Using the Internet to Meet Social Studies Curriculum Standards

by Clark Johnson and Jack Rector

The 21st century will bring us face to face with the information-electronic-biotechnological age.

So states the NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, which challenges teachers to help students meet demanding performance expectations creatively. With the emergence of the Internet, more and more schools have access to a teaching methodology that can be an excellent performance vehicle for students to demonstrate understanding and skill in the social studies. If social studies education is to be a liberating force in the life of every citizen,2 it needs to be delivered in part through the medium that enables and symbolizes the information age: the Internet.
Student learning via the Internet can not be done in a vacuum. Teachers necessarily will combine use of the Internet with other resources and curricular materials, so that students may apply what they are learning on the Internet to other activities, and vice versa.

The performance expectations listed under each of the NCSS Standards offer a guide for using the Internet in social studies education. We scanned these performance expectations in search of those most apt to be enhanced by three aspects of Internet use:

f. Apply ideas, theories, and modes of historical inquiry to analyze historical and contemporary developments, and to inform and evaluate actions concerning public policy issues.
This expectation is selected primarily to address issues related to contemporary developments. The Internet is a superb resource when it comes to producing up-to-date information on public policy issues and other developments in the contemporary world. Students will find the Internet ripe with information about any important national or international issue. Students can find information, evaluate its worth as data and/or propaganda, and use the selected data for presentation. Analyzing historical developments is a bit more problemmatical due to the contemporary nature of the Internet. However, historical documents certainly exist on the Internet, and ease of access makes them very useful to the social studies teacher. We suggest, for example, the following sites for historical information:
Library of Congress:
Rutgers University Library:
Rice University:
University of Maryland:

c. Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools, such as aerial photographs, satellite images, geographic information systems (GIS), map projections, and cartography to generate, manipulate, and interpret information such as atlases, data bases, grid systems, charts, graphs, and maps.
This expectation directs the teacher toward the Internet as well as other electronic sources of information and data manipulation. The speed of access to the 1990 Census, the CIA World Book, the U.S. Geological Survey, and abundant sites providing various kinds of information including weather data, makes the Internet an effective tool. We suggest the following sites:
1990 Census:
CIA World Book:
U.S. Geological Survey:
Geographic Information Retrieval Services:
National Weather Service:

h. Work independently and cooperatively within groups and institutions to accomplish goals.
E-mail correspondence between and among students in different classrooms and/or schools will expose students to working in groups whose members they may never meet except via electronic media. In an age where crosscultural understanding is demanded of a global citizen, and where most students have little or no opportunity to interact face-to-face with someone far away, e-mail is singularly cost and time effective. To meet this interaction, students will need to have a clear goal. This presents the intriguing challenge for students in more than one locale to accomplish goals together. Community projects that have global implications are very well suited to this activity. Teachers can build on existing e-mail relationships. Students in many schools already communicate electronically with students at other schools. Or, teachers can use their own e-mail contacts to help establish e-mail relationships for students.
Mayaquest, an interactive study of the Mayan Empire, is an example of an organized activity that addresses this standard. Students vote on the route the investigators should take in Central America, interact with on-site experts, and attempt to answer questions that are a puzzle to archaeologists.


l. Evaluate the extent to which governments achieve their stated ideals and policies at home and abroad.
Federal, state and local governments publish documents on the Internet in which they discuss what they are doing, will do, and have done. "Vote Smart" is an excellent resource for students to compare voting records of office holders with their campaign promises as candidates. Using these and additional sources documenting the activities of governments, students can evaluate the extent to which political leaders achieve their stated ideals and policies.
U.S. House of Representatives:
U.S. Senate:
White House:
Many government agencies:
Many states and cities can be accessed through:
Vote Smart:

f. Formulate strategies and develop policies for influencing public discussions associated with technology-society relations, such as the greenhouse effect.
The Internet offers uniquely rapid sharing of information vital to a citizen's preparation to influence public discussion. Censorship and other issues surrounding the Internet offer special opportunities to examine and influence discussions that relate to the interface of technological developments and the needs of society. Again, e-mail is ideal for this type of learning. Similarly, Usenet and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) are very effective for realtime discussion. Usenet is a collection of newsgroups accessible by Internet accounts and world wide web browsers. Encompassing several thousand subjects, Usenet provides a forum for discussion as messages are left with a newsgroup to which other individuals respond. IRC allows people to communicate about common interests and ideas without the time lags which e-mail or Usenet discussions impose.

d. Analyse the causes, consequences, and possible solutions to persistent, contemporary, and emerging global issues, such as health, security, resource allocation, economic development, and environmental quality.
Effective analysis of contemporary and emerging global issues demands up-to-date information from multiple perspectives. There is a vast array of current information on a multitude of global issues. Again, e-mail with students across the globe offers students important access to other perspectives on global issues, and the opportunity to take advantage of diverse viewpoints in working toward the solution of problems. Once informed, students can participate in discussions via e-mail, Usenet, and IRC. A good example for such a study is the issue of clean water. It is a persistent and contemporary challenge that clearly has global and local implications.
Clean Water Homepage:

f. Analyze or formulate policy statements demonstrating an understanding of concerns, standards, issues, and conflicts related to universal human rights.
Information and examples relating to this expectation can be found on WWW sites including the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, the Red Cross, and Amnesty International. Non-traditional groups such as the Zapatistas, who are engaged in political struggle in Chiapas, Mexico, regularly communicate on the World Wide Web. An appropriate long-term project would be for students to identify a case of suppression of human rights and to monitor the progress of the case.
U.S. Department of State:
United Nations:
Amnesty International:
American Red Cross:
International Red Cross:
Zapatistas: Multiple locations are available. We suggest using Zapatista or Chiapas in a term search.

c. Locate, access, analyze, organize, synthesize, evaluate, and apply information about selected public issues-identifying, describing, and evaluating multiple points of view.
E-mail has emerged as an important gateway for citizens to share information with elected representatives. Usenet and IRC provide forums for citizen discussion. Again, teachers have ample opportunity for authentic assessment as their students develop positions on issues and share them electronically with fellow citizens and with their elected leaders. Students may choose to participate in or create an electronic petition-a form letter which an individual or a group writes and provides to others electronically for them to sign and send to the appropriate government agency or official.

j. Participate in activities to strengthen the "common good" based upon careful evaluation of possible options for citizen action.
Understanding the "common good" inherently demands that students hear multiple voices. The breadth of access to diverse points of view on the Internet helps the student find these voices. By recognizing the differing values expressed, students can become better informed as to what makes for a commonality among the voices. Citizenship is inherently linked to making choices. Students need practice in addressing multiple options and using reason to select the best option. The plethora of informaion available on the Internet allows students, with the guidance of the teacher, to identify options and make choices in the interest of the common good. Electronic simulations in which students evaluate civic choices are rare on the World Wide Web. However, we anticipate a significant growth in this venue in the near future. One effective simulation is the National Budget Simulation. Offered in both a short and a long version, the National Budget Simulation demands that students seek to balance the budget by making choices on levels of spending and taxes.
National Budget Simulation:
These are the "Internet Ten" as we see them. Whether it be the Internet "10" or Internet "110," the time has arrived for thoughtful social studies educators to carefully integrate the use of the Internet into their instruction with an eye towards addressing the Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. This is just a beginning. As the Internet changes, teachers will find new and exciting ways to take advantage of electronic technology to insure that students have a meaningful learning experience in social studies. The NCSS Standards recognize the need for students to "learn how to think and how to be flexible in using many resources to resolve civic issues."3 The Internet is a critical tool for use in achieving that end.

1. National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, DC: Author, 1994), xix.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., xvi .

Clark Johnson teaches at the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Irapuato, Mexico. Jack Rector is a student teacher at Mankato State University, Mankato, Minnesota.