Web development is an ideal platform for young learners to enter into the world of computer programming. In this article, I’m going to show why this is true and how easily you can get students into programming as well as helping them to develop essential skills, such as proofreading and problem-solving.
First of all, (X)HTML, the language used to create Web pages, is easy to learn and uses syntax and mechanics found in true programming languages. Like programming languages, (X)HTML utilizes elements and these elements use attributes to better define them. Arguably, this is where the fun begins. As learners become familiar with elements and their attributes, they will certainly want to experiment with them. Changing an attribute’s values can affect such things as physical appearance or placement on the Web page. Young programmers will quickly familiarize themselves with the practice of tweaking elements’ attributes and, undoubtedly, will be very anxious to learn about more elements, even if it requires doing so on their own time.
A very strong argument for introducing learners to (X)HTML is that working with it can cultivate two highly desired abilities -proofreading and debugging skills. These skills are essential in the programming world and proofreading is valued well beyond the world of programming. When a Web page or one of its elements does not look right, there’s only one way to fix it and that’s to find its reference in the code and alter it as needed. This means combing through lines of code sometimes, looking for one thing in particular. Towards this end, problem-solving skills are also developed. If changing the attribute of one element fails to get the desired result, sometimes a developer will have to experiment to find something that works.
Text editors such as Microsoft Notepad or BBedit for Mac are fine for creating Web pages. However, as your burgeoning Web developers’ skills grow, they may feel constrained by the limitations of such tools. Open source Web development suites/HTML editors such as Bluefish or BlueGriffon, can provide them with a more rewarding environment in which to work. Both are WYSIWYG and include tools that will make Web development easier. Better still, with the W3C’s (World Wide Web Consortium) Tidy installed, code can be validated to identify mistakes and to ensure that it meets W3C standards. The W3C also offers a CSS validation service. These tools make it much easier to debug. Tidy can also be used to “tidy up” code so that it’s easier to read. This is a useful habit for budding developers to get into for just this reason.
The final argument for using (X)HTML as a platform for launching the careers of young developers is the cost. Unlike some commercial programming languages, (X)HTML is free. Not only is (X)HTML free, but so are the open source tools mentioned above, Bluefish, BlueGriffon and Tidy. If, like so many schools and districts, your school or district’s budget is tight, then this is a logical course to pursue. Not that expenses matter to the kids. They’ll just sit down and, after a little instruction, start coding.