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Minutes from ME

YOUNG READERS AND THE WORLD WIDE WEB

FIRST STEPS IN BROWSING

When young students meet up with computers in the classroom context there are different approaches required than they may be using with computers outside the classroom or lab. This is especially so as they begin to use the World Wide Web (WWW). Their first inclination on seeing a web page is to sweep the mouse around the screen and click on anything "clickable". Reading the screen content is not a high priority!

As students begin to learn strategies for gathering information from the WWW, right now and probably for a while into the future, they rely on reading the directions and the subject matter. Children must learn to stop and READ screen content and to navigate around a web page alongside traditional research methods used with other library resources.

A comfortable encounter is the best introduction to a web information search. Steps can be taken to improve the comfort level and direction by simplifying the introduction. Combine simple HTML coding and browser capabilities to present selected research materials to the students in a suitably accessible style.

Let's face it, finding World Wide Web content comprehensible to a first through third grade reading level is a challenge, but careful checking and selection will uncover some gems young students can use.

SIMPLIFIED WORLD WIDE WEB RESEARCH

1. SELECT A GOOD WEB SITE.

Good places to begin the search are review collections, such as Blue Web'N or the Franklin Institute educational hotlist, and good web content originators such as the Discovery Channel, the Smithsonian, National Geographic (among others). Sites with pictures and some text work best at this level. Avoid as far as possible sites which have distracting, flashing advertisements or invitations to "click here for email"; restoring the original page after such diversions is a real time waster.
However some sites are just too good to miss - that's the chance for a teaching moment on avoiding or postponing those distractions!

2. CREATE A SIMPLE HTML PREFACE PAGE

Use simple HTML code to create the page and set it as the home page which immediately appears when the browser software is opened.

Remember the keys to creating this simple HTML document:
(a) It must be saved as a plain text document with no extraneous code and have the filename extension .htm or .html.
(b) It must begin with lines <HTML> and <BODY> and close with <BODY> and <HTML> as shown below.
(c) Do use a font style, such as Comic Sans MS, which mimics the childrens' printing style.
(d) Include a number in each link on the web page list so that slower readers can recognize and select by number alone.

The HTML code shown here will make a simple opening page with links to two sites:

<HTML><BR>
<BODY><BR>
<BGCOLOR="WHITE" TEXT="BLACK"><BR>
<FONT SIZE=+1><BR>
<FONT FACE="Comic Sans MS"><BR>
<P ALIGN=LEFT>Hello, everyone!</P>

<P ALIGN=LEFT>Click on a line below to find pictures of:<BR>
<P ALIGN=LEFT><A HREF="http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa /thumb/thumb.htm">1. Butterflies.</A><BR>
<P ALIGN=LEFT><A HREF="http://frog.simplenet.com/froggy/pictures.shtm">2. Frogs</A><BR>
</BODY><BR>
</HTML>

This short document, saved and assigned as the Netscape browser's home page, opens up on the screen as:

Screen One's Here!

To experiment with this particular document just highlight the entire text in red above, then copy and paste it into a new Notepad or Wordpad document (for PC machines). Save the file with a YOURCHOICE.htm filename and make it the home page of your browser software.

3. TEACH BASIC WEB PAGE NAVIGATION

When the browser software has opened to the web page demonstrate and describe the changing shape of the cursor as it moves across the blank area, text areas and hypertext links. That pointing finger as the cursor passes over the links grabs the attention!

For the beginner there are three basic manipulations:

single clicking on the left mouse button to activate a link or enlarge an image whenever the cursor changes to that "pointing finger" shape,

scrolling with the right edge scroll bar or buttons, (with added assurances and demo that the top of the screen does not go away for ever when it rolls off the top), and

single clicking on the BACK or FORWARD buttons on the browser tool bar to "turn pages".

4. DEMONSTRATE WEB RESEARCH

Calling the web browsing "research" at this first stage may be a bit of a stretch but the first steps in discovering and locating information through reading the contents begin here.

Tasks assigned can range from general to very specific:

Look at Page 1 of Froggy Images. Pick you favorite and we will print it.

Look at Pages 1,2 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 and 11. Pick your favorite from all pages and we will print it.

What color is the poison arrow frog at the top of page 6?

Find the Pacman frog on Page 6. Make the picture big. What is he eating? Is it a mouse?

Look at all of the butterfly pictures. Pick your favorite to print.

Look at Whites and Sulphurs Butterflies Page 2. Do any look like a Dog Face? Make the picture big and show ME how it looks.

Etc., etc, etc......

Students will quickly learn how to find their way through the three information levels used in these exercises.

While useful in the computer lab setting, this lesson can also be an option on individual classroom computers where incidental "rainy recess" browsing or inclusion in a "study centers" arrangement is possible. Children quickly get the hang of it, are eager to share their discoveries with classmates and essentially begin to teach each other as they share directions on how to match their classmates' finds.

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