Social Studies Lessons Integrating Technology

Penelope Semrau Barbara A. Boyer

In a constructivist lesson, technology can be used as a research tool which provides hands-on experience and access to resource materials and data available from online electronic bulletin boards, CD-ROMs, and videodiscs. Following are example social studies lessons integrating a variety of newer technologies—a telecommunications online service, a CD-ROM, and a videodisc.

Constructivist Lesson Using
A Telecommunications Online Service: America Online (AOL)

Topic: Too Much Trash?
Authentic Learning Problem:
How can we control the abundance of trash we produce?
Getting Started:
After you have started AOL, from the main menu click on Departments. Next, select The Newsstand and then National Geographic Online. Then, click on the NGS Kids Network icon as in Figure 1. A complete description of the lesson can be found in the NGS Kids Network Units under About Too Much Trash? Teachers can order the entire lesson including supplementary materials from National Geographic.

Students assume responsibility for asking questions. In the first week, the online unit has your students examining their classroom trash. After examining and questioning different definitions of what trash is, students develop their own definition. Broad questions that effect how students will examine the problem of trash in their immediate world are: “What do we know about trash at our school and what happens to it when the garbage truck takes it away?” Working in groups, students continue to ask questions, record notes in their journals, hypothesize, predict, and observe.
Students are involved in critical thinking and the testing of experience by comparing alternative points of view. During the second week, using the Explorer’s Hall for online communication, students compare their results with students at other schools. Working in small groups in the classroom, they compare their trash collection and storage strategies. Then, as a class they vote on the plan they think will work the best.

Examining another culture makes students aware of the extent to which their view of the world is a construction. In week three, students go online to compare the different strategies and final plans of students at other schools. In week four, they look online at how two major cities, New York and Tokyo, manage their trash. They examine how two large communities in different cultures deal with a common problem and the way that shared values, attitudes, and beliefs affect their actions. They reflect upon how their own cultural values influenced their solutions by critically examining their own selected plan for trash management.
The constructedness of students’ knowledge is made visible to them in ordinary daily interactions. After investigating trash collection in two major cities, students question, “Does the culture one lives in affect the way we will think about trash and how we will solve this social and environmental problem? How was the way we looked at trash in our school different from or similar to what we found out about Tokyo and New York? Were there things we learned about our own values, attitudes, and beliefs, because of this experience?” Students are finally asked to re-examine their initial definition and recommendation for trash management. How have their ideas changed? At this stage, students must be more self-reflective and metacognitive.

Constructivist Lesson Using Interactive Video: van Gogh Revisited, The Voyager Co.

Topic: Cultural influences on Vincent van Gogh’s Paintings
Authentic Learning Problem:
How can we learn about colors that exist in our lives from studying the use of color in van Gogh’s paintings? What was there about van Gogh’s culture that affected the way he painted and used color? How do colors communicate meaning in our lives?
Note: A complete description of this lesson can be found in Using Interactive Video (Semaru & Boyer, 1994), cited by the authors in their companion article in this issue of SS&yl.

Students assume responsibility
for asking questions. Students divide into teams, and each team selects a particular period of van Gogh’s life to study. Figure 2 below shows a screen from the van Gogh software illustrating the different periods in van Gogh’s life and art which students may access. Students study text, film, and a sample of still pictures of paintings in order to devise questions about what influenced van Gogh’s use of color.

Students are involved in critical thinking and the testing of experience by comparing alternative points of view. Using the van Gogh software, each team will create
a slide/video show to illustrate their questions and research findings. As teams present their results to the class, further questioning is generated and comparisons are made between the teams.

Examining another culture makes students aware of the extent to which their view of the world is a construction. In this particular lesson, students examine van Gogh’s world to see how color is used to convey meaning and express feelings and ideas. They are asked to bring these concepts into their own world. How do they and others use color? How do people use color in their environment to communicate? Is this similar to or different from the way color was used in van Gogh’s time? How do certain colors make you feel? How is color used differently in different cultural settings? The constructedness of students’ knowledge is made visible to them in ordinary daily interactions. Students examine what they have learned about color in their world and outside of it. What newly constructed meanings made them look at their own attitudes about color in a different way? Were they able to observe how different cultural groups use color differently, what influences the way they use color, and/or how color is used to communicate meaning?


Constructivist Lesson
Using A CD-ROM:
Ancient Lands, Microsoft

Topic: Murals In Or Near Your Neighborhood
Authentic Learning Problem:
How are murals used in our lives? What and how do they communicate?

Students assume responsibility for asking questions. Students select murals in and around their own neighborhood. They can be found in shopping malls, stores, restaurants post offices, and on the outsides of buildings. Working in groups, students select one to investigate, identify its origin, and discover why it was placed in that particular location. They ask questions to discover as much as they can about the mural. They may even be able to interview the artist(s) who created it or ask selected community people how they feel about the mural.

Students are involved in critical thinking and the testing of experience by comparing alternative points of view. Using the Ancient Lands
CD-ROM (see Figure 3), students examine the Minoan Sacred Bull murals, and the murals of Egypt and Pompeii. They compare and contrast these ancient murals with the mural selected for study from their own neighborhood.
Examining another culture makes students aware of the extent to which their view of the world is a construction. Students examine the way people lived in those ancient worlds and how the ancient peoples’ beliefs are reflected in the murals. How are our lives and beliefs reflected in murals made today? How different are these from the ancient world? How and why are they the same?
The constructedness of students’ knowledge is made visible to them in ordinary daily interactions. Through their findings, students discover how their own values, attitudes, and beliefs are often taken-for-granted and unexamined. How did this learning experience allow them to perceive their own values and beliefs differently?
How did it make them aware of another form of communication?

Conclusion

Constructivism defines meaning as rooted in personal experience and constructed by individuals.
It emphasizes student ownership of learning through their involvement in authentic learning activities, collaborative problem solving, holistic approaches, and the examination of multiple perspectives. There is less use of lectures, memorization, and reliance on textbooks. Learning outcomes focus on the process of students constructing their own knowledge and the students’ reflection on that process. The teacher’s role is that of a facilitator and coach who shares in ongoing evaluation.Educational technology can reinforce the constructivist approach to learning
by having students:
• gather research and data available on CD-ROMs, videodiscs, and online electronic bulletin boards (BBSs);
• examine other’s perspectives and solutions to a problem using online “chat” services such as the National Geographic’s Explorer’s Hall;
• and synthesize gathered information as they construct their own concepts and solutions which they present as slide/video shows (using software products like van Gogh Revisited).

Editor’s Note: See also the
companion article, A Constructivist Approach to Social Studies, Integrating Technology, in this issue of SS&yl.

References
America Online. 8619 Westwood Center Drive, Vienna, VA 22182-2285, 800-827-6364.
Microsoft Corporation. (1994). Ancient lands for windows (CD-ROM version 1.00). Microsoft Customer Sales and Service, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, Washington 98052-6399.
Voyager Company, The. (1988, 1991). van Gogh revisited: A videodisc companion. One Bridge Street, Irvington, NY 10533.