Irene is a senior year American Studies major who is planning to do her student teaching in 11th-grade United States history at a local high school. Just before the beginning of the school year, the school, in response to a new state curriculum framework and high stakes test for students, reassigned Irene’s cooperating teacher Mary to a different grade and subject. Irene and Mary will now be teaching 9th-grade world history with an emphasis on ancient civilizations and the Mediterranean worldareas neither has taught before.
Greg is a midcareer professional who has decided to return to college to become a history teacher after many years operating a successful family flower shop business. Early in the semester before student teaching, he was hired by a local middle school to fill a mid-year vacancy in 8th-grade United States history. As part of his methods class at the university, he had been preparing a unit on ancient Egypt. Now he must teach the American Revolution with an emphasis on the founding documents, material he has not reviewed since he was an undergraduate student more than 20 years ago.
Like Irene, Mary, and Greg, history and social studies teachers and new teacher candidates constantly find that no matter how much historical content knowledge they possess, there is always the need for more. The reasons are threefold, and each is central to how teachers are prepared for schools today. First, across the countryincluding our state of Massachusettsstandards-based education and mandatory curriculum frameworks are changing the scope and sequence of history in the schools while adding to the number of specific topics students are expected to learn. In Massachusetts, educators have received two distinct statewide history curriculum frameworks since 1993. In some schools, entire grade level curriculum has been changed from one year to the next. Uncovering Social Studies: Draft Social Studies Curriculum Content Chapter (Massachusetts Department of Education, 1995) was followed by the adoption of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework (Massachusetts Department of Education, 1997). A new version is now under consideration (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2001). Veteran teaches and new teacher candidates with backgrounds in United States history must teach world history and vice versa, adding to the need for content knowledge.
Second, it is difficult to include in a college major all the historical material that is covered in a school system’s K-12 curriculum. A history major may have specialized in the 20th century and have only a survey course covering European history before 1500. An undergraduate political science major may have a strong background in politics and economics but lack coursework in the history of Africa, Asia, or Latin America. As one student teacher recently remarked to us, “There are whole continents I never took classes on.” For new teacher candidates, continually gaining historical content knowledge is part of the way they make the transition from being a subject area specialist in a college major to a subject matter generalist in an elementary, middle, or high school classroom. For veteran teachers, expanding content background serves to renew their teaching, as well as providing the essential information needed to cover new curriculum topics.
Finally, scholars are constantly updating the historical field of knowledge. In recent months, compelling new views of the past have been presented about Lyndon Johnson’s presidency (from tape recordings of oval office conversations; see Beschloss, 2001), George Washington’s activities as a slave owner and whiskey distillery businessman (from archaeological evidence gathered at Mt. Vernon; Kranish, 2002), and the role of the Pope and the Catholic Church in relation to Nazi Germany’s genocide against Jews (from primary sources; Cornwell, 2000). Teachers, both veterans and those new to the profession, must devote considerable time to staying current with the latest findings in a wide range of historical arenas.
For many teachers, the Internet is a regular source for locating historical content information and curriculum ideas. Ninety three percent of teachers in grades 4-12 report using computers professionally at school, at home, or both (Becker, Ravitz, & Wong, 1999). Similarly, most college students are online several hours a week; it seems only natural to them to rely on the speed of computer technology to answer questions about what to teach and how to teach it.
However, there are significant issues related to using the Internet as a professional development resource. First, only about one in four teachers report “significant” use of the Web at school; among veteran teachers, the percentage is even lower (13% for those with 20 or more years in the field; Percentage of Public School Teachers Reporting Significant Use of Computers, Email and the Internet at School, by Years of Teaching Experience, 2001). Second, just over half of teachers in low-income and minority districts report having access to the Internet, another part of the digital divide separating schools and communities in this country (Digital Teaching, 2001). Third, once online, teachers and new teacher candidates encounter a vast collection of resources ranging in quality from the insightful and inspiring to the incomplete and incorrect. Unless one knows where to look, typing key words into a general search engine generates thousands, even tens of thousands, of sites from which to choosethe term “middle ages” produces a list of 842,565 sites from “Excite,” and more than a million entries on “Google.” Given the potential for information overload, how can the Internet really serve as a useful tool in promoting new teacher knowledge and K-12 student learning?
The Standards Connector: A Web Site in Progress
Convinced that the Internet can enhance the historical content knowledge of future history and social studies teachers, we are developing a web site for educators in Massachusetts called The Standards Connector (http://ccbit.cs.umass.edu/standardsconnector/ ) and features active links to web-based resources for teaching and learning history and social studies in grades K-12, coded to the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework.
Our web site is being developed by the Center for Computer-Based Instructional Technology in the Department of Computer Science and the Second ary Teacher Education Program in the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. (Funding support for The Standards Connector and the Virtual Reality Room has come from the Massachusetts Coalition for Improving Teacher Quality and Student Achievement, a U. S. Department of Education Title II initiative, the America Online Foundation’s Digital Divide Initiative, and the Massachusetts Department of Education.). Our goal is to improve the learning of new teacher candidates and the professional development of teachers by providing rapid electronic access to challenging content and engaging Internet-based curriculum.
The Standards Connector is a web site in progress. In addition to resources for teaching history and social studies, it contains selected resources for teaching English, mathematics, and science. Our plans are to identify web resources related to each of the state’s seven curriculum frameworks: English/Language Arts, Foreign Language, Arts, Health, History/Social Science, Mathematics, and Science and Technology/Engineering. A search and browse function is scheduled to be added in fall 2002.
In this article, we describe the design and development of the history and social science section of The Standards Connector, beginning with the partnership of organizations making it possible. Next, we describe how feedback from new teacher candidates and veteran teachers guided the building of an open-ended, flexible structure that can continue to evolve and change in response to feedback from users. Finally, we look ahead to ways that online resources can be the foundation for a personalized set of virtual materials that every new history and social studies teacher can bring to the classroom.
A Collaboration of Organizations
As we began developing a website to support new teacher candidates, we discovered that other organizations in Massachusetts were also using the Internet to link academic resources to the state’s curriculum frameworks. After much discussion, we invited a number of them to join an information distribution collaborative called “The Virtual Reference Room,” or VRROOM (http://ccbit.cs.umass.edu/vrroom/ ). Our goal was both to expand the information base by pooling the work of different organizations and to offer teachers all across the state more than one portal for accessing information online.
Presently, the VRROOM collaborative includes four organizational partners:
- The Standards Connector from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which includes a listing of web sites linked to the specific academic content expectations in each of the state’s seven curriculum frameworks. Materials range from science experiments appropriate for different grade levels to primary documents important to the study of world and U. S. history to interactive resources for improving the reading and writing skills of children and adolescents.
- Selection Connection, an educational information service developed by Massachusetts School Library and Media Association, features notable children’s and adolescent literature linked to the required content areas in the curriculum frameworks. It includes print and Internet resources linked to the frameworks.
- The Video Lending Library of public television station WGBY (Springfield), which includes an extensive collection of PBS television programs such as Frontline and Nova, broadly coded to the curriculum frameworks. All of these videos are available on loan to teachers in western Massachusetts at no charge.
- MetroWest Massachusetts Regional Library System, the newest member of the collaborative, provides resources to the frameworks for libraries in the Boston metropolitan region of the state, including web accessible bibliographies of over 1,700 print, media, and web sites.
To create a working structure for the history and social science part of The Standards Connector, we began by first entering the required content of the state’s curriculum framework into a database. Then with the assistance of graduate student researchers and university faculty, we identified web-based resources that will assist educators in meeting these content expectations. Next, we gathered feedback about the site from new teacher candidates taking courses in the School of Education and teachers attending regional meetings of the New England Council for the Social Studies and the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators group. We asked for comments about how the purpose of the site was described on the home page, site navigation and the ease of locating resources, the usefulness of our site annotations, and other suggestions for construction, addition, or improvement. From their comments, we incorporated the following elements into the website’s design and function:
Design Choice One: Web Sites Linked to Academic Content Expectations Set Forth in the State’s Framework
New teacher candidates told us they valued having web sites listed alongside the historical content they are expected to teach at different grade levels. They wanted to be able to have a specific and a general view of history and social studies, K-12. Veteran teachers also stressed the importance of linking web resources to specific statewide curriculum requirements. They were concerned that their daily lessons both motivate students and meet the state frameworks.
In response, we positioned history content web sites next to the “core knowledge” and “commonly taught subtopics” in “United States and world history, geography, economics, and civics and government” set forth in the state’s framework. Core knowledge refers to the “main eras, events and ideas of human experience” while commonly taught subtopics include “important specific events, issues, ideas, and personalities” (Massachusetts Department of Education, 1997).
Entering the system through core knowledge listed by K-12 sequence of instruction, users find the commonly taught subtopics (taken verbatim from the state framework) presented in green down the left side of the screen, with annotated web sites listed along the right side (Figure 1). Web links are active so users can quickly move from The Standards Connector to the online resource that they want to explore.
This arrangement appeared to most closely match the classroom realities faced by new teacher candidates in their prepracticum and student teaching experiences. Cooperating teachers expected new teacher candidates to cover specific topics, so being able to see topic, curriculum framework, and web resource together in one place was very helpful in lesson planning and classroom delivery.
Figure 1. Sample screen from standards connector
Design Choice Two: Web Sites Emphasizing Historical Information
New teacher candidates repeatedly told us that it was difficult to use another teacher’s lesson plans, especially when the new teacher was less confident about her or his own historical content knowledge of the topic or era being taught. Veteran teachers wanted to create personal lesson plans that fit their classes rather than strictly following someone else’s design.
In response, we chose to emphasize sites that offer primary sources (speeches, photographs, memorandums, letters, census records, newspaper clippings, etc.), visual displays (maps, charts, graphs, works of art, etc.), and information summaries (biographies of key figures, background material on important events, etc). Figure 1 presents a sample page.
More examples of historical content web sites in Standards Connector include the following:
- The Travels of Ibn Battuta: A Virtual Tour with a 14th Century Traveler” tells the story of a Muslim explorer who visited the territories of 44 modern-day countries throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia in the mid 1300s. It has been prepared by a teacher at the Horace Mann Middle School in San Francisco, California and is available at http://nisus.sfusd.k12.ca.us/schwww/sch618/ibn_battuta/ibn_battuta_rihla.html
- “The Story of Africa” from the BBC is subtitled “African History from the Dawn of Time” and contains 14 sections that cover many topics, including Africa’s early history. In addition to text and supplemental images, each section offers a timeline, a bibliography of further reading, and a list of annotated links, many pictures and over 40 sound recordings. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica
Figure 2. Screen capture from The Story of Africa website
- “The Imperial War Museum” provides coverage of conflicts, especially those involving Britain and the Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present day. Current online exhibits include The Battle of Britain, Dairy of a War Artist, Enigma and the Code Breakers, Gallipoli – 1915, and many more. There is also an interactive section for students, “Children of the Second World War,” that deals with what life was like during WW II. Available at http://www.iwm.org.uk/lambeth/online.htm
- “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire” has photographs, oral histories on audio, and other primary documents about the March 25, 1911, event. Developed by the Kheel Center: Labor-Management Documents and Archives at Cornell University in cooperation with the Union of Needle Trades, Industrial, and Textile Employees, the site can be used for classroom research projects in labor history and worker experiences in industrial America. Available at http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/
- “Explorers of the Millennium” created by a team of fourth- and fifth-grade children from Sherwood Elementary School in Highland Park, Illinois, USA, contains some of the greatest adventurers around the world over the past 1,000 years. Biographies of the explorers are listed alphabetically in the Hall of Fame and by date in the Timeline. Available at http://tqjunior.thinkquest.org/4034/?tqskip=1
To make Standards Connector as reliable as possible, selections have been researched and nominated by faculty members and graduate students and always vetted by a second reviewer (generally one of the authors). Researchers and reviewers used the questions in Appendix A to guide their evaluations of possible entries. In this way, sites are selected based on their usefulness to teachers, not just their popularity in a Google search.
Design Choice Three: Accessing and Assessing Web Sites
New teacher candidates and veteran teachers alike stressed the importance of providing themselves and K-12 students with criteria and skills for evaluating material on the Internet. It is important for students to recognize that downloading the first source they find online or copying web-based material verbatim results in incomplete research filled with misinformation.
In response, we included a section of essential questions for users to ask when reviewing online sources, shown in Appendix A.
Design Choice Four: A Variety of Resources
New teacher candidates told us that while they expected no single database to be comprehensive, they needed a variety of resources as starting points for curriculum planning. Veteran teachers wanted a variety of resources as a way to motivate students. They stressed the importance of not using the same kinds of materials day after day throughout the school year. Primary sources and searchable databases were seen as ways to enliven and extend class discussions and textbook reading assignments.
In response, we developed a system for identifying the kinds of web-based material posted in alongside the “commonly taught subtopics” (some sites have more than one designation; Figure 3).
Figure 3. Key to symbols in VRROOM
Creating different designations for web material gives teachers more specific information when developing their own lesson plans. Teacher resources are materials that expand a teacher’s background knowledge without specifically suggesting how a topic might be taught in a classroom. Student resources offer age and reading level appropriate historical content for children and adolescents. Lesson and unit plans provide detailed information on how other teachers have taught a topic. Web-based activities offer students opportunities to use the Internet as part of inclass or homework activities. Historic documents are important primary sources for teachers and students to download and analyze. Ideally, a site has material that can be used to extend teacher background knowledge and engage students academically.
Even with a resource like Standards Connector, many teachers or new teacher candidates do not have the time to develop unique lesson plans for every part of their curriculum. To give novices and veterans quick access to
preassembled lessons, we built a separate teacher resource section with 50 general lesson plan sites containing thousands of curriculum ideas, each annotated to describe its emphasis, commercial or nonprofit status, and strengths and weaknesses. Some particularly valuable lesson plan sites include the following:
- Blue Web’n (http://www.bluewebn.com/wired/bluewebn )
- Library of Congress Educator Page (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/lessons/index.html )
- The Webquest Page (http://edweb.sdsu.edu/webquest/webquest.html )
- Edsitement (http://edsitement.neh.gov/ )
- The New York Times Learning Network (http://www.nytimes.com/learning/ )
A selected list of popular search engines is also part of the teacher resources section.
The development of The Standards Connector in Massachusetts opens exciting possibilities for using the Web to support new teacher candidates in other states who must meet the challenges of teaching standards-based curriculum. First, a website of resources allows teachers, new teacher candidates, and students to access information quickly across a wide range of topics. In this context, the required content of a state curriculum framework becomes the foundation, but not necessarily the ceiling for what teachers will cover at each grade level. By reducing the time needed to locate historical content information, there is the opportunity to achieve coverage and depth in curriculum and instruction.
Second, new teacher candidates can ask their students to be not just classroom note takers, but active web researchers who access and assess Internet resources for quality and content. This past semester, one of our student teachers created a web site for his classes that included a section of active links to news resources like The New York Times and the Boston Globe. Now, web resources from The Standards Connector can be added to such a class site, offering a way to direct homework activities and promote student-led research. K-12 students can even nominate their own favorite web sites for inclusion in a database, making it possible for students to teach students in schools across the state.
Third, new teacher candidates can use The Standards Connector to build their own virtual textbooks featuring excellent online resources for their classes. In this way, every published textbook is supplemented and extended by a teacher’s choice of online content resources, and every classroom features electronic gateways to the past, present, and future.
Finally, The Standards Connector points the way toward a broad vision for how technology can be an essential part of history and social studies teaching in K-12 schools. It supports the promise of connecting every teacher and student to the vast information resources of the Internet. Our democratic society depends on knowledgeable decision-making by people. When some individuals, groups or communities are left without ways to access and assess the choices they face, everyone’s future is jeopardized. The Internet as part of history and social studies education becomes a way of teaching students about the past and the present so they can make decisions about the future. In so doing, it makes learning in school connect directly and meaningfully to living in an information age.
Becker, H.J., Ravitz, J.L., & Wong, Y. (1999, November). Executive summary: Teacher and teacher-directed student use of computers and software [Online]. Available: http://www.crito.uci.edu/TLC/findings/ComputerUse/html/body_startpage.htm
Beschloss, M.R., (Ed.). (2001). Lyndon Johnson’s Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Cornwell, J. (2000). Hitler’s Pope: The secret history of Pius XII. New York: Penguin.
Digital Teaching. Connection, Fall 2001: 17
Percentage of public school teachers reporting significant use of computers, email and the Internet at school, by years of teaching experience: 1999. Connection, Fall 2001: 17.
Kranish, M. (2002, February 17). With the excavation of his distillery, once the nation’s biggest, the renown of America’s first president broadens to slave profiteer and “founding capitalist”. The Boston Globe, p. C1.
Uncovering Social Studies: Draft Social Studies Curriculum Content Chapter (Malden, MA: Massachusetts Department of Education, 1995)
Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework (Malden, MA: Massachusetts Department of Education, 1997).
History and Social Science Curriculum Framework: Public Comment Draft (Malden, MA: Massachusetts Department of Education, 2001).
Guide to Evaluating a Learning Resource on the Web
Once you have found a resource on the web, whether it is a lesson plan or an interactive activity, how do you know if it is any good? The following 26 questions are points to keep in mind as you evaluate what you find online.
1. Who made the site? Is that person or organization a good source of information?
2. Does the web site offer citations of others’ work? Are those works reliable?
3. Is the content of the site consistent with your own knowledge? Is the information accurate, to the best of your knowledge?
4. Is the web site without cultural, gender, or racial bias in its content or form? Does it exhibit prejudice toward the elderly, the disabled, or any other group?
5. Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and other typographical errors? These kinds of errors indicate a lack of quality control and can produce inaccurate information.
6. If there is advertising on the web site, is it clearly differentiated from the information on the site?
7. Is there an indication that the web site is complete and not still under construction? When was the site last updated? Is the information on the site kept current?
8. What is the best way to present this material? Other options include a lecture, a video, CD-ROM, or overhead projection.
9. Is this material presented best in small groups or to individuals?
10. Does the site take advantage of the interactivity of the web medium to promote a deeper or broader understanding of the topic than would be possible with more traditional instructional materials?
11. Does the online resource accommodate multiple learning styles?
12. Are various points of view presented, when appropriate?
13. Does the online resource stimulate student creativity and imagination?
14. Does the online resource encourage critical thinking skills?
15. How clear and specific is the actual instruction? Where is the teaching? Does the resource delineate the instruction rather than simply make an assignment? How well does the instruction prepare students to do the assignment?
16. Is the site content-rich and aesthetically pleasing? Is the text easy to read? Are the graphics enhancements to the site?
17. Is the site easy to navigate?
18. Is the site well structured? Does it provide an index or a search function, when appropriate?
19. Is the site aimed more at enhancing learning or showing off a programmer’s virtuosity?
20. Is there an opportunity for teachers to share their opinions of the resource and to relate their experiences?
21. How does one integrate the resource with a traditional curriculum?
22. Does the site call for materials the teacher has easily available or will the teacher need additional materials before using the site in the classroom?
23. Is the on-line resource stable and updated to reflect recent changes in the topic?
24. Are parts of the site more effective than others? Could one extract just those parts to use in the classroom?
25. Are student contributions and communications screened before being posted to the site?
26. Are there online forms for student input?
Robert W. Maloy
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, MA USA
The Ohio State University
Columbus, OH 43210 USA