Making web pages to exhibit science work
Castle Community School, Deal, Kent
With the internet just beginning to get started and used in schools, I decided that instead of making a class project that went into a folder, we would create a set of web pages about renewable energy and publish it on the internet. I then publicised the site on usenet and asked people to visit. I later had the article published in 1996 - I still think this was one of the first projects to try this in the UK. Of course in 2008, with blogs, wikis, youtube and much much more, this seems very tame but back in 1996 it was very exciting indeed.
Normally - we did a project and printed it out and put it in a folder. With hindsight, I became aware of a number of drawbacks with presenting the project as a booklet. Many of the students used a computer painting package to produce some great pictures, but these lost their impact when printed on our black and white printer. The other limitation was that, even one year on, very few people have actually seen the book. So I wanted to repeat the activity, but to find another medium for presenting all their hard work.
I had recently become involved with the Internet and was interested in the potential of the WWW. It seemed like a logical step to take the files that the students had written on the computer and turn them into a series of web pages. I passed round a questionnaire asking the students how they felt when I first told them about the project going on to the Internet. Comments I received included; 'I was amazed that we were going to be on the Internet', quite a few were 'excited', one was 'delighted', one girl wrote 'I felt happy and excited because the whole world could see our work', and one commented 'I felt surprised that our work would be good enough!'. The general opinion was one of interest because most of them had heard about this thing called the Internet, but most had never had anything to do with it. I felt that this provided a very good motivator to many of the students.
Over the next six lessons the project began to take shape. The students were given free reign as to the content of their specific section. I provided some guidance if they were stuck for things to write, but on the whole everything was up to them. By the end of our sessions in the computer room each student had produced at least one piece of text or a picture. I then encoded the pages into HTML using Notepad. The document was divided into seven pages; one page per energy source plus an introduction page. The introduction page described the rationale behind the project and gave the names of all the students involved. A special link was included that let the viewer send a message to the students by e-mail. The six energy sources that we looked at were: Solar, Nuclear, Tidal/Wave, Geothermal, Wind and Hydroelectric. Each page consisted of information about the given energy source, plus a number of computer-drawn pictures.
The end result was put on to the school pages just before the Christmas holidays and the site was advertised on many of the Usenet education newsgroups. I was overwhelmed with the response it produced. In the first three weeks over 200 people had visited the site and many of these sent me e-mail messages to say how good they found it. The site has been used by some teachers as a source of information for their classes tackling the subject of energy. I have even heard from a teacher in Italy, who was using it to help her students to learn English (this was one use that had not occurred to me when I started out). Messages came from as far away as Palm Springs, Sydney and Seattle. Not bad for a small school stuck in the far south east of England! I passed on these messages to the students, many of whom were amazed that somebody in Australia or America would be interested in their work. One lad has asked me for a copy of the messages so that he can show his mum!
I asked the students to evaluate the project for themselves. I asked them if they enjoyed working on the project and all but two said that they did. When asked what they liked about it, most said that they enjoyed working on the computers. I felt that this was important because often many students do not get enough practice at using IT. Quite a few enjoyed using the painting programme, and many were quite adept at using it. One student told me he enjoyed researching in the library, and another thought it was good to be able to work as a group. Dislikes were few, one student said she did not enjoy the topic she had been asked to do. Every student was pleased with the way the project looked; 'better than I thought' said one. All the students thought it was a good idea that the project could be seen by people around the world. One said that it was good 'because other people could use our project to learn' showing that a few were realising that they were doing something worthwhile and that they had something to offer other people.
On the whole I was very pleased with the way the project was received. I had no idea when I started that so many people would respond so positively to it. I will certainly try to repeat the process with a different group and another topic. There is not that much that I would alter, if I could do it again. I think it may help to give the students more guidance at the start so that they know what sort of information they could be providing, but then again the fact that the whole direction of the project was left up to them lends the project more of a student-centered feel; it becomes less like a text book.
(based on my article in the ASE journal "Education in Science" Nov 1996)