Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let me Google that for you

Piloting a new course this semester - Intro to Computer Science part 2. Between the existing Intro part 1 and this, we should be able to do a pretty thorough job in preparing our kids for the future.

We decided that we wanted the kids to make deliverables in the form of web pages - plain old html written by hand. Part of the idea was to demystify things, part was to let the kids show off their work, part was to have something that they can generate programatically as the course progressed, and part was to give them a tool they might find valuable beyond their computer science classes.

We also wanted to help teach the kids how to find information and how to learn things on their own. Despite the fact that our students use computers all the time, they possess a widely varying skill set. With that in mind,  here's what we tried to do:

After a brief introduction to what a web page is (just a text file with markup) and showing them the bare
minimum of markup:

I recommended a simple editor - gedit - while resisting all my inner urges for all things emacs, and then showed them an image of a web page:

The end goal was to make a page that had all of the elements in the above image but I also asked:

  • How did they go about finding out how to make the page?
  • Where did they search?
  • what turned up bad results (and what were they)?
  • what turned up good results (and what were they)?
I was very pleased with the results. Just about all the kids are now able to make a web page with the components in the image above. More importantly, this is what came out of our discussion:

  • Everyone used Google exclusively as a search engine.
  • The range of queries ranged from things like "html tutorial," "making a web page," and just plain "html" to maybe not so good things like "gedit web page."
  • No one used social search or used facebook.
  • They mostly all found sites such as w3schools. 
I'm hoping this is a good first step in having the students find things on their own and not be afraid to try things. I think it's an encouraging start.


  1. Did you have them save and evaluate sites that they found for usefullness? A next step might be to build a web page (or HTML file at least) with hot links to the best HTML learning sites they found. I might also have suggested using different search engines so they could see the differences in what they returned.

  2. We've been discussing good and bad searches and good and bad results and the students will be making a (simple) web site with resources they discover over the semester.

    Funny you mention alternate engines. As I said above, they all used Google. Yesterday, I showed them duckduckgo. We ran a Google search side by side with a Duck Duck Go search and compared the results. The search was simply "python strings." I ran the searches earlier so I knew what the results would be, but it turned out that the DDG results were better for us than the Google ones.

    THe DDG search also led us to  (which I was going to show them anyway as a platform to do last night's homework).

  3. In case you (or your students) are not aware:

  4. Thanks Ben, we talked a bit about questioning what we see on sites and will do more as we move ahead, but I totally forgot about