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Classroom Homepage Connections

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Unlock the door and invitethe world into your classroom. Give your computer the key it needs toshow the amazing things that are happening in your classroom. Thiskey is a classroom homepage. Although the computer can bring a globalaudience to your classroom, you have to do some of the legwork. Isthe time and effort really worthwhile? Why should a teacher create ahomepage for his or her classroom? Discover these valid reasons andyou're well on your way to achieving some spectacularresults.

A classroom homepage is anavenue you can use to inform the community about your school.Parents, students, other teachers or principals can view informationabout your classroom 24 hours a day. For example, perhaps younormally send home a newsletter at the beginning of the year orsemester that tells about your discipline procedures, homework andgrading policies, and extra credit options. Including this newsletteras part of your homepage will give students and parents access to theinformation at any time.

In addition, a teacher'sclassroom goals and objectives for the year can be available for allto see. Therefore, parents can locate answers to questions such as,"What d'es the curriculum cover and what themes will be studied?"Students will be anxious to check the homepage to find out aboutupcoming projects and field trips. Receiving feedback about what youare doing in your classroom is convenient and easy using a classroomhomepage. E-mail allows for immediate communication. However,teachers may want to make it clear on their homepage whether theyprefer parents to ask questions about children through e-mail or bynote and telephone. Handling lots of e-mail about individual studentscould become problematic and very time consuming.

Classroom homepages canpoint users to outside Internet resources that are curriculumrelated. This is an excellent way to supplement your curriculum withmaterials that support what you teach. Students who visit your sitecan investigate other sites that will complement what they arelearning. There are many sites that can provide students withreinforcement and practice on the subject before them. Othereducators visiting your site can also find links to resources and getideas for projects. Furthermore, many informative and helpfulresources are available for parents. A classroom homepage also allowsyou to publish your students' work in front of a worldwide audience.It is exciting for students to know that their story, p'em, drawing,report or multimedia project may be seen by people in distantplaces.

GettingStudents Involved

Creating a classroomhomepage is a perfect opportunity to get your students involved inlearning. After all, this is their classroom too. Students can locateand gather Internet resource sites. Or, if you choose the sites, thenyou might allow them to decide which ones they would like to be addedas links. Also, they should be able to express how these links can beused by teachers, parents, students or other viewers. For instance,how would a link to a kid's online magazine be useful to students ina social studies class? Is the magazine content appropriate to thesubject?

Students can evenpersonally contribute some of the information that you put on thehomepage. Consider linking the homepage to a classroom newspagecreated by the students containing their opinions and reports. Inaddition, the Internet is a good place for users to have fun withscavenger hunts. Give students the opportunity to create a scavengerhunt pertinent to the class subject to put up on the classroomhomepage.

Regardless of the content,students should be involved in the design of the page. Most kids cancome up with exciting and creative ideas. Instruct them on some ofthe elements of good Web design. Allow them to sketch a classroomhomepage on paper. Or, at the very least, let them vote on particularcolors and images that they want to represent their classroomonline.

Based on my experiences, aclassroom homepage increases students' motivation towards class.Students acquire a sense of belonging. If they are involved in thedevelopment of the page, students acquire team pride throughcooperative learning activities. Your students will also feel aconnection with the outside world. Suddenly, creating studentassignments for the homepage elicits amazing contributions. Once youinform your students that someone from China, Paris or Australia canview their work, you will see the enthusiasm in theirfaces.

Organizationand Layout

Of course, educators arewell aware of the presence of the Internet and its phenomenal growth.Connecting to the World Wide Web through a classroom homepageintroduces the latest technology to our students. After all,technology no doubt will play a big part in their future. Once you'veestablished why you want to create a homepage, its success depends onits organization. The best homepages are those that serve the userwell. If visitors feel comfortable getting around your site, they'llspend more time there, enjoy the experience and revisit. The ideasand examples provided will help you create an effective and efficienthomepage.

Decide how you willorganize the content of your Web page. Your site should presentinformation in an easy-to-understand format. First, do somebrainstorming and decide what you want your homepage to portray.Record topics that you want to include in your site on note cards.Categorize topics under headings. Or, create a diagram such as aflowchart to plan how users will navigate through your site. Anexample of such a flowchart is shown in Figure One.

When designing the layoutof your pages remember to use a consistent format. Providing a simplelayout and consistent style makes it easier for users to find whatthey are looking for. Tables and frames help in structuring yourpages as long as they don't distract from the overall design.Scrolling should be kept to a minimum because it can get a bit tiringfor the user. Consider creating a page that shows a mock display ofyour classroom. Several classroom-related icons -- such as ateacher's desk, bulletin board or bookshelf -- can link toappropriate information.

The overuse of font styles,colors, navigational tools, graphics and spacing can inhibit theeffectiveness of your homepage. Simplicity is best and expansionshould be slow and deliberate. Backgrounds should not interfere withthe clarity of your text. Create color combinations that complementeach other without being overbearing to the viewer.

Use graphics sparingly.Take download speeds into account when applying graphics to yourhomepage. Excessive use of graphics can be frustrating to the viewerwho must wait to download multiple images. Keep file sizes for yourgraphics small. Remember to use graphics that are relevant to thetheme of your page. Navigational buttons should be in similarlocations on each page to give smooth transitions. Always providebuttons to return back to the main page and previous page.

FinalThoughts

A brief, but adequatedescription of linked pages/sites should be displayed on your pages.This will guide users to the places they want to visit and preventany unnecessary wandering. Your hyperlinks to other Internet sitesshould be valuable and developmentally appropriate. The content ofthe sites should be relevant to your curriculum.

Part of creating aprofessional homepage is keeping it current and up to date. I suggestthat you provide the last date when the site was updated. If you areposting student projects and work, be sure that you have properparental permission. Do not give out any personal information about astudent on your Web page.

After creating yourhomepage, don't miss what could be the most important step: testing.Similar to revising an important paper, you must "fine tune" yourhomepage. Preview it in various browsers. Check your hyperlinks andmake sure they work as you expect. Don't forget to proofread yourtext for spelling and grammatical errors. This homepage, after all,is a professional publication.

After you publish your siteon a server, check it immediately to see how long it takes for pagesto download. If any of your pages take too long, then you willprobably want to make some revisions. Remember that a classroomhomepage is an ongoing project requiring maintenance and the additionof up-to-date information.

In summary, creating ahomepage for your classroom will produce many positive results.Although it will take some effort and time on your part as a teacher,the rewards are hard to overlook. Clarifying your goals and reasonsfor producing a homepage will play a big role in its success. Alittle planning and knowledge of design ideas will lead you on yourway to establishing an effective, efficient and successfulhomepage.

 

Tammy S. Charland is ateacher at Space Coast Middle School in Brevard County, Fla. Herclassroom's homepage can be viewed at http://www.manatee.brevard.k12.fl.us/charland.html.E-mail: tcharland@spacey.net.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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