A little while ago I was given the opportunity to teach a one-off class at my daughter’s school. I’d long thought about getting involved with CodeClub or some other way to help kids get familiar with the web. Her class at the time was thirty 7 and 8 year olds. As my session drew nearer, I started to wonder…how do I explain this stuff to them in a way that doesn’t make it seem too remote or difficult…maybe even make it fun?
At first I thought I’d have an hour with them but shortly before, I heard it was a whole morning. Mild panic set in. I could talk to my daughter about this stuff or an audience at a conference, but I must admit I was apprehensive about talking for so long to a whole classroom of kids.
I ended up trying to think of a few things that might help demystify what the web is, what it does, and hopefully show that they could make sites too if they wanted. We ended up going over:
Packet switching or How stuff gets around the Internet
In really simple terms, I was curious if they’d understand how traffic worked on the Internet. Using four sheets of paper, one for the browser (with a range of browser logos shown), one for Google and one with a search term I asked them to shout out. I tore it into pieces and asked two of them to hop like rabbits between the desks to get to Google and put the pieces together. The result was then torn up, hopped back by the pair and reassembled. Overly simplified but they seemed to enjoy it and got involved!
What’s a URL?
Across more sheets of paper, I’d printed out the BBC Sport web address into ‘http’, ‘:://’, ‘www.', ‘bbc’, ‘.co.uk’, ‘/sport’ (as an example), mixed them up and asked what order they should go in. Fairly quickly they got them in order through shouting out and I quickly explained what the bits were for. Great to hear that most recognised how a URL should look and which part was the domain.
What do you do on the web?
Bit more of a Q&A session mainly because I was curious what they thought the web was for. What sites did they visit? What was their experience of the web so far? It was as much for me to learn as a chance for them to get involved in the session.
What shouldn’t you do?
Kind of a reminder on looking after yourself online. What should you do with passwords? Don’t give away any personal details, etc. Again, most were fairly savvy. They knew that you shouldn’t share your password but they didn’t know about not using simple words and phrases made for unsafe passwords, which was good to highlight.
How do you stay safe online?
How should you deal with people you meet in chat rooms, etc? A quick walk through some basics. Most seemed to have a decent awareness of what’s going, which was great to hear. Perhaps talking about social networks was a little advanced for their age but most of them had heard about Facebook and the like and agreed when we talked about trust and how little you might know about someone you talk to online. I hoped that talking about this kind of thing with them might at least sow seeds of some of the issues involved with some of the more social aspects of using the web.
What makes a website?
I gave a couple of really simple HTML examples to show the idea that you can wrap a tag around some text to tell the browser what it is. Not an easy concept, but we went to a website that had clear articles and showed how an
ptag works. Really broad strokes kind of stuff.
HTML — it’s not that scary
To wrap up, the teacher brought half of the class through to their computer suite for some kind of practical session. I’d no idea how much any of them had used computers before. We opened up Notepad on their PCs (mainly so there was little interface to be distracted by) and a browser. On the whiteboard I wrote the
bodytags, which they copied down.
bodymade sense once we’d added in the
titletag to the
headand some text in the
body. Not to push them too far, we added a heading and a link.
I was totally surprised by how fast some of them took this on and how some came back repeatedly asking for more to do! I dropped in a
styletag for some basic CSS for those that asked and got them to add crazy colours and explained font sizing. Others in the class were curious but didn’t quite get the concepts, or perhaps weren’t as familiar with computers. That’s to be expected and I certainly didn’t want them to feel pressured or overawed by the experience. I got the feeling those that didn’t run quite so fast still got something from the experience…at least I hope so!
I heard from the teacher afterwards that it seemed to go down well with the class and at least one of the kids made a website with their dad at home. My daughter seemed to think it was pretty cool…and not too embarrassing having her dad around.
I’m curious whether anyone else out there has tried to run a class or teach young kids of that age or younger about the web. What did you find worked for you? While teaching code can be valuable, I definitely feel from that experience that there’s a bit before it: what the web is, how we use it, how to stay safe and how it’s made. Even before we go into depth with any of this, we’re helping to demystify and give some broad understanding of something they’ll no doubt use day in day out through their lives. Maybe some of them will learn how to code, but the main thing to me is that they’re better informed.