Design Your Website from the Bottom Up


For months, I’ve noticed a steady stream of searches on this blog for “Design Your Website” or “Bottom Up.” I realized folks were looking for a PDF that I created back in 2000 as part of my web design class – we’re talking “old school” FrontPage webs! I started teaching web design to students and teachers back in 1997. Over 10+ years I helped hundreds of teachers and students get started.



I thought since people are still looking, I’d repost the PDF on my blog and save them some search time. Download Design Website From the Bottom Up 200KB pdf

Design tools have evolved greatly since then, but I think the “bottom up” approach still offers a useful perspective for thinking about information design. 

Reader smight also find some useful (but dated) resources at my site “Website Design for Teachers

How To Quantify Culture? Explore 500 Billion Published Words With Google’s Books Ngram Viewer

By now you must be aware that Google has been busy digitizing books – over 5 million are now available for free download and search. Recently Google Labs has made public a giant database of of names, words and phrases found in those books (along with the years they appeared). It consists of the 500 billion words contained in scanned books published between 1500 and 2008 in English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Russian. 

Google Labs has just posted the “Books Ngram Viewer” – a free online research tool that allows you to quickly analyze the frequency of names, words and phrases -and when they appeared in the digitized books. You type in words and / or phrases (separated by comma), set the date range, and click “Search lots of books” – instantly you get the results. Note: when “smoothing” is set to “0” the results will show raw data. Using a higher number produces an average – example “4” will give you four year running averages that will more readily display trends. 

In this graph I searched “horse, carriage, canal, train, steamship, bicycle, car, airplane” and set the date range to 1800 – 2000.  Link to this transport graph at Books Ngram Viewer The results offer some insights into when these new transportation terms found their way into print. 


I think Books Ngram Viewer has many interesting applications in the classroom. The first that comes to mind, is as tool to introduce the research method – form hypothesis, gather and analyze data, revise hypothesis (as needed), draw conclusions, assess research methods. Working in teams students can easily pose research questions, run the data, revise and assess their research strategy. Students can quickly make and test predictions. They can then present and defend their conclusions to other classroom groups. All skills called for by the new Common Core standards.

Using the Ngram viewer, will enable students to discover many insights which will require revisions to their research strategies – a great way to explore word usage, social context and statistics. Words have multiple meanings. In my transport example “car” appears in the graph long before the advent of the automobile. Was it used as railroad car? In contrast to newspapers, events and trends take time to find their way into books. “Pearl Harbor” does not reach a peak until 1945.

The frequency of occurrence scale is important (vertical Y-axis.) If you graph a high frequency word against a low frequency word(s), the low is reduced to a flat line at the base of the scale. (Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe) Remove the high frequency (Abraham Lincoln) and re-run the graph – the low frequency (Marilyn Monroe) will appear with more detail. 

Need inspiration for nGrams? For a collection of clever searches Click here.


NGram Viewer has added a * wildcard feature. More on how to use it here Hat tip to Jean-Baptiste Michel of the nGram team who emailed me “In English, the data is good in 1800-2000, but not really before or after. Past that date, it looks like the composition of the corpus is changing; trends would indicate a shift in the corpus, not a shift in the underlying culture. So really, one shouldn’t look at data past 2000 in English.”

Analyze societal values: “ex wife, ex husband”  
 Changing laws and social values?
Watch the change in the Y-axis scale – add “my ex” to the original graph.


Track trends: “latte, sushi, taco”
Link to graph 
Are these new food fads?


Stop Worrying About Shanghai, What PISA Test Really Tells Us About American Students

Sputnik replica
Sputnik replica

The latest results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are public, and already some pundits are declaring it “a Sputnik wake-up.” Others shout back that international comparisons aren’t valid. Rather than wade into that debate, I’d rather look more closely at the questions in the PISA test and what student responses tell us about American education. You can put international comparisons aside for that analysis. 

Are American students able to analyze, reason and communicate their ideas effectively? [Think Common Core standards] Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life? Have schools been forced to sacrifice creative problem solving for “adequate yearly progress” on state tests? For more on that last question see my post “As NCLB Narrows the Curriculum, Creativity Declines.” 

PISA provides some answers to those questions and offers an insight into the type of problem solving that rarely turns up American state testing. FYI: PISA is an assessment (begun in 2000) that focuses on 15-year-olds’ capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. PISA assesses how well prepared students are for life beyond the classroom by focusing on the application of knowledge and skills to problems with a real-life context. For more examples of PISA questions and data click here. 

Do American students learn how to sequence or simply memorize sequences

Here’s one insight into what American students can (and cannot) do that can be gleaned from the 2003 PISA test results. We spend a lot of time in school getting students to learn sequential information – timelines, progressions, life cycle of a moth, steps for how to. Typically the teacher teaches the student the sequence and the student correctly identifies the sequence for teacher on the test. Thus we treat a sequence as a ordered collection of facts to be learned, not as a thinking process for students to use.  This memorization reduces the student’s “mastery” of the chronology to lower order thinking. I was guilty of this when I first started teaching history “Can someone give me two causes and three results of WWII?” 

Sample sequencing problem from PISA

The Hobson High School library has a simple system for lending books: for staff members the loan period is 28 days, and for students the loan period is 7 days. The following is a decision tree diagram showing this simple system:


The Greenwood High School has a similar, but more complex library lending system:
All publications classified as “Reserved” have a loan period of 2 days.
For books (not including magazines) that are not on the reserved list, the loan period is 28 days for staff, and 14 days for students. For magazines that are not on the reserved list, the loan period is 7 days for everyone.
Persons with any overdue items are not allowed to borrow anything. 


Develop a decision tree diagram for the Greenwood High School Library system so that an automated checking system can be designed to deal with book and magazine loans at the library.  Your checking system should be as efficient as possible (i.e. it should have the least number of checking steps). Note that each checking step should have only two outcomes and the outcomes should be labeled appropriately (e.g. “Yes” and “No”).

Student Results

Only 13.5% of US students were able correctly answered the question. Does it really matter if students in Shanghai did any better? (The student results were rated on a rubric scale.) 

When students are asked to observe a process and develop a sequence they have an opportunity to use a full spectrum of higher-order thinking skills – they must recognize patterns (analyze), determine causality (evaluate) and then decide how they would communicate what they’ve learned to others (create). Sequencing can be taught across the curriculum at a variety of grade levels – we simply have to ask the students to observe and do the thinking.

In case you’re wondering,  correct response should look like this.
Click image to enlarge.

pisa answer
pisa answer 

Image credit/ NASA

Education for Innovation or More Test Prep?

Intel is hosting an education digital town hall at the Newseum that will explore new ways to “cultivate tomorrow’s thinkers and entrepreneurs to sustain economic and educational success.” (December 7 at 8:45 a.m. – 11:45 EST) Participants include Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Angel Gurria, the Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development; Rob Atkinson with ITIF; and Tom Friedman of the New York Times.

Let’s see how the Duncan sidesteps the issue of testing and innovation – while US students spend endless hours honing their test taking skills, the demand for routine skills has disappeared from the workplace. Anyone know of a meaningful and rewarding career that looks like filling out a worksheet? Maybe Friedman will be willing to tackle the stifling impact of testing on creativity thinking among our students. For my thoughts on the subject, see my post “As NCLB Narrows the Curriculum, Creativity Declines

“Education for Innovation” a live digital town hall 

Watch the video here.

You can submit questions you would like the moderators, PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill and Hari Sreenivasan, to discuss with the speakers. Then, vote the questions you like best to the top. Click here

You can join the for the live, interactive webcast on Tuesday, December 7 at 8:45 a.m. – 11:45 EST or join the conversation at Twitter/InnovationEcon use the hashtag #Ed4Innovation



More on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)

PISA is an assessment (begun in 2000) that focuses on 15-year-olds’ capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. PISA studied students in 41 countries and assessed how well prepared students are for life beyond the classroom by focusing on the application of knowledge and skills to problems with a real-life context. For a detailed example of how PISA assesses sequencing skills see my post “Why Don’t We Teach Sequencing Skills?


For more PISA questions in reading, math and science see my blog post “Are Students Well Prepared to Meet the Challenges of the Future?” You can find some great critical thinking questions to use with your students


Response to sample question
This short response question is situated in a daily life context. The student has to interpret and solve the problem which uses two different representation modes: language, including numbers, and graphical. This question also has redundant information (i.e., the depth is 400 cm) which can be confusing for students, but this is not unusual in real-world problem solving. The actual procedure needed is a simple division. As this is a basic operation with numbers (252 divided by 14) the question belongs to the reproduction competency cluster. All the required information is presented in a recognizable situation and the students can extract the relevant information from this. The question has a difficulty of 421 score points (Level 2 out of 6).

The Classroom is a Factory, But What’s the Product?

This morning I read Bob Barsanti's powerful commentary "The Classroom Is Not a Factory" Education Week (12/1/10). 

"Everything I needed to know about modern teaching, I learned in a factory. In the summer of my 18th year, I made plastic drink stirrers on the night shift at Spir-It Inc…. Many of the current reforms in education aim to turn the schoolhouse into that plastic-products factory. .. The machinery heats and molds our children, then stamps, bags, and packages them to a professional uniformity."

Lewis Hine

 So What's the Real Product?

I agree with Barsanti that schools have been turned into factories. But they don't produce students, they just work there. The demands of testing have turned schools into factories that harness the labor of students to toil at a "bubble-test" assembly line producing "achievement" data. 

Schools mask the child labor with noble mission statements that claim they are producing "life-long learners." But that's just a cover. If it were true, you would expect to see schools where students explored their interests and reflected on their progress as learners. 

The actual product of schools is data, and its production is pursued with relentless focus. Distracting subjects that aren't tested,  are cut. No time is wasted on "creative" student projects – they don't produce data. And when there's no test to take, students can always get ready with more "test-prep."

Of course, a test data factory is a not pleasant place to work, absenteeism runs high and every year many students quit. But there's a steady supply of new students to take their place. It should be noted that teachers work at the same factories. Conditions are better for them. They have a union.

Photo Title: One of the small boys in J. S. Farrand Packing Co. 
by Lewis Hine, July 1909
Library of Congress

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