2 Basic Computer Tools

being revised August 2006 - links updated
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ContentsIntroductionBasicIntermediateAdvancedFuturePolicyInfrastructure

2.1   Introduction        

2.2   What is a Computer?        

2.3   The Web        NEW June 2006

        2.3.1   Introduction        

        2.3.2   What is the Web?        

        2.3.3   The Web Browser        a wiki page

        2.3.4   Webrings        NEW June 2006

        2.3.5   Wiki        

        2.3.6   Blog        

        2.3.7   The URL        

        2.3.8   Navigating the Web - Safely        

        2.3.9   Searching the Web        NEW May 2006

2.4   Using a Text Editor        

2.5   Windows and Widgets        

2.6   File Manager        

2.7   Using Email        

2.8   Keyboard Skills        

2.9   Working with Images        

There are several kinds of image files and several different kinds of programs for editing these image files.

        2.9.1   Image File Formats        

            2.9.1.1   jpg jpeg        

            2.9.1.2   gif        

        2.9.2   Animated Image File Formats        

            2.9.2.1   gif        

            2.9.2.2   vfs        

        2.9.3   Movie File Formats        

These combine image and sound.

            2.9.3.1   avi        

            2.9.3.2   asf        

            2.9.3.3   mpg mpeg        

            2.9.3.4   vfs        

        2.9.4   Interactive Image File Formats        

            2.9.4.1   vfs        

        2.9.5   Image Capture        

        2.9.6   Colour Cube Exercise

        2.9.7   Using an Image Painter        

        2.9.8   Object Painter - Vector Graphics Editor        

        2.9.9   3D Object Painter        

        2.9.10   Animation        

3D Animation tools involve a great many concepts and functions. 3D animation is an advanced topic.

2.10   Communication Skills        

2.11   Basic Teaching Aids        

        2.11.1   Using Interactive Fiction        

2.12   Webpage Authoring        

        2.12.1   Authoring Policy for <html>        

        2.12.2   Selecting a webpage authoring tool        

Exercise - Survey webpage authoring tools suitable for children in the age ranges 3-10 years old.

        2.12.3   Teaching <html>        

2.12.3.1   <html>        

webscool refers now to <html> as the current implementation of XHTML which replaced HTML in 2000 as the preferred webpage authoring language. You may note that few authoring tools produce XHTML, and that TKI is not yet XHTML compliant. But a teacher would rather be caught dead then caught teaching an obsolete markup language to a class of kids.

With the advent of XHTML there appear to be no tutors for any audience which are not obsolete. This is a resource that could be the product of a class project.

2.12.3.2   What ? HTML died already ?        Sept 2002

The death knell of HTML was struck in Jan 2000 when the International Standard for XHTML was accepted as a reformulation of HTML 4. Effectively HTML4 will be put to sleep and XHTML 1 will take over. XHTML is quite literally "son of HTML". Over time HTML had become stifled by its own uncoordinated growth which was the result of proprietary software companies extending HTML in unorthodox ways in order to "capture" public allegience to their product. This process has been a real warning to any industry or institution which thinks that allowiing or sponsoring uncoordinated development of new technologies in competition with each other is a good way of doing things.

HTML was devised as a way of communicating a simple textual document between different kinds of computers and other machines. HTML was quite simple compared to some of the other more complex formats developed for publishing books such as TeX which were already available, but HTML was adequate for the purposes of the WWW in its development. HTML became the default text definition format for webbrowsers. Its syntax uses tags <tags> and endtags </tags> in order to delimit parts of the text which require special presentation. This syntax has been found to be robust and accessable enough to use as a syntax for defining the structure of many other kinds of objects than just a page of text.

However HTML has been inadequate for describing many kinds of text documents. It does not cater for the expression of maths formulae, simple line elements other than a horizontal line <br>, or for the maintenance of even simple Contents or footnotes. Anyone wishing to publish a professional looking document with any of these features must turn to more complex formats such as TeX or PDF.

The result of this has been a proliferation of different syntaxes that a writer must learn in order to publish a range of documents in different contexts. In an effort to unify the syntax structure for all kinds of documents XML has been developed. The tag syntax for describing structure has been generalised into a form called XML (EXtended Markup Language) in order to permit the communication of different kinds of data in textual form across the net and on different computer platforms.

Under the umbrella of XML a number of document classes are being developed for specific purposes. One is XHTML, which replaces HTML. XHTML is a subset of HTML which conforms to the more rigourous requirements of the XML syntax.

As time moves on web-browsers will cease to support HTML and will support only XHTML. The reason for this is that HTML is too complex for webbrowsers to implement effeciently and also permit extensions such as maths expressions for the education sector. Netscape lost the battle of the browsers when it attempted to be the first to implement a fully featured version of HTML in 2000 as Netscape 6. Netscape 6 was huge and slow, meanwhile there is a demand for HTML rendering on smaller machines (thin clients) such as WebTV, Palms and household appliances such as TV and radio for program selection, and is used as a medium for documentation in many small electronic machines such as modems In order to develop better facilities HTML must be trimmed to a lean definition (XHTML) and then other document definitions such as <maths> can be included in the browser arsenal.

XHTML has simpler rules with less exceptions than HTML so it should be easier to teach. However the definition is fussy and intolerant of mistakes. Browsers attempt to make sense of whatever information is given them, but different browsers on different computers resolve authors' mistakes in different ways which produces unpredictable results. The writers of browsers must be tolerant of authors' mistakes as much as they can because they are aware that much is written that does have minor errors, but that this should not preclude the page being rendered for the reader. To do otherwise would be like stopping reading a document simply because one encountered a single spelling or punctuation mistake or error of grammar.

The XHTML Reformulation describes the changes that need to be made to HTML in order to make is strictly compliant with XML.

Despite these changes HTML will continue to be called "HTML" in part because the tag defining this type of document remains as <html> (in lowercase). A better colloquial written reference is html or <html> as this in part signifies the shift away from the interchangable use of upper and lowercase which HTML tolerated, and this is the way in which it will be referred to in webscool.

Exercise - Write an Obituary for HTML

2.12.3.3   The <html> Editor        

As can be seen from the above discussion, special html editors are required for work at this level. For teaching <html>, a text editor should be used which may provide special support. A widget such as the tkhtml widget which displays html can be used in conjunction with the standard text widget in the product so that students can see the result of their work immediately. This can be done using a tool with alternative layout modes: two parallel windows of text and html, or one window with a toggle setting which can flip to html view when the html scans correctly. Some webbrowsers have this feature.

I am not aware of any such products currently being available, specially for XHTML, so this tool needs to be built.

The other form of <html> editor which is useful at this level could more correctly be called a page builder. This can be constructed using webpages and forms to provide content for a predefined webpage format. This style of tool can be used for class webpages, trip reports and photo albums and other such projects where webpage design is not the issue but simply the presentation of content on a webpage medium. This is an alternative to a bigboard presentation which remains in the classroom and has an audience limited to classroom visitors. A webpage allows parents to see what their children are doing from their own home on a more regular basis and with more convenience than parent days allow. The webpage medium can help involve parents with their childs schooling.

2.12.3.4   The Class Homepage        

The wiki is changing the nature of the class homepage project. Wiki makes writing on the web more immediate and intuitive. The more open approach to writing in which others can subedit your page makes for a more collaborative approach to writing. THis make authors more attuned to the comprehension levels of their readers and how to write for these readers. The buddy perr review process that is used in many schools is replaced by a more generally collaborative approach which generates discussiion. The wiki is a democratising medium which puts students on the same level as the teacher.

Issues of content and authorship tend to be mediated by the group, so that the problems relating to webpage authorship are quickly defused. There have been a number of noteworthy gaffs for instance on wikipedia, but they are not tolerated by the community of authors.

The class homepage is an important class bonding project that could be done in the first week of each new year for students who are already familiar with it. It consists of a page for the class for the year, and may also allow for each student in the class to have a personal spot. It can be used to accrue information as the year progresses, in particular field trips or class projects.

When is a good year to start class homepages ? Year 1. At this age some students can already draw computer graphics and others can type simple text. They will need to have the page layout done for them though.

Occasionally I look through school class webpages that I can find listed. One good effort I have found is Cockle Bay School. When I first saw this site I was impressed and wrote here:
  • Firstly the school website as a whole as a reasonably simple but elegant graphic design. It features a cockle border and soft blue colouring throughout derived from the beach environment of the school. Overlaid on this are just a few highlight icons that say "fun primary school". The careful artistic choices that have been made should not be underestimated, but the basic principles can be recycled and reused. Rafter designs, other shells, sea creatures or leaf patterns can be used for a decorative margin. Background textures should be muted because they are going to have to go with anything and everything that can and will be thrown on top of them.
  • As for the actual class pages themselves, Cockle Bay School set up a framework for all the classes that was very simple but also elegant and allowed for creative skills. A portion of text where the children describe their class and the teacher(s), followed by a slot for an image of the teacher which the students provide by drawing with a graphics painter. Even Year 1 children can do this as the results show. In fact they seem to do it rather well. Classes can extend this basic but eloquent framework if they wish. A similar framework can be usd for a class acitivity, with a description by the students of what they are doing and an image of the results.

    The setting up and creation of these pages can be accomplished by a relatively simple form with entries for the class name, teachers name, possibly a text entry for the initial names of children in the class (with consideration of privacy and protection issues), a text entry or two for editorial content and a entry or two for image content. After that, the class webpages make themselves. This would be a good exercise for an advanced webpage scripting project for Y10-11.

  • I don't yet know the secret to getting all the classes to complete the material for their pages, but at Cockle Bay there are no incomplete pages out of 24 or so classes, and they appear to be updated throughout the year with recent activities. But Cockle Bay is one of a few schools which have a designated webmaster. With the right setup this should be as easy as pie.
  • Class webpages should not be viewed too seriously, but seen rather as a way of demystifying the web and the creation of webpages for Year 1 to 7 children. After they have done a school class webpage for a few years, they will find it too limiting. They will probably have set up their own personal wepages on free hosts sites such as geocities or zoom.
At the end of the year the whole document can be archived as an historical and social record. Class webpages must NOT be allowed to languish past their use by date. This is the sign of a school that dropped the ICT ball.
In its current incarnation the Cockle Bay School website does not inspire. It has reverted to the drab utilitarian grey that disowns creative and imaginative qualities. There is now no student input in the class webpages. It would be interesting to know what caused this change.

Team webpages are also useful, especially for documenting team and school projects.

Class webpages seem to be best used to celebrate togetherness of the class and teacher rather than noting personal achievements. Special event successes like a class winning an interschool science prize are better placed on the school's main webpages, as much because such honours enhance the whole school's educational reputation. The same applies to special personal achievements. The class webpage can be treated more as a personal document of class memories; the sort of material that might appear to be over-indulgent in the school magazine.

Other things that can be in a webpage can be fantasy elements - one class has a secretive giant who visits the classroom at night. The webpage can be used as a connection with a reciprocal class somewhere else in the world. Overall it should be treated as a social document rather than a competitive or educational document. This demonstrates that the web is a key tool for social interaction and that the web will be a formative part of society in the future: which is something that we are not really aware of yet.

At Years 7 and 8 students may be skilled enough to design, layout and write the complete webpage themselves with little teacher input. Though the teacher must exercise total editorial control in the final event as what goes on the schools own webpages is a reflection of the school's excellence.

Key elements of this project are

This project would become an integral part of the school. Primary Schools may wish to decide at what Year Class webpages should commence but Intermediate level Schools should have Class webpages. Students at Year 9 should be comp-literate enough to find Class Webpages no challenge.

Secondary Schools should not have class webpages unless some classes have some catching up to do. Schools need to be aware that some Year 9 students are quite capable of writing viruses and other nasty things. Security of the school's webserver becomes an issue at High Schools and probably students should not have any access or interface with the Schools front-end to the rest of the Web. This is the approach taken by the leading Secondary Schools, they figure their students are already well enough equipped to make their own webpages on other servers.

Assessment
Should class homepages be assessed ? making what is essentially a social activity into something competitive is probably counterproductive.
Resources
Access to a graphic designer to layout the basic page profile and graphics, and a webmaster to design the input page.

The minimal system requirements are a laptop with a simple paint program, and the webform and page generating scripts on it. From the laptop the pages can be entered, generated and the resulting website posted to a permanent position somewhere on the net

Feedback
What is the perceived benefit of this exercise at each age level ? How are the perceived benefits changing over the course of time ?
Experiences to date
Please fill this space.

        2.12.4   The Storybook        

2.12.5   The Class Newspaper        

Again, referring to Gina Montano's comments regarding print publication and webzine, the wiki is an alternative publication medium that has its own particular benefits.

English online offers hosts a student (Y5-8) newspaper Barb Wired. English Online has a host of resources about newspapers.

Notice that the site resources concentrate on looking at newspapers and writing articles suitable for a newspaper. As to producing a newspaper, one needs to be aware that there are a lot of hidden problems in this kind of exercise which seem to go unnoticed. The idea is excellent, and the activity of getting students to engage with a newspaper is also important. However a newspaper is a rather more complex animal than appears at first sight. Complex issues arise that are best dealt with by older students who have a better understanding of the way the pressures of daily life compromise truth and fact. This project is dealt with more fully in the Advanced Chapter.

Until Y12-13, newspaper study projects should be wary of using ICT except in a passive manner.

2.12.6   Personal Homepages        

It is not clear that there is any benefit from producing personal homepages in a class context. Indeed, it could be agued that this is part of personal life and the context should be the home with parents monitoring what is published rather than teachers or a school. This appears to be a useful division of responsibility.

But despite this, students could submit their personal website for formal recognition at Class, School and National level. Assessment would be made on the basis of the appearance of the webpage using the usual criteria - basic functional things like:

As well as assessing the webpage, assess the student's ability to use special tools in the process of creating the webpage. For instance all students may learn to use a graphics painter to produce pictures to go onto the webpage, but only 1 or 2 may finally be selected. But the successful use of a tool to produce something should be assessed and noted.

2.12.7   Persona Webpage Exercise - Y10-11        

No, not a spelling mistake. While personal webpages may not have a place in the classroom other issues regarding publishing on the net and in print and indeed how we present ourselves and our work in general can be understood better by using the Persona Webpage Exercise.

Much work is published, no matter what the medium, by a persona ,who is not necessarily wholly representative of the author. Fiction is commonly written under a nom de plume, actors have stage names and so on. Often the fake name comes with a somewhat flattened out persona which is seen as aiding the marketing of the product. Rock stars recreate their image with every album release. They invent personas which support the kind of product they are delivering to the market. If you become famous and dont have a persona, the tabloid press will create one for you. In a world of live performance the audience engages more directly with the performer as a person. On film or TV it is easier for the audience to engage with a fictional construct of who the actor might be in real life. Rock Hudson is an example of someone for whom market image and real person were hopelessly divergent. On the net we have an even poorer way of knowing who the real person behind the name might be and the author has ample opportunity to present himself as one of many personas.

A persona may reflect closely an aspect of ones life and interests, or it may be an outrageous fiction. Honesty and integrity are not really issues here unless we get confused and cant tell the difference. Or if the context of the persona supports one type of persona which is at odds with what we see presented. For instance a persona that laces material with sexual innuendo is fine in a gossip column but not in a scientific paper.

The handling of personas, both single and multiple, their creation and maintenace over a period of time and their use in the workplace and for the rest of the students life, is a useful tool for dealing with societys ways in the future. In later chapters we look at avatars which are 3-D representations of a person and are another string to the persona bow.

Just in case you think persona is not important, consider senior officials and politicians; they get professional image makeovers when they gain their position. Their real personas get reshaped and retrained for media consumption. How we present ourselves in different media is very important, and most important on the net because it is such a bland media with limited delivery of information about who a person really is.

Not only is it important to understand persona as an author, it is also important for the consumer. By recognising persona types we can tell whether an article is to be taken seriously or whether it is purely entertainment. Whether it is intended to be read as fact, opinion, speculation or frivolous comment. It empowers our critical judgement of what we read on the net.

The following exercise uses personal webpages to address all these issues.

Students make a personal webpage of themselves and also of two other people in the class. This is not an exercise in fancy webtricks, nor a mulitpage epic in graphic design, but succint economical presentation of the "content" of a persona. The webpages of others are done on the basis of an interview and a photoshoot. There are three options here:

For the two webpages authored by others, use different methods. Most students will play this exercise by the book and try to present a genuine account of their subject. However this is not so helpful for realising benefits from the exercise, so an explanation of some ways that a persona can be presented should be described first. Students should consider examples of personas they see in real life. There are plenty on TV from newsreaders and weatherforecasters, to gossip show hosts and comedians. There is also the issue of taking a role in a program or series and realising that role out of its original context via merchandising. We see the persona out of context as more representative of the real actor than we do in the context of the program even though it is the same act. Gossip show hosts are a special kind because they appear to be authentic from the outset, not acting any role, but would Jerry Springer let anyone behave in his house the way he lets his guests behave on set ? No, it is all constructed persona.

This exercise will allow the more creative and mischeivous students free rein to exercise their muscle in a creative way and everyone will learn from what they produce. However the exercise must be balanced. If the resulting webpage bears no resemblance to the subject then it may lose relevance. This aspect should generate some good discussion. The personas created by a comedian such as Barry Humpries could be discussed in this context.

All the students in the class get to view all the webpages and summarize their reactions with references to webpages of particular note. In a class of 25 that is 75 webpages, so the students may not get to read all the webpages before they have seen enough to draw their conclusions. My personal take on this exercise is that the students should discover that none of the webpages are genuine or authentic in any absolute sense, and this is an important lesson to carry with you when reading any webpage. At best a webpage represents a half-completed jig-saw puzzle but may have quite a few pieces that do not belong, from other jig-saw puzzles, mixed in. The exercise may also help them to read information more critically in its social context. For instance, whether an interview on TV is determined, investigative or collaborative and how this might reflect on the integrity of the interview.

You may find this exercise subversive in that it seems to be more about misrepresentation, but bear in mind that children today are used to this way of expressing themselves. The Beatles recreated themselves during their short period of fame and then did so in real life after the breakup of the group. David Bowie was the first person of fame to habitually recreate a persona every year with every album release. This is now expected of pop stars such as Madonna. Today, in virtual reality chatrooms, children adopt whatever avatar they feel represents them at the time, tarzan, an egyptian mummy or a fish. This is now an accepted part of personal freedom and we can note that some people are not permitted this freedom, such as royalty and religious figures. This partly explains the fascination with the private lives of royalty.

The technical requirements for this exercise are not great as the exercise should not be conducted by students younger than about 14-15. This is because our own perception of our persona is not fully developed even at this stage. While a 12 year old may be OK with presenting his own persona, seeing his idea of himself savaged by a classmate may be a little traumatic. One needs to have a reasonably firm sense of identity to take part in this exercise.

Hopefully from this exercise students will learn how to present themselves directly and genuinely to others and this should help them in their working life.

        2.12.8   Hyperfiction        

    2.13   Assessing Web (ICT) Literacy        

2.14   Putting it all together        

2.14.1   In the Y1-4 English Class        

There are examples highly sophisticated technology rich Y1 classrooms - where computers, video and theatre are all combined in enacting children's stories. Alan Brandt covers the same exerices from a Y3-4 viewpoint in which students are expected to do more of the legwork. Technologies used in this project are:

Alan Brandt mentions the question of why myths and fairy tales were created and offers some possible answers. This is shark-infested territory that can well be left alone. Both myths and fairy tales have generally been recycled several times by the time that they arrive in our present age. The motivations for their creation are totally obscured. Even modifying the question to ask "what relevance a story has to readers in our present society" often produces blank stares. This is because both myth and fairy story employ references to subconscious imagery that are not usually able to be voiced using rational thought. It may be more fruitful for children to explore the dreamlike qualities of the story and amplify these in the enactment as an exercise in realising the subconscious, rather than trying to rationalise subconscious experience in terms of "morality" or "ignorance".

2.15   Curriculum Areas        NEW 22 May 2006

This section reviews websites which offer topics based on the skills covered in the Basic Section. This amounts to web access, email, downloading, and newsgroups and authorship on the web in a controlled environment such as geocities, editable webpages, blogs and to some extent wiki.

The boundary is defined by the necessity to know something of basic script programming.

This means that all sorts of computer assisted learning (CAL) sites are included at the Basic level. WEBSCOOL does not intend to be a comprehensive reviewer of these kinds of websites but does review in the following sections under curricilum area websites of interest, some good, and some not so good.

WEBSCOOL does not set itself up as a reviewer of appropriate sites for teachers to use, That is the job of the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the companies that the MoE contracts to do this job. WEBSCOOL does review websites seen in this context which are brought to its attention and which appear to deserve some comment.

2.15.1   Preschool        

Some websites for teachers and parents of prescool children - Google for "Prescool activities".

Gayle's Preschool Rainbow has activities for parents and teachers and also information about child growth, behaviour etc.

Fun-attic has a page or two of matrial for preschoolers.

Magical Childhood.com has lots of hints for parents and teachers re infants and upwards on all sorts of issues.

.Pauls'a Archives at redshift.com look at preparing children for school, or starting schooling while still at home (age 3-4) which they call homeschooling.

Some sites for preschoolers" Boowa and Kwala has big chunky colourful games made up in acromedia Flash. This is a site for kids uptoten. Has section 3-6 years old, also in 4 languages so your kids can pick up some French and Spanish when they get bored with pages in English. There are animated stories in Flash. You may want broadband to cope with the Flash. 56k modem is a little slow. An excellent site.

The BBC has a site for preschoolers, though the navigation is a little awkward. Also uses Flash and is too slow on a 56K modem. Has a reasonable amount of text which implies the expectation that an adult is sitting close at hand.

2.15.2   Language and Languages        

Book Project

2.15.3   Mathematics        NEW 22 May 2006

2.15.3.1   Beat the Calculator        NEW 22 May 2006

Googling for "beat the calculator" turns up some interesting sites.

Beat the Calculator is one of many graded maths games on this site. It allows the players to discover their aptitude to mental arithmetic, as well as improving it.

One of the games is Broken Calculator. You display a number such as 18 on the calculator which has a broken 8-key which doesnt work. How to display the number 18? Who would have thought that a broken calculator was useful. Well, real broken calculators are a trial, but a Tcl-Plugin broken calculator is a snap to build.

What other games on this site can be built with a Tcl Plugin?

BEATCALC brings up a page with an imtimidating number of entries which just goes to show how complicated maths really is. I got as far as the exercise 1 Squaring a 2-digit number beginning with 1 and gave up. It gives an example for squaring 19 that got me completely lost. Is this site dumb or stupid? How do we protect our children from webpages like this?

Superkids Educational Software Review reviews a game that could easily be written as a freely available Plugin. Superkids rated this game 3 out of 5 (meduim) for "Kid Appeal" but it does not look like a fun time to me. Check out more reviews at Superkids for ideas, good and not so good.

2.15.4   Science        

2.15.5   Technology        

2.15.5.1   Print/Publishing - Colour Theory        Y6-

2.15.6   Social Sciences        

2.15.7   The Arts        

2.15.7.1   Visual Arts - Colour Theory        Y6-

2.15.7.2   Music - Flash Mixer        Y6-

2.15.8   Health and Physical Education        

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