5 Tips For Teaching Web Design In Your Content Area

The science course that I currently teach was written last year with a web design project. When we taught it this year, I wanted to provide the teachers that worked with me a list of basic tips to follow when doing the project. Most of these teachers had never made a website themselves, but recognized it as an important skill for the students to learn. I was digging through some things on my desktop today and came across the list, so here it is!

#1: Do It Yourself

Before you’re able to teach your students anything, the general consensus is that you should do it yourself first. This couldn’t be more true with website construction. Taking the time to make an example website in the quality that you want out of your students will go a long way towards helping you get them where you want them to be. It will also help you figure out exactly how much time they will need and what kinds of questions they’ll ask about construction.

#2: Time

Building a website takes an enormous amount of time. There are tools out there such as Google Sites that allow for quick construction via a template, but their layouts are restrictive. Teaching students how to customize these layouts is one task, but having them actually go through the process always takes longer than we think. I gave my students a full week in the computer lab after four weeks of storyboard and layout instruction interspersed with content. I probably could have provided more than that.

#3: Purpose

It helps when students have an extremely clear purpose of building their website. The purpose should be simple, concise, and relatable. It shouldn’t be a challenge for the students to come up with the content as they’re also trying to make the website. Remember, building a website is hard. Let the students have the first crack at it with a small amount of content. I wasn’t happy with our purpose this year, since it was too overcomplicated.  The idea was to provide a professional athlete a training website that could help them improve at their sport. In reality, none of our students are qualified to do this. Next year, I plan on changing the purpose to highlighting the specific polymers in various pieces of equipment in a sport, and highlighting which equipment is best for different scenarios.

#4: Focus on Specific Design Aspects

I called Brian when designing this project for his advice and his first words were that typography and color go a long way to making something look great. I made the students adopt a custom color scheme from Kuler and hard-code their font choice into the HTML editor. These two menial tasks were enough to get them excited about trying this on their Tumblr or other blog at home.

#5: Show Examples

In teaching any sort of design, and as any art teacher would tell you, showing examples is vital to the development of students’ ability to critique and identify strengths and weaknesses of work. By showing examples of poorly and well designed websites, you can foster student discussion and critical thinking. We went through about 40 minutes of website show-and-tell before diving into storyboards, and it was extremely valuable. Even a simple homework assignment along the lines of “Pick three of your favorite websites and list three strengths and weaknesses of each one” can go a long way towards gearing students towards analyzing things they see on the internet.

This project wound up successful but I am looking forward to doing it again next year. I actually felt that the web instruction for this project was great, but the content of the students’ websites could be altered to provide a more enriching experience.

Switching On

Today is the day that I say goodbye to my spiral bound agenda book and say hello to Planner. Even for someone who is overly comfortable relying on computers to teach, this process is bound to be difficult. In the design of this product, we took into account the fact that most teachers will switch on Planner for the first time already uncomfortable with its existence. Going through that process myself for the first time, I understand how difficult it might be for people to ditch the paper.  

But as I log in for the first time I’m greeted with a warm, familiar setup screen. It feels friendly, playful, and encouraging. I am asked to input my class schedule which I have on a piece of paper since it’s impossible to memorize those where I work. I am then asked to input a variety of data such as room number, class color, and class name. Inputting student names at first seems like a pain, but it only takes about three-four minutes to get all of  them in. Having done similar tech setups before via Edmodo, SMART Response Clickers, and a variety of other programs, I’m happy to see that entering student names into this one is by far the easiest. Even SMART Response which allowed you to import student names from an Excel file took more time since you had to get the file from our data management system, ensure the column titles were correct, etc. All said and done, manually entering names was just faster, albeit a little tedious. The program prompts me for lab classes when relevant, and despite having several entries that meet only one day during our eight day cycle, inputting them takes only a few seconds. It’s honestly the student name entry that is the bulk of the time spent – it’s likely that students will have their Planner set up in five minutes or less.

After about 10 minutes of entering data, I hit OK and jump off the cliff into digital planner land. What happens next makes me excited, and I think most people who use Planner will share the same experience. Because we customize the entire app around the school that purchases it, after that setup is complete, the entire planner comes to life. There are no schedule issues. There are no nuances with homeroom days, CAPT testing days, or vacations.  The times displayed for our blocks on the planner are correct, and change when appropriate. The colors I selected for each individual class light up the screen as they’re used as a reference to each section, in addition to that section’s block number. The interface is laid out like a book, and it not only looks like a planner but it feels like one too. Navigation is easy through a series of playful swipes. This isn’t just another costly program that schools use, littered with bugs and careless UI. This is worthy of my attention.  This is my school’s schedule. This is my school’s app. This is my Planner.

Planning the Planner

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Hi, I’m Matt Meyers, co-Founder of Slate & Tablets. My brother Brian and I make iOS applications for education. We’re excited to reveal our new blog and product, Planner

Planner is a template for a digital teacher and student planbook designed for iOS.  It is unique because it will be customized for each individual school’s schedule, calendar, and needs. Obtaining one is easy, and while it’s not available for general order just yet, we encourage early inquiries for schools looking to be first in line.

TIMEFRAME

We are about to enter our internal testing stage during which I will use our Planner exclusively at school. I will be blogging about my experience using a digital planner and revealing a few features as we go.

Afterwards, we’ll put the finishing touches on the interface and plan on conducting a Beta test at our partner school in late May/Early June.

Planner, by Slate & Tablets will become available for general order sometime this summer. We’ll provide more details in the coming months about how to go about ordering one.  

PARTNER SCHOOL

We’re proud to announce our partnership with Greenwich High School, which will be the first school in the world to use one of our customized planners and we couldn’t be more excited. It’s probably a good demonstration of the usability of the program too – the GHS class schedule is a nightmare to understand, and even after two and a half years of working there I still feel like someone trying to read the Matrix. All kidding aside, we’re honored to be associated with one of the country’s premier districts, and I personally can’t wait to see 90 students walk into my classes with this program on their phones next year.

THIS BLOG

The last thing for today revolves around this Blog. In addition to writing about the experience of using Planner, we will be using this space for student showcases, photo submissions, and other announcements. We may even take a crack or two at highlighting apps we think are extraordinary in their educational value. We’ll have an area for reader submissions and photos up soon, but we read every email we get.

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