Teacher Shortage Is Over
Ontario's widespread shortage of the past seven years has come to an end, though specific shortfalls persist.
by Frank McIntyre
How, When and Why of Teacher-Designed Sites
Part I: Exploring a World Wide Web of Possibilities
by Lynda Scarrow
Boldly go …
Perhaps you've been asked to create a web site for your school or you'd like to develop one to share information with other teachers or parents and students. Creating one is not as difficult as you may think.
In a little less than six years, Quentin D'Souza has evolved from a novice experimenting with web design to the academic and communication technology resource teacher for the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB).
"I started teaching and the first few years were just getting by - you know, surviving. In 1999 I started experimenting a bit with the web. There was no technical support when I was learning. I taught myself HTML and figured out how to make web pages do certain things," says D'Souza.
As his experience grew, D'Souza introduced technology to the classroom - working with his students at the Divine Infant Catholic Elementary School in Scarborough to create a school web site. "The students and I designed it from scratch. We started by planning the overall system design. They came up with the logos, and we developed the navigation together. They created all of the content and put it up on the web site."
One of D'Souza's classes did a project called Unity in Diversity as part of the Grade 8 geography curriculum that examines the reasons for and barriers to migration. Each student interviewed a family member/relative/friend to find out why they decided to migrate and entered the information into a database. "We then used a discussion board to consider what the data meant.
"We did this with another school, Prince of Peace and were able to share the discussions even though we were fairly far apart geographically," he adds. "There were something like 487 posts over a few weeks. They loved it. It was a lot of fun."
Over time, D'Souza's web projects have become increasingly sophisticated.
"I'm what you would call an early implementer," he says. "I like to try new things and decided to try something called e-class, which is our board's learning management system. I teach math to my Grade 8 class through a blended model. We did course work in the classroom and in the lab. I brought content from the Internet into the project, used some Java applets I found through the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives and extended the classroom to the web. We had discussions online, and the kids would go home and continue the discussions after class. Some students continued checking the site for information even over the summer, so it was definitely a good experience."
D'Souza has also used a site called calendars.net to post homework assignments accessed by parents and students.
"I took 10 minutes to teach two students how to post assignments, then had those two students teach two more until all of the students had entered information in our homework calendar by the end of the month.
"It was great because parents could see when homework was due and which projects were coming up. Kids could see the work we'd done while they were sick - and they were no longer able to say they didn't know when an assignment was due."
His best-known web project is the Canadian Teacher web site, which provides free materials for teachers across Canada. "I realized there were a lot of free resources available, but teachers didn't know how to access them. I thought the web would be a great place for teachers to share free materials and bring them into the classroom."
The site receives more than 2,000 visits per week and includes a discussion forum, articles and tools teachers can use for assessment and long-range planning related to the Ontario curriculum and lesson plans.
Today, D'Souza is creating online Flash tutorials so teachers can participate in self-directed learning through the TCDSB Internet site. He has also created a planning tool for teachers. "I did it over the summer. I was learning PHP programming for my Masters in Education and I wanted to use what I learned to help teachers save time. I made a wizard where teachers can check off information to make a long-range plan."
An inveterate blogger - a blog is a personal web journal that is frequently updated and intended for public viewing - he works through concepts online. D'Souza's blog includes some great resources and is found at quentindsouza.com.
Does he have any tips for teachers interested in developing web sites? "It's important to have the right mindset. You need to be able to take a risk," D'Souza says. But he also advises: "Don't start with a monster web site. Begin with something simple and develop a comfort level with the technology. Then start adding new things.
"It's a matter of just trying. I mean, it's a process of try, fail, try, fail, try, succeed."
Alana Kras, a Grade 6/7 teacher at Our Lady of Fatima in Brantford, has also brought web technology into her classroom.
"I had four friends in the Royal Canadian Regiment stationed in Afghanistan for six months during 2004," says Kras. "My class was writing to them as pen pals and then they started asking me all these questions about the army and Afghanistan. Because they were so interested, I thought other students across Ontario might be interested in the same information, and a web site seemed like a good idea.
"The kids were already involved in the Canada-wide Grassroots project to encourage students to be more involved in technology. They knew how to build web sites and use digital cameras and scanners."
Kras began by asking her students what they wanted to learn. Some wanted to learn about education in Afghanistan. Others wanted to know about everyday life and religion in that country. As a group, they came up with the subject headings, gathered the content and images and then put it all together.
"The students chose the pages they wanted to work on and who would work on which part. They researched the Canadian military and peacekeeping in general and compared life in Afghanistan with ours."
One issue that came up during the project was the discrepancy between students who didn't have a lot of technical background and others who had already developed a five-page web site. "Some students were really struggling to get their first page up, so I'd have to give them individual attention and help them through the process."
But all students were able to expand their technical skills - creating a few interactive quizzes and games, including one designed to measure visitors' understanding of what they learned on the site.
Class time was another issue. It took approximately four months to finish the site.
"I spent a lot of time working on it after school, and so did the kids in the computer club who were helping us," says Kras. "Quite often they stayed after school for a couple of hours two or three times a week. There wasn't enough time during the day to do it and cover all of the other subjects."
The work was worth the effort. Kras's military friends in Afghanistan were delighted with the project and the students learned about all of the elements needed to create a site from scratch. They also won an innovative technology award from the Learning Partnership. They were particularly delighted when their Royal Canadian Regiment pen pals visited them once they returned from Afghanistan.
This year Kras taught at Our Lady of Providence Elementary School, where her class created individual web sites to display their work. "Each month, they'll select something they've done in all subject areas, and they'll post it so they can see their progress throughout the year. It will be just like a paper portfolio, but it will be on the Internet. They learn mainly computer and information technology, but they also learn more about written and visual communications."
As well, her students are learning a new animation software to make their own images. Previously, they used images from an image bank.
Like D'Souza, Kras uses an online homework calendar and she's developed a few math sites that allow students to practise their math - using Clara's Homepage to create the pages.
Kras learned to build web pages pretty much by trial and error, but recommends checking to see if your board has a technology consultant who might be able to help. She invited George Nichols, a consultant with her board, to give a lesson to her class, and was able to give the lesson herself the following year.
Today's Internet sites are key communications vehicles for business, government and non-profit organizations. As such, understanding how they're created and how they work is of value to any student. Stephen MacKinnon of Athens District High School is a strong supporter of kids making web sites and has worked with students to develop more than two dozen sites - including five virtual classrooms.
"Sports Dorks is a collaborative web site involving Athens students and students in Ireland and Japan," MacKinnon explains. "It features a variety of sports - those the students are directly involved in locally and sports on national and international levels. It covers school sports, extreme sports, surfing, sumo wrestling, lacrosse and hockey, to name a few. It also covers sports issues such as money, performance-enhancing drugs and nutrition."
Three teenage girls, also taught by MacKinnon, have created a web site dealing with teen pregnancy called "What will you do?" The girls chose the topic, conducted interviews and worked with the school nurse, gathering information for the site. It currently has a local audience but the girls hope to eventually reach out to the world at large.
The site was entered in the Child Net Academy contest, a week-long school academy that helps students worldwide to develop their web sites. Its creators were chosen from 266 entries in 42 countries and travelled to the academy in Jamaica at the end of March to receive their award.
"When I first looked at the Internet it was immediately apparent to me that linking our students up to other students was a significant thing to do," MacKinnon explains.
"To get kids in a rural Canadian high school connected to kids in Japan, Australia or Uzbekistan is significant. Developing a global perspective is really important. And they gain communication skills - it's easy to write for the kid sitting beside you but to communicate- your thoughts to a student in Uzbekistan is whole different thing."
MacKinnon has his students strive for two things when developing a web site - interactivity and fun.
He wants students to ensure that their site is not just a one-way delivery of information and that they develop opportunities for interaction. "That's one thing the girls are doing with 'What will you do?' No matter which part of the site you are in - whether you're in the teen-stories or health-issues section - there's a place for anyone to have their say or submit their story or add health information."
MacKinnon knows that kids today are very technologically savvy and are into interactive games, communicating via e-mail, text messaging and watching videos. To tap into those interests, he encourages them to build games into their web projects and he wants to do more work with video.
"The technology is improving and high-speed connections mean that online video is more feasible. Creating videos involves more skills, so now we're dealing with cameras and editing suites and so on."
Taking the plunge
When MacKinnon leads workshops for other teachers he says up front that web design is the hardest thing he's ever done.
"Working with students collaboratively and internationally in a major project that's important for everyone involved is difficult. I'm really in it for the challenges. If it were easy, I wouldn't be interested."
He notes that for students, the challenges and rewards are also big. "There are bazillions of sites out there on teen pregnancy, yet these girls have found ways to make theirs more interesting, more interactive, and it is recognized by a team of international judges as being something significant that's worthy of support."
MacKinnon says that working with new technology offers teachers a great opportunity because it can show students that the teacher doesn't know everything.
"It's important that teachers model learning for the students," MacKinnon notes. "We have these challenges and we learn to problem solve. If a kid puts up his hand and says, 'How do I do this?' well, I'm supposed to figure out how to do it. They watch me. I watch them. We problem solve together. That's how I learn."
According to MacKinnon, the best way to learn about web design is to "just jump in with both feet."
"Teachers can be conservative. They're hesitant and they want to know exactly where it's going," he says. "When we undertake these projects, we never know exactly where it will end up. We're venturing into the unknown."
Web-design sites for teachers
The School Webmaster
A Beginner's Guide to HTML
Web Design for Instruction
Rocklake School Web Site Design Workshop for Teachers