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Back to school with the World Wide Web

September 14th, 2005 by

September’s arrival marks the beginning of high school in Cambridge. This year, computer science is required for all 6th- 9th graders and available as an elective for 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students. With thirteen sections of computer science in my gradebook (only the elective class meets for a full five periods each week), I am starting off with a schoolwide investigation of online identity via email, IM, social networking, and blogging. From there, we break into three tracks based on experience and developmental need.

For the fall semester, 6th and 7th graders will be learning to make websites using XHTML, CSS, and a text editor. The final project for this track is an enormous web that links all of the students to each other. (See last year’s Cloud City for a reference.) Inevitably, they will discover something like Video Codes 4 U and inundate their projects with a half-dozen embedded music videos. My outsider artists reinvent design with every non-standard tag they type.

While the 6th and 7th graders begin to actualize themselves as online publishers, 8th and 9th grade students will be learning to use Photoshop, Audacity, and other media editing tools in a unit (tentatively) titled “A Little Cut’n’Paste.” They already have XHTML/CSS skills, so we will be publishing their products on the web as a final step. These students, especially 9th graders, will have regular reading and writing assignments relating to current legal and ethical questions surrounding this type of cultural (re)production. Born in the early 90’s with hip-hop, affordable PCs, fast internet, and MSPaint, the junior high school students at my school bring insight and a novel perspective to discussions of creativity and originality.

The high school elective track is already in full swing. Today, the class formed task forces to organize a student wiki and have already begun posting reflection pieces on their blogs. (Collecting homework via RSS is a joy – it’s all timestamped!) Once we lay a bedrock on the wiki, I’m sending the students into the junior high classes to teach mini-lessons on dokuwiki syntax. After that, it’s on to Craigslist and the yellow pages to search for free hardware. Our goal is to build up twenty free-as-in-free-pizza PCs by January.

Expect the focus of this blog to shift towards education over the next few months as I continue to spend most of my free time developing curricula. If you have any old beige boxes, displays, or NIC cards gathering dust in a closet, basement, or cubicle, please contact me via: driscollkevin TA (We are 501(c)3 so your donation will be tax exempt.)

In the meantime, reading about Mr. Babylon‘s first week back in the Bronx makes me appreciate the intelligent, caring students I am fortunate to work with each day.

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