This morning I had the great privilege of speaking to a room full of students at Damascus High School, somewhere out in Maryland, well past my normal geographical boundaries. These folks were taking an Advanced Web Tools class with Mr. Jeff Brown, and they weren’t getting your average high school web class. Jeff, along with his colleagues Jeff Hanson, Barbara Barry, Brian Wall, Nancy Kemp and Cheryl Wall, teach a very relevant applied IT curriculum. As I got to know the class, I couldn’t help but admire how Jeff teaches his web students the things that we’d all hope he would — software-independent and standards-based best practices for communicating online.
I talked for a little bit about treating the web as an interface (rather than a canvas), and when and how to break the rules (like when markup validation really matters, etc). The students asked some good questions, and generally knew the answers to my questions, which was very impressive. Most of them had read A List Apart, they all knew XHTML’s basic rules, they talked about the separation of presentation from content, and they use JQuery to do their interactions. This was no Dreamweaver class.
Students doing great work
Above all, it seems like Jeff gives his students the freedom to do projects that touch on their weaknesses, but also play to their strengths. In the end, you have a few dozen students who are not only engaged, but have a feeling (if not legit experience) for how to do quality work on the web. Even if they never work directly on the web, they’ll have a feeling for the value of quality work if they’re ever hiring a web designer or development shop in the future. Either way you slice it, it creates greater demand for producing good quality products online, which can’t be bad.
At the other side of the building, when I was meeting colleague Jeff Hanson, his class was learning about the advantages and disadvantages of allowing your system to tap into its swap-based virtual memory. Students were asking him about I/O throughput and other things I never thought I’d hear in a public high school.
There’s always a question about whether or not this kind of thing should in fact be taught in a high school. And of course, English, math, history, and the rest of the liberal arts are legitimately more important to a high school diploma than computer work is, in my opinion. But every school has electives, and this is a fantastic program to allow interested students to learn, early-on, how to create things on the web. If every school had this type of program alongside art, music, and home ec., or allowed students to take the more sophisticated classes in lieu of calculus (honestly, I haven’t had to integrate since my last math course), that would be fantastic.
So who else does this?
As I was leaving, Jeff Brown asked me if I knew of other programs in the area that are doing the same type of thing. I didn’t, and he didn’t seem to know about too many himself. Are there other schools in the DC region that are trying a curriculum like this?
If not, how can we change this? I was very involved with my school district when I was back in Pennsylvania, but I haven’t the foggiest clue about how it works down this way. It would be great to get secondary school web instructors together, not just to share ideas among each other, but to share ideas with and learn from others who are working in the industry. It would be great to develop the skeleton of a common curriculum (which, I think, Jeff and his colleagues have done a great job of producing so far).
And how can I help?
But if so, I want to help out. That could mean talking to a class like I did at Damascus today, helping to work on a curriculum, or maybe convincing Brian to host a field trip to see what we do at Viget. Or anything else I haven’t thought about.
I had a great experience at an area high school today, and am wondering if this great web program is common. If so, how can I (and we) help?