Social studies activities are found through many arteries on the information highway. Three types of activities are available online: electronic mail, information, and conferences. Electronic mail (e-mail) opens the world to children by giving them an opportunity to chat with experts and make new friends. Online information, including access to libraries, museums, and universities, expands the resources available to students and teachers, and conferencing provides a more interactive, dynamic online venture for dialog and collaboration.
Children can develop keypals around the world or send messages to the president, vice president, first lady and other officials.
They can gather eyewitness accounts of the Northridge earthquake, the war in Bosnia, or the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska. Classrooms can exchange information with each other about their schools, holidays, weather, food, and special interests. In early 1994, for example, Robert Holmes, a research meteorologist working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica posted reports to give students an understanding of what it is like to live in the coldest place on earth. Students read his reports and responded with inquiries about conditions in Antarctica.
Electronic mail (e-mail) enables teachers to communicate with colleagues both from their own school districts and from those around the world. E-mail is less intrusive and more convenient than telephoning, and faster and less formal than writing letters. Some communities also provide online service to improve the communication between the school and the home.
Extensive databases available to teachers and students include the United States Government
collections (e.g., the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress).
The Scrolls From the Dead Sea exhibit from the Library of Congress on America Online is set up like a virtual museum. Simulating the work of archaeologists, the museum attempts to recreate the excitement of the dig allowing users to explore menus representing various rooms and geographical features of the site.
The Library provides access to part of its African-American collection which covers the black experience in the Western Hemisphere. At present the collection contains posters, illustrations, songs, handbills, and other artifacts. The exhibit, An Ongoing Voyage, examines pre and post-Columbian America. Background information in English and Spanish and images such as Pre-Columbian Mexican Calendar, Ruins of Machu Picchu, and Pre-Columbus World Map are included.
The Smithsonian provides online access to two periodicals for teachers, Art to Zoo and Lets Go to the Smithsonian. The museum also provides a Resource Guide for Teachers that contains over 400 items indexed by subject and grade level. The National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian, offers photographic images including the Lincoln Memorial at Twilight, Iwo Jima Memorial at Dawn, Three Pony Express Riders, Early 20th Century Mailman, New England Colonial Kitchen, Franklin Printing Press, and Stage Coach.
ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center), the nationwide information network supported by the United States Department of Education, provides social studies lesson plans, Internet guides, ERIC Digests, literature on current educational issues, bibliographies, document reproduction, and computer searches.
Many professional organizations make electronic versions of their publications, organizational information, and scheduled events available through an e-mail address. The National Educational Association, Association for School Curriculum Development, National Association of Elementary School Principals, International Society of Technology in Education, National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Council for the Social Studies (America Online) are all online. The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) is an organization composed of government agencies, corporations, community organizations, and individuals committed to assisting teachers and students access information and resources. Their network contains a comprehensive database of resources, curriculum, student projects, and connections to other interesting ramps along the information highway.
Newsgroups are world-wide Internet discussion forums. Teachers can subscribe to their mailing lists and receive all of the messages posted by other subscribers. Many educational newsgroups are loaded with information, ideas, opportunities for collaboration,
and suggestions for places to explore on the net. The following are some of the most active:
KIDSPHERE is an active and prolific K-12 teacher forum providing a place for teachers to talk together and participate in classroom projects. According to
an estimate in the premier issue
of Classroom Connect (p. 4) it is estimated that more than 20,000 people read messages posted in this newsgroup.
HILITES helps in teacher development and in getting their classroom projects online.
KIDLINK is a newsgroup for kids ages 10 to 15. This grassroots movement is aimed at encouraging kids to become involved in ongoing global dialogs. There are several groups, including a kids discussion group, KIDCAFE.
Academy One lists many classroom activities especially simulations.
Empire Internet Schoolhouse provides an area for discussions, posts class projects, and contains general Internet information as well as reference tools.
EDNET provides opportunities for conferencing as well as classroom projects.
Newsgroups provide a forum for teachers. The following items represent just a few messages posted on KIDSPHERE during one week in September 1994:
A kindergarten teacher from Australia seeks global keypals.
A sixth grade teacher wants ideas on how to integrate literature and social studies.
Suggestions on places to visit on the Internet.
Queries on where to find information on the Internet.
Discussions on National Standards for the Social Studies, a list of social studies organizations and addresses, and requests for copies of local school district standards.
A keypal request for Native American children.
Announcements of future classroom projects.
There are a variety of engaging online social studies classroom projects posted in newsgroups or other networks. Some activities cross disciplines and age groups. Others focus on specific grade levels and disciplines. A few of the ongoing projects are described below:
Save the Beaches: A multiage, multidisciplinary project to collect, analyze, and share information about ecological problems and collaborate on solutions.
Teleolympics: Children compete in track events, post them electronically, track their progress over time compared to other children throughout the world, and share information about their school and community.
50 State Exploration: Children put together travel brochures on various states by gathering information from children online. A national map pinpointing all responses is designed. Once completed, the travel brochures are sent to participating schools.
Geography Detective: Each class creates clues about their own location. Clues are exchanged and classes attempt to guess locations. Responses are posted on a message board as students attempt to find geographical locations based on the clues.
Westward Ho!: Each group is assigned a covered wagon identity based on real-life situations. Wagons connect online to make life and death critical decisions on a weekly basis.
Where on the Globe is Roger?: Roger, a former pilot, has a special missionto drive his truck across every continent in the world. This year, Roger is visiting Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Russia, and then traveling through Europe. Roger is posting summaries of his travels as well as digitized images. He also answers questions for students.
The Hunt: A monthly exercise challenging children to find answers to ten questions using resources available on the Internet.
Taking Stock: A simulation for fourth graders and above, combining economics, math, research and writing skills, and collaboration with members of their investment teams all over the United States.
A Day in the Life of a Student: A pre-arranged day is selected and all participating students keep a diary describing their activities. Diaries are exchanged to learn about other children, their schools, families, activities, and other cultural information.
Where the Rainbow Ends: A Study of Our Cultural Heritage: Fifth grade students develop an understanding and appreciation
for other cultures as they conduct electronic interviews, produce multimedia presentations of their own culture, exchange these presentations, and continue a dialog with their online mates.
A State Multimedia Project: Fourth graders study their own state then share their reports with classes in other states.
Attempts to connect to the free Internet without support can be difficult if not impossible. A few states have free and easy-to-navigate interfaces that make it relatively easy to explore the Net. A new easy-to-use graphical interface, GINA, is available to California educators. For most neophytes, however, attempting to explore the Internet is a daunting experience.
Commercial online services with intuitive interfaces provide opportunities to send e-mail across the Internet. They contain vast databases and varying degrees of connectivity to the Internet. America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe,
and eWorld are some of the more popular services providing Internet access. Although these programs charge, they afford an easy introduction to online exploration.
Commercial networks designed exclusively for teachers and students include Classroom Prodigy, National Geographic Kids Network, Scholastic Network, and AT&T Learning Network. These offer engaging, interactive, multi-disciplined online experiences for children.
Classroom Connect is a practical monthly online publication for teachers, supplying many classroom online projects and providing assistance in developing new ones. Classroom Connect addresses numerous technical issues for both new and experienced users, lists sources for obtaining grants, and supplies valuable e-mail addresses for mailing lists, newsgroups, and educational databases. Odvard Egil Dryli (1994) gives specific information on how to get online, navigate the Net, subscribe to newsgroups, and find out about many ongoing classroom projects.
Judy Harris, an experienced Internet gu
ru, writes a monthly column, Mining the Internet, in the journal, The Computing Teacher. She has also authored a practical and comprehensive book full of resources for those who already have access to the Internet (Harris, 1994).
There are an abundance of social studies activities on the Internet. And there are opportunities for more classroom projects, more interaction between students, classrooms, and educators, and greater access to information as more organizations post their databases on the Internet.
Dryli, O. E. (1994). Riding the Internet schoolbus: Places to visit and things to do. Technology and Learning, 15 (2), 32-40.
Freed, L., & Derfler, F. J., Jr. (1994). Building the Information Highway. Emeryville, CA: Ziff-Davis Press.
Harris, J. (1994). Way of the ferret finding educational resources on the Internet. Eugene, OR: ISTE.
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), The Computing Teacher, (ISSN 0278-9175), 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923, ISTE@oregon.uoregon.edu.
LaQuey, T., & Ryer, J. C. (1993). The Internet companion: A beginners guide to global networking. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
Tweney, D. (1994). The travelers guide to the Information Highway. Emeryville, CA: Ziff-Davis Press.
Wentworth Worldwide Media, Classroom Connect, 1866 Colonial Village Lane, P. O. Box 10788, Lancaster PA 17605-0488, firstname.lastname@example.org.
America Online, 800-827-6364.
AT&T Learning Network, 800-367-7225.
Classroom Prodigy, 800-PRODIGY, extension 629.
GINA Project, P. O. Box 3842, Seal Beach, CA 90740-7842, 800-272-8743, email@example.com.
National Geographic Kids Network, 800-368-2728
Scholastic Network, 800-246-2986.
About the Author
Jeri Wilson is Director, Educational Technology and Teacher Development, at Social Studies School Service (JeriSocSci@AOL.com), and Instructor, Department of Education, Instructional Technology, at California State University, Los Angeles (firstname.lastname@example.org).