 1 has been linked to classroom based activities, but centred around the principles of what the internet is, what we can see there, how we get around and the things we can do. We have also focussed on the multimodality of web pages and observation of what happens to the mouse pointer or cursor when we move it around the page, how do we know when we can do things on a web page? How to make our windows bigger, and how we move pages up or down. Where can we find windows that seem to have vanished? The interactive and dynamic elements of pages have been central to the activities we have presented on line, focussing in and using pages which exhibit sound, movement and pictures to have fun with the ideas we are learning about, mixed with the serious stuff of navigating, interacting with and getting things to happen or done. This has also been linked to exploring CD Roms, laying foundations for understanding that information can be stored, saved and used in different formats.

Using the school website as a teaching resource (maybe even a learning platform), to support this learning has been a key feature of the sessions. Children have been taught how to find the places we want them to go, by learning how to find their way around this place. They open up Internet Explorer, and our home page appears. Where is their community Section? Where Is our class Blog? What have we been doing in class? Where can we find the weblinks section? Using these as places to explore the web concepts we wish to develop, in a guided yet exploratory way. I am not just saying this but the children have had a lot of fun exploring the sites we have provided for them, and this evidenced by them beginning to visit sites from their community pages in independent classroom work.

Notes To Self

One of the things I have learned form this experience is that perhaps the early years communities I have set up do need some editing and review, and we may need to include some pictorial/iconic buttons to support emergent web and oral text literacy. I will however not remove the text based links, as the expectation to use these has challenged the student's use of phonic cues to find them, or to seek help from adults to enable this, and this in turn is a valuable experience for them in their desire to engage with the material and understanding that words carry meanings. Perhaps the use of picture buttons, in the early years alongside Text based hyperlinks, might support pace in the use of the community pages when locating specific areas we want them to use, nonetheless once there they will still need to locate resources. Perhaps the use of Theme based images would help support identifying what each section of the links page was about, and make narrowing down the search zone easier for them. Will have to look into this with the children during the assess and review week for this unit.

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