Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Resource for Teaching Students About Browsers and the Web

Teaching students about the internet can be bit confusing.  Teachers often shy away from teaching core technology concepts because of this perceived complexity.  Without a game plan and the proper visuals it can be very tricky to explain an abstract system like a computer network. The word "internet" should paint a picture in your head of a complex system of networks and computer hardware, but most often it is equated to those 4 little lines on your WiFi device telling you that you have signal.  So how do you explain to students where emails come from, how Facebook stores information, or why you can simply Google anything you want to know more about?

I always think about the british TV Show the IT Crowd where characters Roy and Moss trick their boss Jen into thinking they were able to borrow the Internet for her to show off at a convention.  When she unveils the Internet (a black box with a red light on top) it is met with gasps of amazement from an uneducated crowd.  Instead of the laughter and embarrassment that Roy and Moss had been hoping to put their boss through, the visualization of the internet was met with great appreciation.  I think it illustrates a point that most people don't really know what the internet is, but we would like to.  And just because we are a teacher in school doesn't mean we are exempt.  It is a complex subject summed up into a single word.   In the year 2014,  students should have a good understanding of basic computer networking concepts.

I stumbled upon this HTML 5 book called 20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Internet.  This book is a throwback to the glory days of children's books and probably is poking fun at those that don't have a full working knowledge of the internet.  What is does however, is explain how browsers and the internet work in brilliant simplicity.  Each chapter of this book could be taught to the appropriate age group as an individual lesson.  By the conclusion of the book you will have a working knowledge of: Internet, Cloud Computing, Web Apps, HTML, JAVAScript, CSS, HTML 5, 3D in the Browser, Browser Madrigal, Plug-ins, Browser Extensions, Browser Synchronization, Cookies, Privacy, Malware, IP Addresses and DNS, Open Source, Validating Identities, and Evolving to a Faster Web.

While these topics are discussed in sometimes one or two simple pages, they give a fundamental overview of these technology topics that every student should understand.  It would also be very easy to transition from the book to a research project where older students are asked to learn more.  Within the text of each chapter are bold typed keywords that lend themselves to web searches.  As an example chapter one covers the internet, and on page five we are introduced to the term "packets".  To take this subject further, we would simply need to search the term packets to uncover that a typical packet contains perhaps 1,000 or 1,500 bytes, and can go by several other names such as: frame, block cell or fragment.

Knowing how things work at their fundamental level is important.  Giving students a core understanding of how networks allow them to communicate over distances will benefit them in the future.  This book is a great way for any teacher, regardless of technology proficiency, to teach a complex subject like computer information systems.

Jason Cross

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