Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Google App Engine at the HS Level - A Success Story!

Free web hosting!  That is what drew me to Google App Engine about a year and a half ago.  My small rural school district has limited technology support staff and I have run into a few frustrating issues trying to host websites on our intranet.  While searching for other options, I came across App Engine which allows you to have 10 (initially) free domains online and you only need to pay if you get enough visits to become popular.  At the student development level you never get close to that limit. 

I quickly realized that it was too complex for an introductory web design class.  Students must possess a working understanding of a 4th generation programming language.  Any will do.  App Engine uses the Model-View-Controller framework I described in my previous post and supports 2 languages- Java and Python. 

Due to the mandatory use of programming I decided to implement App Engine in an honors component to my web design class.  This allowed students who had completed a programming class to delve deeply into how the modern web functions instead of focusing on site layout and graphics. 

What can students do with App Engine?  Here is a great example- Roomies4You.  One student, for his final project, came up with the idea of a roomate-finder that functioned like a dating service but found you compatible roomates for college.  The student created the CSS, HTML, graphics, datastore and code and it is live, online.  Not only is it rewarding for students but it allows them to showcase their creativity to others very easily.

BOTTOM LINE:  The MVC framework is how the modern web works.  Introducing students to it is now possible at the high school level.  Why would you NOT do it??!!??


The cool thing about App Engine is that it is EASY to learn at the intro level.  It can of course, do extremely complex stuff but it is easy to pick that up one concept at a time.  If you are interested in exploring App Engine, there is a simple one stop approach:  Using Google App Engine by Charles Severance (an interesting guy!).  This book is written for introductory college classes but serves as an excellent upper level high school "getting started guide" for a teacher who wants to teach the MVC framework.  All lesson notes are freely available online thanks to Dr Severance.  The first few chapters work great for basic web design classes too.  I use the first hand full of chapters up through introducing the datastore and that is about it in a HS class.  By then, students are armed and dangerous enough to go forth and explore on their own. 

The one issue to be aware of with the book is that Dr Severance uses the HTML 4 standard for all web pages.  It is easy to address that and I recommend yet another small O'Reilly book, HTML 5 Up and Running which will quickly help ensure you are proficient in HTML 5 (if you are not there already!). 

If anyone is/does implement this in their classes, let me know how it goes!