11th February 2005 at 00:00
Chris Higgins explains the key factors in creating a successful departmental website

Creating a website for your department may not be quite the hurdle you first imagined. Once up and running it can provide a shop window on your department and an invaluable way of enhancing teaching and hitting ICT targets.

Most schools have their own website. By attaching a departmental web page to the school's homepage, within next to no time you can create your own interactive site. The key to creating your own departmental website is not in the technicalities of getting pages on line, but providing engaging and useful content that is relevant to the curriculum.

As a PGCE student I quickly found inspiration at Andrew Field's excellent www.schoolhistory.co.uk This works well for many reasons but, most importantly, it is easy to access, supported by teachers and extremely student-friendly. I vowed that as soon as I gained my first full-time teaching post I would strive to create a similar site for my own school's (Invicta Grammar, Kent) history department that helped my students just as much as it helped me.

My first step in creating a departmental website was to ensure it was accessible to students. I formed a Year 8 focus group last summer to find out the sorts of resources and features they wanted. They said they wanted a site that was visually engaging, included interesting facts and games and would help them with homework or revision.

The next stage was to turn the research into an online reality. To make the site fun, we decided to include a scrolling text message which changes every day to reveal a new horrible history-style fact. So on one day it might read "Did you know Cromwell's head was mummified and put on show for several centuries?" to "Did you know that cobwebs were sometimes used as an ingredient in medieval bread?" In addition, we featured a "Famous Last Words" game, where students have to guess who said what before they popped their clogs.

One of the most popular items on the site has been the "Meet the Department" page. By clicking on this section students can read about each member of the department and their interests and specialisms. As well as being a fun way to introduce ourselves, the section has enabled sixth-formers to identify which member of staff can best help them. We would like to add video clips to this section, showing students at work and staff explaining more about history at the school.

One key use of the website, which you can find under "history and politics" on the Invicta home page at www.invicta.kent.sch.uk, has been to provide downloadable resources that students can access at school or from home.

Teachers outside Invicta are also free to download these, and judging from the emails, many are extremely grateful. It also means that students who are absent through illness can access the materials. Resources include templates that can also be used by other departments. For example, there is a template for a newspaper front page and an obituary.

Another important function of the website is to celebrate the work of students. In the students' work section, pupils can see material on topics that are covered in all key stages. So, for example, if a student is preparing a diary entry on the slave trade they can see how previous students have tackled the same question or photos by a student who visited a plantation in the US. Telling students that their work may be added to the website is an extremely persuasive way of encouraging students to produce high standard work.

Students also said they wanted the website to be as interactive as possible. So as well as text and images, we have also posted sound clips and music. Students who wish to hear what the Battle of Hastings sounded like can click on a news report from the battlefield. Those who wish to dance to Tudor music, can download a group of Year 8s playing "Greensleaves" on their recorders.

One of the most recent additions to the website has been a discussion forum designed by a visiting language student. The teacher can post a question, for example, "What did you learn from the recent trip to Dover Castle?" and students can start an online discussion.

With Andrew Field's permission, I have also included a link to the school history homework help forum. Only last week a sixth-former approached me to say how invaluable this feature had been in researching a piece of French A-level on the Algerian war.

The history website at Invicta is still very much a work in progress. It is also very much a work that has been designed and created by the students themselves and provides parents with access to the work that goes on within the department.

Chris Higgins is teacher in charge of KS3, with responsibility for developing ICT at Invicta Grammar School, Kent

Website ideas

Do's and don'ts of creating your own website

* Do be friendly to ICT teachers and technicians. They are invaluable for advice and technical support.

* Do consult students. Find out what they would like to see , what they would find useful and what they would enjoy exploring.

* Do borrow from other websites, with consent where necessary. You can find excellent ideas from other school or professional websites and adapt them.

* Don't post text or images if you don't have copyright permission, or, in the case of images of children, permission from parents.

* Don't bite off more than you can chew. Try to post a handful of new resources, pictures or examples of students' work each half-term or staff development day and you'll soon have a good range of content.

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