Saturday, April 26, 2014

How to Get Your Students Started in Website Design (and Graphic Design)

Lately, my fifth graders have asked me about how I thrive with website design and also how they can start a webpage of their own. They are ecstatic I possess knowledge of HTML, and some are quite interested in learning it themselves. I can see why... it is where so many phenomenal things can launch. 

Really pondering on this topic, I look at how my online journey began-- a good 4-5 years before my students were born, in a pre-millennial era where Tripod and Geocities webpages dominated the Internet. My family members could not be on the Internet at the same time because we had a dial-up connection, so I had an hour time limit daily. My HTML acquisition began in an era of sparkling blinkies, webrings, pages under construction, animated .gifs, and me perusing Lissa Explains It All with wide eyes. Lissa, in my opinion, was a rock star because she created an HTML help website at the age of eleven. 

Debuting in November 1998, my first website was... interesting, to say the least. I was sixteen years old, very much into butterflies, poetry, and song lyrics. My "About Me" page had a description of-- "My main interests, what's phat in my world, and what makes me tick." My "Chorus" page had a description of-- "I love 2 sing." I proceeded like that somehow until 2001, when my friend Christine advised, "You should purchase your own domain." That would become, which was a faith-oriented website that garnered plenty of college-aged visitors who were ecstatic about posting to my message board. Christine also introduced me to Adobe Photoshop, which would later become a passion. At first I was fixated on all things black and white, but that would later evolve. My friends would give me constant pointers, and a lot of college-aged students had their own domains online, hosting friends' sites like I did. I learned about brushes, blending effects, shadows, outlines, and photo balance from them. 

I owned two domains before entering the teaching profession, and on November 30, 2004, was purchased. That website, which debuted the following July, became quite huge and remained online for almost eight years. When I blogged for Scholastic, I wrote an entry for educators who wanted to design their own sites, focusing on what Teachingvision offered that at time.

Yet I never thought about students starting their own webpages. I never thought I would answer the question of, "How do you do that?" for some reason. I mentioned Heather Renz in that entry, and I remember her students used to design their own webpages to showcase their achievements in her class. I remember wanting to try that myself, yet I did not have the technology at the time and the project, in itself, seemed quite intimidating to me.

I thought for a while about how to give my students advice.

Web Safety-- Before delving into HTML, graphics, weblogs, or ANYTHING else, for that matter, web safety should be needs to be discussed. I will allow my own children to create (once I am a mother), though I will lay down the law with them first. Most importantly, explain to students to not EVER reveal personal information-- or necessarily post photographs of their face online before reaching a specific age. (Explain to them how they would not want someone entering their bedroom and taking personal photographs from them-- it is VERY much the same online.)

Also, explain to your students that copyright laws are major-- whether they are posting images (you'll read more below), posting song lyrics, uploading songs or videos (even snippets), or even creating something that parallels a popular brand, movie, television show, etc. Phase 4 Films releasing their knock-off movie, Frozen Land (with similar logo and all to Frozen), is an example of why you cannot even create something that somewhat parallels something else. Here is the article about them getting sued by Disney.

Learning HTML-- So far, I have told a few students who have asked about registering for and logging into Code Academy, which is completely free. There is also a HTML coding "app" of sorts with a preview window called Thimble. Of course, "Lissa Explains It All" is still completely legitimate as well.

There is also something specifically for educators to read called the "Hour of Code". Here are some high-interest beginner tutorials for kids that last under an hour. The "Hour of Code" suggests showing some inspirational videos first like the one I first showed you, yet individually with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc., speaking. Students can then proceed to tutorials-- and the most important thing that stood out that focuses on the essence of the learning process is enforcing the rule "Three Before Me".

Editing Images-- I have edited images using Adobe Photoshop for approximately thirteen years, as I pointed out. Here are two websites that have some gorgeous effects, typing tools, etc-- and PicMonkey. They are the most visually appealing and easiest editing sites I have come across. Explain to students that it is MAJOR to use royalty-free images and not edit an image until the watermark has disappeared.

A Platform for Website Construction-- For those who are not ready to type code from scratch into Notepad and upload via FTP (my kids gave me THE LOOK when they asked what I use to create my site-- in a kind, respectful way, but it was still epic), I recommend Weebly or Wix. Both platforms help children to create visually appealing pages without a grand knowledge of HTML as of yet. For weblogs, I recommend

Widgets-- Also, you may want to mention widgets a bit because they can most certainly enhance a page. Here are some I know kids may very much enjoy--

  • Shelfari "bookshelf" widget
  • Glogster-- "Scrapbook page"-like creator for displaying knowledge
  • Voki-- Talking avatar site
  • Tellagami-- Another talking avatar site
  • Padlet-- Really incredible for school projects as well. 
  • Snacktools-- Enhance your websites with widgets you design-- slideshows, video and mp3 players, flip books... 
Inspiration-- Mitch Resnick--

I hope this information will be of value to you and your students! If you're looking to start a page, you may find this as well as the link to the Scholastic entry valuable. Enjoy the remainder of your weekend!

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