Social studies educators are living and working in the middle of a revolution — the emergence of the Internet as an integral part of education. This Digest summarizes ways that classroom teachers can combine the Internet with other instructional resources and methods. It is a basic guide for the novice and a checklist for the more experienced Internet user. The web sites and ERIC resources cited in this Digest and included in the references provide the “next steps” for exploration and implementation.
GROWTH OF INTERNET USE IN SCHOOLS.
In 1994, the federal government established a goal of linking every school to the Internet by the year 2000. It appears that we are very close to reaching that goal. From 1994 through 1998, the percentage of public schools with Internet connections jumped from 35 percent to 89 percent. More important is how the schools are connected. A dedicated line is much faster than a dial-up connection and allows higher-level use of the Internet. Since 1994, the percentage of schools with dial-up connections has dropped 52 percent, while the number of those linked by dedicated lines has risen over 26 percent. Finally, the ratio of students per instructional computer is fast approaching that recommended by the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. While some troubling differences in computer access and Internet connectivity still exist between inner-city and rural schools and suburban and medium-sized city schools, the level of computer access for teachers and students is rapidly improving in the United States (Rowand 1999).
USING PRIMARY SOURCES.
Teachers have long recognized the value of students reading accounts of historical events written in the words of those who were there. Excerpts from James Madison’s journals kept during the Constitutional Convention is a typical example of the primary sources that teachers use to explain how the Constitution was developed and how it is interpreted today. But the Internet opens the way to an enormous range of resources.
For instance, imagine reading Tacitus’s eyewitness account of the burning of Rome, including the descriptions of “terrified, shrieking women” and “helpless old and young” fleeing the conflagration, or Corporal E. C. Nightingale’s frightening memories from on the deck of the battleship Arizona in 1941. Both of these are available to teachers and students at [http://www.ibiscom.com], one of several commercial web sites that provide superb resources for teachers and students.
The most complete web site for U.S. history teachers is the “American Memory” site [http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/ammemhome.html] of the Library of Congress. In addition to a collection of Civil War photographs, “Voices of the Dust Bowl,” and a collection of documents from the women’s suffrage movement, this site features outstanding collections on social history. These collections include baseball cards from 1877 to 1914, African-American sheet music from 1850-1914, and “Buckaroos in Paradise,” a look at ranching in early Nevada. Many web sites include photographs, songs, and even motion picture excerpts. A Pentium-based computer and a fast Internet connection are necessary to use these resources effectively, but imagine the projects students can develop with them.
Primary sources are available in social studies content areas other than history or government. All sorts of economic data, including Gross National Product per capita, key economic ratios, and long-term trends for every nation are available at the World Bank’s site [http://www.worldbank.org]. A good web site for economics teachers is managed by Kim Sosin and his colleagues James Dick and Mary Lynn Reiser at the University of Omaha [http://ecedweb.unomaha.edu/teach.htm]. From lesson plans to links to all sorts of helpful sites, economics teachers will find what they are looking for.
SCHOOL OR CLASS PORTALS.
One of the best ways to use the Internet to help students and teachers is to create a “portal” site for a school’s social studies department. A portal is a World Wide Web site designed to serve as a main “point of entry” to the web, and features an extensive catalog of web sites and other Internet resources, a search engine, or both. Portal sites for individual grade levels, subjects, or courses are frequently part of a school’s larger portal site. Portals especially for teachers can include links to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) site, professional development opportunities, ERIC clearinghouses, and other resources. Student pages can include homework assignments, a course syllabus, links to resources specifically tailored to class assignments, and even grading rubrics. In some communities, parents are encouraged to use these sites to stay informed of student assignments and school news.