Web Design: What do to when a unit doesn’t go as planned.

What do you do when a whole unit seems to bomb?

This is the question I’m asking myself at the end of a Web Design unit in my computer science class for 7th-8th graders. Our district has a Web Design curriculum, but I wanted to design the unit myself in a UbD sort of way. Start with your objectives and essential learnings, design lessons and activities and assessments from there.

But since the whole thing is pretty new to me, I couldn’t do much better than vague statements as my objectives. I went into this unit understanding at some level that I was going to try and refine the objectives as I went through it.

I decided I wanted students to: describe what the internet is and how it works, including how data is transmitted and how web pages and other files are stored. To understand the structure of HTML and CSS and how they are used to create web pages. To understand the process of creating, uploading, and hosting a web page. I thought that would be plenty for now, and if they took Web Design later in high school or college, they could get into scripting and dynamic web pages, and multimedia. I had a scope for my unit. How the internet works, coding in HTML and CSS, and hosting.

So I curated some lessons on Khan Academy, put a ton of effort into finding articles for kids to read and analyze, curated some YouTube videos that we could discuss. I made graphic organizers. I filled in some gaps with Screencasts that I made.

I assigned two mini-projects leading up to a final project. Students had to make a web site with elements of HTML, then include CSS, and finally include hyperlinks, images, and a second page – so it’s more of a web site than a web page.

I had trouble with technology, when FTP wouldn’t work from behind our district firewall, and our web editing tools worked on some student computers but not others. I found that students collaborated very little on the creation tasks, hiding behind their keyboards and raising their hands for help and waiting for a half hour or more helplessly instead of working together. Some kids who had a little background in web design were bored and approached me about dropping out of the class.  Others who had absolutely no background have not finished a basic webpage and I don’t know how to get them caught up. I have several students with reading and writing difficulties. I don’t know how to scaffold the lessons better for them at this point. I am at a loss for how to differentiate from here or how to summarize and tie everything together.

I also have a sense that many students have been mindlessly following the video lessons, creating code without understanding the structure behind it or what it means.

I’m going to bring this to a close and move on. But I need to explore some of these questions further before I come back to web design.

1. What should middle-schoolers understand about web design and the internet?  Am I even on the right track with these skills? Do kids need to understand HTML or would it prepare them for the real world better if we used website builders? I don’t understand what my role is in this unit.

2. Most of the resources I find for teaching are not very kid-friendly. I wish I had access to better materials for teaching kids about the internet. I suppose I have some time to look now.

3. What do I do to make web design more collaborative? I know students learn best by creating, but they need to learn to trust each other and seek help from each other – and to offer help when they can. I really want to improve this. How?

A contributing factor to all of this is that I’m really, really crunched for time. I would have been able to do a better job if I had been able to look at their work in progress and give them better feedback. Actually do formative assessment. Grade some of their work on time. I teach three full-block classes and one half-block class, and I have over 200 students. I spend every spare minute planning lessons and feeding and caring for my own family… so I just have to be able to put a lesson together and deliver it to students and hope it sticks, and then when it doesn’t and I have no backup plan, it feels lousy.

I would love tips or positive affirmations. Looking for some Stuart Smalley here. And maybe passing along some camaraderie for any of you that have also had a whole unit that displeased you and you just found yourself wanting it to end.



About dupriestmath

I'm a former software engineer who has taught middle school math and computer science for the past 6 years. I believe every kid has the right to be a thinker. I started this blog to save resources for integrating programming in the Common Core math classroom. I also use it to save my lessons and reflections from teaching budding computer scientists! Coding has transformed how I teach and think. You'll love what it does for you. You should try it.

2 responses to “Web Design: What do to when a unit doesn’t go as planned.”

  1. techkim says :

    Dawn – I love that you share your successes and the not so successful. For teaching web design with middle schoolers, I’m a big fan of Mozilla Thimble & their Web Literacy Map. It’s more of a remix-based learning, so great for beginners, but can be built upon by more advanced creators. Here’s my to go lesson @ https://techkim.makes.org/thimble/intro-to-html-css-javascript.

  2. dupriestmath says :

    I love your curriculum and how you have incorporated problem-based learning. This is such a great way to learn programming, and something I am trying to more of every day. I didn’t do problem-based lessons very well in Web Design and I think that was one of the unit’s weaknesses, so this helps me a ton.

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