by Elizabeth K. Wilson
According to John Naisbitt, author of the best selling book Megatrends, technology use has three stages: (a) technology follows the line of least resistance into a ready market, (b) users improve or replace previous technologies with new ones, and (c) users find new uses for the technology.1 In education, we are entering the third stage,2 although there are many schools that have yet to achieve stage one because the value of technology in the classroom is still debated.
Some teachers still question the money that is used for purchasing technology.3 Others, however, have assessed the future demands on their graduates, needs of students and the community, and the tools available. Technology will be important as children enter a world where their jobs and personal lives require, in addition to traditional literacy, the acquisition, evaluation, and maintenance of information, and the ability to interpret, communicate, and process information by means of technology. Recognizing this, some teachers are integrating technology with the existing curriculum.
Integrating technology into instruction is not a simple task. Aside from the technical aspects of using equipment, software, and trouble shooting, the instructor must be able to "launch and orchestrate multiple groups of students, intervene at critical points, diagnose individual learning problems, and provide feedback."4 The major benefits of technology to the social studies teacher may be the ability to quickly obtain a variety of documents, photographs, and other useful sources, and to provide students with "virtuaquot; experiences that are not otherwise possible. While teachers may create authentic learning tasks without computers, and activities can move away from didactic teacher-centered activities, computer technology can augment this process.5
Recent reform efforts in the social studies have attempted to change the way in which social studies has been taught and learned. These efforts encourage role-playing, simulations and other group activities, and attempt to reduce the traditional reliance of social studies teaching on textbooks, teacher talk, the memorization of factual information, and passive learning. They stress the importance of engaging students in critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making. Constructivist principles in particular encourage the development of thought processes, explore learners' present understandings and misunderstandings of a concept, and promote the ability of students to negotiate intellectual conflicts among themselves.6
The use of technology as a classroom information resource offers important opportunities for teaching based on these recent approaches. This article will discuss one approach to Internet-based teaching that engages students in a constructivist activity by involving them in an interactive experience. Specifically, it explores how the World Wide Web can help take social studies students on "field trips" to places of interest without ever leaving the classroom.
A Virtual Tour of Historic Philadelphia
Online resources can reduce the amount of teacher preparation, provide a variety of information sources that would be either impossible or too expensive to obtain, and offer a degree of student control and "interactivity" that is difficult to achieve otherwise. The following is an illustration of how the Internet might be used in a student-centered, constructivist model of learning. This model is not intended to supplant the teacher; rather, it can provide students with first-hand learning experiences while allowing the teacher more time to provide individualized supervision and monitor student performance.
In this example, students are to experience an electronic "field trip" to Philadelphia, focusing on the importance of the city during the Revolutionary Period. The activity begins with an introduction to the Revolutionary Period, after which the class engages in a K-W-L activity (K = What I Know, W = What I Want to Know, L = What I Learned).6 Originally, the K-W-L was designed to accompany expository text, but it can be equally effective used with an Internet exercise.
The first step in the K-W-L activity is to help students activate their prior knowledge about the Revolutionary Period by listing what they already know (see Table: K-W-L Activity). This helps students to develop a foundation upon which to base new information, as well as helping the teacher to assess students' prior knowledge. The next step is for students to generate a list of questions concerning what they want to know and plan to learn as they interact with the material. Additional questions may be added during the "field trip," as they are stimulated by interactivity. The teacher can assist students in anticipating likely categories of information they will encounter.
After the field trip is completed, students summarize what they have learned; this step serves as a post-learning strategy that allows for synthesis of and reflection on the information encountered by students. Students can then share this information in small discussion groups. Obviously, a teacher can provide similar activities without the use of the Internet; however, there are excellent sources of information online that can reduce the demand on the teacher's time and school's resources and the learning experiences can be more highly individualized.
Students begin the trip with a visit to the Philadelphia Historic District, which is listed in the top 5 percent of all websites by the Internet evaluation group, Point Survey. Once students have accessed the World Wide Web, they will type in the following URL: http://www.libertynet.org/iha/index.html
Students will find information on planning a trip to Philadelphia (e.g., lodging, eating, the Betsy Ross homepage, the Historic Mile homepage, and other links on the World Wide Web).
Students can explore independently, but if time is limited, the teacher should suggest that they begin with the Historic Mile. This site will engage students in a virtual tour of Philadelphia's historic district. Sites include The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the home of Betsy Ross. Generally, each site on the tour includes a picture of the landmark and a summary of the site's importance. The developers of this site state that no criteria were used to organize the sequence of the tour.
As students attempt to answer the questions they posed earlier, they can begin to formulate their own tour itinerary by choosing five to seven sites they would include on a tour for students. They must include their criteria for selecting these sites, such as an explanation of why they are important to the early history of the United States. At most sites, students can access a map of the area to develop an idea of the location of landmarks in relation to each other.
After visiting the Historic Mile site, students could move on to the Betsy Ross homepage, provided by the Independence Hall Association. This site is more interactive than the virtual tour. Students can locate such information as: how Betsy Ross was selected to sew the flag; a point-counter point regarding the historic validity of her involvement with the flag; instructions on how to cut the 5-pointed star in one snip (according to the site, the 5-pointed star was chosen despite George Washington's preference for a 6-pointed star after Ross adroitly made the 5-pointed star with one cut of the scissors); and, a "cyber-thoughts" page for e-mail regarding Betsy Ross and the flag. An assignment for this site could include a response by the students to the point-counterpoint debate. Students would have to use historical information from this and other sites to respond to the debate.
An Encounter with Benjamin Franklin
Once students have completed their virtual tour of Philadelphia, they might proceed to the Franklin Institute (which is not a link from the virtual tour site). Use the URL http://sin.fi.edu/
to connect to the Franklin Institute Science Museum. This site chronicles the life of Benjamin Franklin, and provides an excellent interdisciplinary lesson on Franklin's role as a founder of this country.
Students can select from a wide variety of online exhibits provided at this site. However, if time is limited, students should access Benjamin Franklin: Glimpses of the Man. This will give them the opportunity to view a short movie about Franklin; to find out more about his contributions as a scientist, inventor, statesman, printer, philosopher, musician, and economist; and, to explore how his ideas still influence society today.
For example, students can click on "statesman" to find information about Franklin's political contributions to the early government of this country. From here, students can access information about George Washington, and link to a page about the first president. They can read Washington's First Inaugural Address and other selected speeches to Congress. A possible assignment would be for students to read several speeches and write their own interpretations of whether or how Washington's ideas changed over time.
Students can use the "back" icon to return to the Glimpses of a Man page, and explore other aspects of Franklin's life, such as his work as a printer and publisher of Poor Richard's Almanac. An interactive activity called "What do you think Ben meant?" allows students to read Franklin's quotes and then speculate about the advice Franklin was giving to his fellow Americans. Students can also access the thoughts of other people who have viewed this exhibit.
Still another feature of Glimpses of a Man is a timeline that chronicles Franklin's life and work. Here students can click onto events such as the Constitutional Convention or the signing of the Declaration of Independence to obtain more information. This site includes a number of activities that can be accessed from Ben's Preview Gallery. For example, an activity on the Constitution asks students to read the Articles of the U.S. Constitution and select the ones that Franklin influenced. Additionally, students on the virtual tour can access the search option for a Lycos search of all documents at the Franklin Institute.
Once students have explored all sites, they can complete the K-W-L activity by reflecting on what they have learned from their tour of Philadelphia. Time should be provided for discussion of the individual K-W-L sheets in small groups.
The Internet field trip is one way to encourage student interest in the social studies. With the teacher as the facilitator, the Internet field trip can serve as a constructivist activity where students make their own meaning as they become engaged in the interactive experience of exploring sites. This activity allows for collaboration and learning opportunities between students and teacher,8 and provides students with authentic learning experiences.9 Using their electronic trip to Philadelphia as a model, students may have fun developing their own field trip projects to share with their classmates.
1 .John Naisbitt, Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming our Lives (New York: Warner Books, 1962).
2. K. L. Peck and D. Dorricott, "Why Use Technology?", Educational Leadership 51 (1994): 11-15.
4. B. Means and L. Olson, "The Link between Technology and Authentic Learning," Educational Leadership 51 (1994): 15-19.
5. D. Dwyer, "Apple Classrooms for Tomorrow: What We've Learned," Educational Leadership 51 (1994): 4-10.
6. J. G. Brooks and M. G. Brooks, The Case for Constructivist Classrooms (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1993).
7. D. Ogle, "K-W-L: A Teaching Model that Develops Active Reading of Expository Text," The Reading Teacher 39 (1986): 563-670.
8. Peck and Dorricott.
9. Means and Olson.
Elizabeth K. Wilson is Assistant Professor in the area of teacher education at the College of Education, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.