My Students and Google Sites

I’m teaching a middle school programming class and want to share the coolest thing that happened this week: my students started a website to share what they’re learning. The whole thing was their idea!

On their own, they found Google Sites and figured it would be a good tool to use. We already use Gmail and Google Chat as a part of class, so the kids already had accounts. With virtually none of my help and 1 class period, they signed up for a Google Site, made the class into site owners, put up the preliminary information, and even signed up for Google Analytics to track visitors.

The site is called Python Helper and the students’ goal for the site is to help others learn to program in Python. They’ve decided they want to share their programs. I’ve encouraged them to also describe the programs they’ve written and the kinds of problems they’ve attempted to solve. Please remember that the site is maintained by 6th and 7th grade students. We’re working on it as we learn to program — web design is not our main purpose.

But is it useful?

Python Helper is so cool mostly because it came from the students. After I wrote the above, I let this post sit in my drafts because it didn’t feel complete. Then it hit me, I hesitate because I wonder what my students are really contributing with this site. I don’t kid myself that this site will be really useful to anyone outside the class and their families. Am I just adding detrius to the sea that is the user-generated web? (Or have I just read a little too much Gary Stager this month?)

I’m concluding that the site is valuable because it’s a journal of the students’ learning. At the end of the year, we can look on this site to see all that we’ve learned.

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3 thoughts on “My Students and Google Sites

  1. Your instincts are right on. Of course kids want to put their stamp on the world, what middle school kid doesn’t. And it doesn’t matter if there are other sites that do the same thing, or sites that are prettier. The effort your kids are putting in here – on something they conceived and built for themselves is the key. The process of putting their thoughts down, organizing them, and updating them over the term is part of the process of reflective learning. It’s part of their learning-to-program sandbox. It’s a learning experience to develop something for an audience outside yourself. It’s about being proud of yourself for doing something you want to do, not because of a grade or other extrinsic factors.

    That’s exactly what the web is for. There’s infinite room, it doesn’t get full. Their learning would be the same even if no one else ever sees the site. The icing on the cake is that someone might. I think the only mistake would be assuming that it has no value unless someone else finds it.

  2. Alfred: I have to be honest that I was less than confident going into this programming class. I worked in the IT industry around programmers but never really got into it. Guess I was programmer-proximate. My confidence soared when I found a nice framework for the course from the CSTA.

    Sylvia: I hear you and especially like your “the web doesn’t get full” notion. Sure, the mere act of preparing materials for an external audience is valuable to the author. Perhaps by imagining the site as a portfolio rather than an authentic Python resource will help me feel like it’s valuable in and of itself.

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