Feb 18, 2020
I’m teaching 5th Grade Design + Code + Make for the first time this year. Previously, 5th Grade was rolled into our lower school for technology classes and the curriculum was not integrated with our middle school arc. In middle school, we focus on design thinking, entrepreneurship, making, and solving real world problems. Classes happen in our FabLab which is outfitted with laser cutters, CNC machine, 3D printers, robotics and electronics, a wood shop, and a vast array of prototyping materials.
My task: Design a 5th grade curriculum that would fit in to the greater arc of the middle school program and give the students some basic skills they would be able to use as they progress. I am teaching Trimesters 1 and 3. During Trimester 2 they will be doing woodworking with another teacher. I decided to begin with something I have been wanting to do for a long time: a trimester-long unit on how the internet works, how websites work, and basic HTML which would culminate in the students creating hand-coded websites.
I saw each section eight times during Trimester one–the first of which was taken up by an unrelated assessment–and classes are only forty-five minutes so I had to work fast. Here is how I structured it:
Have students complete the Khan Academy Basic HTML course. If my students are any indication, they will need lots of help and will have many questions but will be able to get through it.
Students pick a subject for their website and write a website ‘plan’. Once their plan is approved, they can start building it. I had them build their sites using a combination of a Linode web server I set up with chrooted FTP access/home directory in the web root for each student, and codeanywhere. Codeanywhere has education plans so I could get enough accounts for all of my students at a reasonable price. I put a basic website template in each of their folders on the server and they took it from there. Some of them built amazing sites. Some barely got started. Either way, it was fine with me. My objective was for them to understand the underlying technology. They use the internet every day. It’s a huge part of their lives. I wanted them to know what it is and how it works. Along the way we discussed privacy issues like tracking cookies, web browsing history, personal data stored by massive corporations, how mobile apps function, etc.
The one thing I will do differently next year is have them focus on making one really good homepage for their site first. If they finish that, they can start on another page. Some students spent too much time switching back and forth and didn’t finish anything as a result.