Student Created Webpages

Hope everyone who is in the snow zone is staying toasty warm! My area just missed getting slammed, but it still didn't stop our school from having a snow day yesterday. Part of me was cheering for the day off, but another part of me was disappointed. Why in the world would a teacher be disappointed about having a snow day? Well, my students just started a project on Thursday, and I am bummed that I didn't get to see the excitement from Thursday carry over into Friday. I know come Monday that excitement will be there, but have you ever had that feeling of starting a project with your kiddos, and you just didn't want class to end?

What are we doing that is so exciting this teacher was *slightly* bummed about having a snow day? We are in the beginning of our Latin America unit, and we are getting into the history. I knew I wanted to have my advanced students create some type of project because our first topics are the Aztecs and Incas. And even though not all of my students would find the Aztecs and Incas as fascinating as I do, I did want to get my students excited about learning. They are going to build a website about the Aztecs and Incas.
**Side note- I teach 5 classes of 6th grade social studies. Three of those classes are advanced and two are on-level. I differentiate for my advanced classes, so I either come up with a variation of an activity my on-level students are doing (or sometimes I come up with something for my advanced kids and tier it for my on-level kiddos), or I plan something completely different for them. As long as my lessons are standards-based, I have complete freedom in the activities I plan for my kiddos, and I can vary the activities as much as I want between the two levels of classes.

**Another side note- I am totally fine with turning my kiddos loose on a project I have never done before. I like to live dangerously. And my administration fully supports us teachers. If this project turns out a flop, I am OK with that. I take note of what worked, what didn't work, and tweak it for the next go around.  I know my kids will learn the knowledge they need to from this project, it just may or may not be a pretty process!

I planned this project just for my advanced kids. Why? Well, because this project is very much self-directed, and students will be learning without me. I know my advanced students can do this. My on-level students will need more involvement from me to learn the content.  I totally know that my on-level kids will enjoy creating a webpage just as much as my advanced kids, so they are going to have a project like this later on this year with information they have already learned.

Let's Get To It!
I chose Weebly, but you could also use Wikispaces. I have never used Weebly before because my district uses an on-line learning platform. All of my class correspondence and resources are uploaded there. However, I wanted my kids to create their own webpages.

Why a webpage? It's very real world, and most of them are technologically savvy enough to figure out how (in other words, they know how to tinker really well with technology). I wanted them to explore the Aztecs and Incas on their own because they would be way more engaged than if I led the discussion, and I wanted them to have some type of record of what they learned. They have made posters before, but not very many have made their own webpage, so I knew this would be a very intriguing project for them. My students have completed anticipatory activities before learning about specific content, but I honestly just wanted them to be able to explore on their own with a few guidelines. I wanted to keep this portion of Latin America history as self-directed as possible with as little as me as possible.

Independently or groups? I explained the project to my kiddos and let them decide if they were confident enough to create their own by themselves, or if they wanted to team up with a pal. I allowed up to 3 in a group because I wanted to make sure each member put in work. Thankfully my school as plenty of technology to go around, and I am able to check out one Chrome Book per kid. If you don't have one-to-one technology, your students may not have the choice to work alone. I *gently* persuaded most of my students to team up with at least one other person because you can only get 40 free students accounts with a teacher Weebly account. I have WAY more than 40 advanced students, so I knew I needed some groups. Yes, students can create their own Weebly account for free, BUT I wanted easy access to their webpages. Per district policy, the webpages must be set to private, so the only way I will be able to assess their webpages is to have 90 usernames and passwords. Um, no. With student accounts under my teacher account, all I have to do is log into mine and I can simply click theirs. Easier and time saver.

Putting it into action. I feel like my advanced kiddos are pretty independent and the majority are very motivated, so my intro was really just explaining the project to them, giving them the project guidelines/rubric page, provided some text resources, gave them some reliable online resource sites, gave a quick overview of Weebly, and I turned them loose. This may not work for everyone. You may need to give a more detailed intro to your kiddos. You know them best. I knew that the time of year (snow day, no snow day???) leaves my kiddos pretty wiggly and restless if I talk for too long. Letting them tinker may take a bit more time, but at least I know they are engaged in the task at hand, and I don't have to struggle to maintain their attention. I also have no problem letting my kids take the reins. One of the biggest lessons I learned moving from elementary to middle school was that I had to give up a lot of control. In elementary school I did tons of centers, my students moved a lot, it was not quiet. But for the most part, I couldn't give an overview and turn them loose and let them have complete reign to tinker and hope that academic work would get accomplished. In middle school I can. One more reason I love middle school and will not go back to elementary school without crying, screaming, and kicking.

Reliable websites- BiographyHistoryDiscovery,  and National Geographic. I gave my kiddos a run down on why Wikipedia is not the *most* reliable source of information out there.

How it's going. I feel like so far it has gone very well. Granted we are only going to be on day 2 when we return to school, but my kids tinkered with Weebly for about 15 minutes, felt comfortable, and started researching. They used library books I checked out, the websites I listed above, and whatever else they searched on line. Many of them working in groups created a Google doc to share their research and simultaneously add information. I didn't even tell them to do this. They just did it on their own! #winning

How long it will take. I am giving my students 6 full class periods to work on this. Each class is 55 minutes long, so I am hoping this is plenty of time. I did tell them, though, if they are making this elaborate webpage, they might have to work on it at home. Keep in mind, many of my kiddos will work on it at home. If push comes to shove, and it is nearing the 6th day and most of my kids aren't anywhere close to being done, I will give them extra days. I am OK with that. Yes, we have set curriculum we have to get through, but I fully believe that to become a better teacher, you have to be willing to take risks and sometimes just fly by the seat of your pants. See where the adventure takes you. Jot notes of what went well and what went horribly wrong, and improve with the next project.

Project page and rubric. Here is the project detail page and rubric I gave to my kiddos. Nothing fancy, and it would be easy for you to create something similar if you didn't want to have the topic be the Aztecs and Incas.

I will be back when we finish to post some screen shots of my daughter's webpage when she finishes (yes, I do get to teach my daughter since she needs advanced SS and I am the only advanced SS teacher.....difficult at times? Yes. Would I trade it for anything in the world? Never!). I promise I will show it whether good, bad, or ugly because teaching is messy sometimes, and so are student created projects!

Have you had your students create their own webpages before? What were your biggest victories and defeats?

Happy Teaching!
Heather- Brainy Apples


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  2. Thanks so much for reading! I hoe it gave you all some good ideas :)

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