Going beyond social studies is an everyday experience in many energized classrooms across this nation. From my personal experiences, I know I cannot plan a unit in social studies without automatically clicking through all the other content areas and seeing how I can make connections to math, science, whole language, and the fine arts. With the cut in textbook and library budgets, schools need to scrutinize every purchase, and media materials need to be versatile and allow students to use them in new and creative ways. With the information explosion we are now experiencing, students also need programs that allow them to collect current data, display it in a meaningful manner, and make needed changes in the displays, because the data they collect often can change overnight.
This article reviews three quite different media materials that will enhance any social studies curriculum. First, in a new MECC program, Lewis and Clark Stayed Home, cross-curricular connections can be made between science, math, whole language, and history, geography, and anthropology. Next, in National Geographics Kids Network, students collect, display, manipulate, and exchange data with distant schools through telecommunications networks; and third, in a Silver-Burdett and Ginn video series, Citizenship and American Values, students are encouraged to develop skills and values which can lead to participatory citizenship in their adult lives.
Lewis and Clark Stayed Home
Lewis and Clark Stayed Home was published by MECC as a new product in 1992-93. The program runs on the Apple IIe series computer. If you have used Oregon Trail and liked it, you will enjoy Lewis and Clark Stayed Home. In the latter program students take on the role of one of six characters who appear on the monitor dressed in varied frontier attire. As the game starts the players receive a letter from President Jefferson explaining the situation: Lewis and Clark have taken ill and you have been asked to take their place. The simulation progresses as groups depart from St. Louis and travel anywhere within the upper Louisiana Territory. Travel utilizes mapping skills to plot rivers, mountains, lakes, and other landmarks. The simulation allows players to meet with Native Americans and try to convince them to trade with the United States rather than Great Britain or Spain. The flora and fauna of the territory are also introduced. The expedition is decision-driven for example, if you feel you have accomplished your goals, or if you are running out of time, you can make your way back to St. Louis.
Strengths The program has varied levels of play: beginner, experienced, and expert. The factors that make the levels more difficult and the playing time longer are:
the goals of the expedition;
the kinds of decisions that must be made before leaving St. Louis;
the people on the expedition roster;
the amount of time you are given before you need to return to St. Louis; and
the penalty for arriving late.
The 74-page guide initially suggests that several subject areas will be addressed. However, a closer look reveals a much wider breadth of curriculum connections. The guide does a thorough job of explaining the program, providing technical advice, activities, lesson plans, follow-up discussion topics and activities, reproducible worksheets, and handouts.
Concerns Documents were found to be useful in answering many of the questions that came up during the game, although help menus and other screen aids were not available. Since the program is not intended to be a complete stand alone lesson on the Louisiana territory, the use of childrens literature related to the Lewis and Clark expedition is highly recommended. Another concern is the lack of women role models. Only one of the six characters is a woman!
Overall, this program is a great simulation to transport students back in time. The documentation is excellent, and the program is user friendly. The program lends itself to a cooperative learning setting and can be used effectively in a one computer classroom in conjunction with a larger monitor or LCD on an overhead projector. Thus, the entire class can participate in the simulation.
The National Geographic Kids Network
The National Geographic Society (NGS)s Kids Network is a telecommunication program that connects students to other parts of our country and to the world. In other words, Kids Network starts locally but connects students globally. This program will run on an Apple IIgs, Macintosh, and IBM computer. A printer and a modem is also needed.
Initially I perceived this as a science program only! Students are taught to gather data in a scientific manner, but they also exercise their communication skills by writing descriptions of their comments in the first unit, Hello! This program raises students awareness of problems in their own backyards and shows them that other students face similar problems in communities around the country. They learn to think of solutions and communicate their views of civic responsibility to others.
Students use technology as a tool by composing and electronically sending letters to one another. They display and manipulate data in the forms of maps, tables, and graphs. They then exchange the data with distant schools via a modem and a telephone line. Working in teams, the students collect data. As they collect and discuss their data, they can compare and combine it with data collected by other students working on the same topic.
Registration in a Kids Network unit involves an assignment to a team of 10-15 schools for a 6-week long project. Data from each team is sent to a central computer. NGSs Kids Network members compile the data. The completed data of all the groups is returned to participants in the form of maps, tables, and graphs. Students analyze data and make comparisons, look for patterns, form and test hypotheses, discuss and draw conclusions.
Seven separate units, each of which are winners of various technology and educational awards, are designed for grades 4-6. NGS suggests starting with Hello! which introduces the students to the inner-workings of Kids Network.
The program series includes:
Hello! Students collect data on community and pets;
Weather in Action: Students focus on weather data and how it affects the community;
Acid Rain: Students learn to read the pH scale, build their own rain collector, and look for geographic patterns in the data collected from around the country;
Too Much Trash: Students examine their contribution and are challenged to develop their own plan to reduce-reuse-recycle;
Whats in Our Water: Students focus on local water supply data collection analysis;
What are We Eating? Students learn about components of food. They look at their own lunch by sharing data with the network, and they learn how foods vary around the world;
Solar Energy! Students examine primary sources of energy on Earth.
The units vary in cost from $325 to $375, with an annual $97 tuition and telecommunication fee. The programs may be reused each year. Nearly all the Kids Network units are offered three times a year to allow for flexibility in scheduling. The first two weeks of each session are for teacher preparation. This is followed by 6 weeks of student work with the unit. The units require at least two hours a week in science and an additional three sessions that are based in computer science or language arts.
The Kids Network kit includes the following: software with sample files; comprehensive Teachers Guide, including lesson plans and background information; a concise software manual; student handbooks; a wall map; reproducible activity sheets; and a building- level site license for your school. The on-line subscription includes: 8 weeks of access to the network (toll free); 120 minutes of telecommunication; assignment to a research team; data analysis by a unit scientist; hot line support; and up-to-date announcements about your network.
The curriculum requires you to telecommunicate about once a week. The unit includes a schedule for required sessions. It allows ample telecommunication time to send and receive more than the required letters to your research team. A typical session lasts from 5 to 10 minutes. You may schedule these sessions anytime. It is good for the students to view at least one transmission.
The program itself is all interconnected (lesson plans software and electronic mail) allowing students to explore and make connections outside the classroom. It is important to repeat that the unit allows the computer to be used as a teaching tool not a learning machine, as in most simulation or practice programs. The teachers role in this is to be a stage director, resource manager, discussion leader, and observer. Kids Network is an excellent program allowing you and your students to use the technology to its fullest extent, with a minimum of planning and cost on your part.
Citizenship and American Values Video Library
A video series from Silver-Burdett and Ginn titled Citizenship and American Values Video Library consists of seven short videos covering a wide range of topics. They vary in length from 13-18 minutes. The goal of the series is to help students prepare for their future roles as productive, participating citizens in a nation rich in ethnic and cultural differences.
The videos focus on seven citizenship standards: participation in the democratic process, patriotism and American values, awareness of social issues and skills in resolving them, needed skills for communication with public officials, wise use of resources, and strong personal integrity and positive self-image. The individual videos are short and to the point, not too lengthy to fit into a class period.
With this series I found connections to many curriculum areas including art, music, whole language, social studies, science, and math. The titles in the series are:
Celebrate With Me: A Chinese New Year;
We Kids Can: The B.A.T. Club;
Step Inside My World: Art Pals Around the World;
The Common Ground: Views of the United States;
Free to be Kids: Democracy in Action;
Clean Up Your Act: Solving Enrichment Problems, and
To Be the First: Magellans of the Air.
In the video, Clean Up Your Act: Solving Environmental Problems, a reporter and an editor research and write an article about the efforts that children are making to clean up the environment. As they work on their article, they encounter the work of local, national, and international organizations in the fight against pollution, a problem which crosses geographic and political boundaries. There is an exceptional listing of organizations students are able to contact for further information. Writing to these groups can provide a great language lesson. Also this video would be excellent as an introduction to any unit on pollution problems. It would especially be good to use with The National Geographic program from Kids Network entitled Too Much Trash?
While each of these materials has a different focus, and requires different media technology, they share commonalities. Each can easily be linked to other aspects of the curriculum. They lead to motivating and worthwhile learning experiences for students. Finally, they transport students to times and places not accessible through conventional textbook instruction. If you are a new user of technology, it is recommended that you gain some hands-on experience first or find a mentor. These programs are worthwhile and will add a tremendous amount of knowledge and enjoyment to your classroom if you take the time to prepare yourself first.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Elizabeth Raker, Ph.D., Michigan Council for the Social Studies Board Member, and Bruce and Jan Simms, Teacher Consultants for the Michigan Geographic Alliance. Their guidance through my introduction to Kids Network has opened new doors in my classroom.
Sources for Media Reviewed
6160 Summit Drive North
National Geographic Society
P.O. Box 98018
Washington, DC 20090
Silver-Burdett and Ginn
P.O. Box 2649
Columbus, Ohio 43216
About the Author
Terry L. Kuseske is a fifth grade teacher at Patrick Hamilton Middle School in Dowagiac, Michigan. He is also Past-President of the Michigan Council for the Social Studies, a member of the Notable Book Selection Committee for the Childrens Book Council Inc., and a Teacher Consultant for the Michigan Geographic Alliance.