by Kay Bishop and Denny Hershberger
Four months after Denny Hershberger initiated the use of the Internet into his seventh grade social studies class at Pound Middle School in Lincoln, Nebraska, two students decided to use their new Internet skills to work on an independent project. During a unit of study on contemporary Europe, Hershberger had discovered that students in his classes-like many other people-did not seem to understand all of the factors involved in the Bosnian conflict. Jessica and Sara wanted to know more about the war and subsequent peace efforts in the former Yugoslavia, and they decided that access to the Internet might help them to research and write a paper on the issues involved in the conflict.
Hershberger arranged for the girls to access the Internet through computers in the media center, and prepared a guide with possible categories for them to include in their paper. He also provided some suggestions on where they might begin their Internet search. Jessica and Sara had differing levels of confidence in their abilities to do research on the Internet. While Jessica reported that she thought it was easy to use the Internet, Sara stated, "It was scary for me at first. I wasn't that comfortable with computers, but after the first week I felt much better. Now I'm very comfortable." From that point on, Jessica and Sara worked independently each day for three weeks during their regularly scheduled social studies class. They began their research by looking for basic information about Bosnia and using several addresses. Jessica and Sara worked on their project each day, often printing out their findings, and sometimes taking notes. "We would get on a word processor and write in our own words what we learned," reported Jessica. Soon, the students progressed to e-mail correspondence with people living in Bosnia, including a Serbian soldier and a university student in Sarajevo. In his message, the university student told the girls that although he had studied English, he had never before communicated with anyone in English. In response to the girls' question, "How do you feel about the war?" he wrote, "It is horrible. You have to live all through this to understand the feelings here. I hope it will never start again."
Jessica shared her thoughts regarding the e-mail experiences: "Corresponding with people over there opened my mind. It was really fun 'talking' with them, but at the same time we learned what they were going through. There are a lot of perspectives on things, and we really learned how they are feeling. On TV now they show all the sad people, but some of the people who e-mailed us said they loved living where they were." Sara added her observation: "Some people were really glad the UN was there. Other people didn't want them."
By unit's end, Jessica and Sara had
produced an eight-page paper in which they briefly discussed the past history of Bosnia, the important leaders in the conflict, and the current outbreak itself, including an explanation of the peoples and issues involved. They noted what was currently happening in Bosnia and outlined the Dayton Peace Agreement. The students discussed possible options for solving the problems in Bosnia, and between them they offered six possible solutions:
1. The leaders of the parties involved should form a parliamentary government, and each of them should control a different section of the government.
2. Hold an election and elect a king to rule all of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
3. Pull NATO out of the war zone and just let the warring factions work it out by themselves.
4. Elect an outside leader to rule the country until someone from within can be decided upon.
5. Give an equal portion of the land to each of the different ethnic groups.
6. Continue with peace negotiations until we can come up with a deal that suits everyone.
Jessica and Sara concluded that option six, continuing "with peace negotiations ... until ... a deal ... suits everyone," was the best solution. They explained their reasons for selecting this option, noting: "Many people think that NATO should not even be in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but we disagree. Look at what happened during World War II. America waited to get into the fighting and eleven million people died. Until human beings can live without killing each other, it is our country's responsibility to offer help when it is needed. However, we believe that the timing for the mission was inappropriate. The government should have waited until at least the second week in January before sending the troops out. Many religions have major holidays in December, such as Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa. But we see the need to get the armed forces to Bosnia-Herzegovina as soon as possible once the decision was made."
Using Internet resources enriched and enlivened Jessica and Sara's project. They were able to access information that might have been overlooked through traditional research avenues. Both girls felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment , as Jessica's comment suggests: "In the end, you feel so proud of yourself, because you think you have done something really big. I also think it opened my mind a lot." Sara noted how much the project had helped her with her writing skills. She added: "I really liked doing this project because our textbook doesn't have the current or in-depth information that we were able to find on the Internet. Sometimes the social studies textbook just seems too simple." Even though both girls believed that the three-week time factor was somewhat difficult, and that they sometimes felt rushed to finish, they also noted that they believed their time had been well-spent.
Hershberger helped his students create a website that included their paper on educational and Bosnian sites on the Internet. When he told them that their project would have 40 million potential readers, Sara commented with enthusiasm, "I think it will be neat to show people our website." Jessica's response, however, was: "Oh , my gosh! I hope we edited correctly." Jessica and Sara's work can be found at the following address: http://www.esu18.k12.ne.us/schools/middle/Pound/pound.html
About the Authors
Kay Bishop is an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Kentucky. She has also been on the faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi. Kay has over twenty years of experience as a school library media specialist. Denny Hershberger is a social studies teacher at Scott Middle School in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was previously a social studies teacher and computer liaison at Pound Middle School in Lincoln.