Future of Education: Amazing Technology… but no money to pay for it.

When I started this MAT program at WOU I was convinced that standardized testing was a bad idea. Teachers know more about their students than do political bureaucrats. Standardized testing also takes away from time that could otherwise be spent learning – both the time to take the test and the time to spend teaching material that the teacher deems unnecessary. Teachers also complain that there isn’t enough time to teach and that by insisting on standardized testing things are covered minimally so that there is time to teach everything that is tested. Teachers, it was argued, can motivate themselves to be better teachers and when politicians get involved it just messes things up.

Admittedly, I have just started my MAT here and my point of view is unique and my opinions tend to waver. However after spending the term observing teachers at a local high school I can see why politicians feel that by testing the students they can improve their education. Some teachers work hard to develop interesting lessons that engage all of their students. Other teachers tell the students to read their textbooks and then proceed to sit at their desk and generally ignore them for the rest of class. Unfortunately, my mentor teacher falls into the latter category. Our department considers itself lucky that social studies learning is not measured by any standardized test that our students must receive. Honestly, it shows in the lack of care and effort put in by some of the staff. It’s almost like telling the students they need to study hard – but that they won’t be graded.

These test scores go to the government for whatever reason they see the need to have that data. It seems to change a bit over time as new politicians and parties gain favor. Steve Schoettler states that the government is not using that data very efficiently. The point of forcing districts to do standardized testing is to get feedback to districts about how they are doing. Shoettler argues that by taking two years to get this data back to teachers and administrators they aren’t doing much good. Feedback is very important when teaching teachers how to be more effective. With a turn around this long on this data is for most purposes meaningless. Additionally, he states that the things that are tested by these tests are not necessarily the most important thing to measure: they ignore multiple intelligences, learning styles, working memory, and other data. If the government were better at collecting, analyzing, and quickly returning data to schools, then districts would be able to implement some changes to make improvements to their staff. Standardized testing the way it is currently done is a bit of a waste of time. It has some potential though.

With the speed of technology where it is today it is clear that the only reason it takes the government two years to get this data published is because they aren’t using the most efficient methods to analyze it. This is often true in schools as well. Educational conferences are littered with technology vendors who want to show you what their product can do to help you teach your students. Some of these technologies are fancier ways of doing the same things that we’ve done in the past, but others actually help students learn things in ways that would have been very difficult before. An example of the former would be Microsoft’s Kinect. It is very interesting and would get students engaged, but no one has managed to convince me that it helps students learn something that would otherwise elude them (although I’m sure that fans of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences will argue that it would help “kinesthetic learners”). An example of a useful technology (especially to a geography major like me) is Google Earth. This (free!) technology can be used to show students the battle torn fields of WWI or why Hannibal’s journey across the Alps was so treacherous. When thinking about how useful new technologies are to students it is important to remember that although some can really benefit the students, others are just more exciting ways of doing things that have been done before. With the high price attached to many of these new gadgets and technology, as well as the lack of educational funding, schools must carefully weigh the benefits of buying them.

There is also an argument for having virtual computers set up. Using devices like thin clients and blade pc’s school districts can decrease the cost of buying new computers if one is broken due to carelessness or if one is stolen. I can honestly say that in my district they rarely break and have never been stolen. There’s also an argument that they also feature higher speeds and that it’s safer to store data physically away from students. If for some reason our school had to buy all new computers I could see how this would be useful.

The issue I keep coming across is funding. At my school budget cuts are severe. Yesterday I heard a teacher yell at a student for scribbling across the white board with a dry erase marker – these items were cut by the school district long ago, if teachers want to use them the money comes out of their own pocket. I’ve been to the school board meetings and I’ve seen our budget and expenses, everything that can be cut has been. Heck, we can only install a light in every other light socket to save money on the electric bill. When I went to high school the social studies department had four teachers. Now we have 10% more students and only two teachers. Class sizes were once 20-25 students – now they are 35-45 students. As exciting as it is to think of integrating new technologies into the classroom, it’s too far down the list of things that need to be done. Before mentioning new technology we would want smaller class sizes, a lit classroom (for morning classes at least), and perhaps a librarian. With budgets the way they are having a technology-based course is completely out of the question.


Primary Sources in the Social Studies: Web Sources

I am in general not a fan of about.com at all. But they have a good selection of recent political cartoons that would be great to use in a government (or possible history or economics) classroom. This site focuses on political events that are frequently in the news. This allows teachers to meet NETS-T Standard 1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity and 2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments and students meet NETS-S Standard 3. Research and Information Fluency.

This website has my favorite collection of recent political cartoons. They are separated by subject so that they are easy to find. You can also pick cartoons that are written by American cartoonists or foreign ones. This would be an excellent site to allow older students to roam. Using this site allows teachers to meet NETS-T Standard 1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity and 2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments and students meet NETS-S Standard 3. Research and Information Fluency.


This is the website for the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. They provide links to many political cartoons and they also provide lesson plans for students based on relevant political cartoons. These are really great ideas for government or economics classes. Their lesson plans do tend to be just a list of applicable questions for students to answer, making them do their own research instead of just handing them the answers they want. I like this approach. This allows teachers to meet NETS-T Standard 1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity and 2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments and students meet NETS-S Standard 3. Research and Information Fluency.


This website provides teachers with several history lesson plans. It also contains a large collection of historical political cartoons. Most of the websites for political cartoons only feature ones from the last 5-15 years. This one focuses on U.S. History until 1912. They also have accompanying lesson plans for several subjects. This allows teachers to meet NETS-T Standard 1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity and 2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments and students meet NETS-S Standard 3. Research and Information Fluency.


This is a link to a news article posted by a book author this year before Columbus Day. Bill Bigelow has written a book about how to teach about Columbus to younger students without relying on textbooks, which he claims are written to avoid pointing out today’s unfair power arrangements. He makes the powerful statement that researching a subject from multiple primary sources shows students a view of history that isn’t solely from the eyes of the winner. His book “Rethinking Columbus” is inexpensive and may be worth buying for any teacher who teaches about that time period (I own it, it’s worthwhile). This news article tries to introduce readers to the idea that history shouldn’t be taught purely from the eyes of white men. It meets NETS-T Standard 5: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership by opening up the minds of teachers and trying to make them more willing to teach about history from more varied points of view.


This website offers educators links to sites that provide primary documents and sources. It is a good starting point when looking for primary sources for a particular event (especially if you’ve had no luck Googling it). It helps teachers meet NETS-T Standard 1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity and 2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments.


This site is has the same goal as the previous site. It is meant to show teachers multiple websites that provide primary sources. This one is sorted by era instead of type of document, however, and I think that is generally more useful. It helps teachers meet NETS-T Standard 1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity and 2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments.


This page of the Smithsonian website is devoted to showing teachers how to use primary sources in their classes. It’s not always easy to incorporate different historical sources into one cohesive lesson. Giving students several sources is not always a good idea if they can’t figure out how they relate to each other. It meets NETS-T Standard 5: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership and 2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments.


I don’t consider newspapers to be as “pure” of a primary source as most others – sometimes they are primary sources and sometimes they are secondary sources. It’s often hard to tell. This website gives you a directory to the English language versions of several foreign newspapers. I feel that the different perspectives that are shown to students often show them the same things that I want them to learn from using primary sources: people in history and people in other countries are people just like them and no group of people is entirely good or evil (despite how black and white they may appear to be in textbooks and media). This allows teachers to meet NETS-T Standard 1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity and 2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments and students meet NETS-S Standard 3. Research and Information Fluency.


I’m actually a geography major, I love incorporating maps into my lessons if I think that students would benefit from having a sense of what is spatially going on. I like this website because it gives you historical maps, so not only do students have an idea of where something happened, they have the same map that people alive at that time would have. I think that provides them with a sense of authenticity and also shows them what resources people had at the time. It meets NETS-T Standard 5: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership and 2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments.

The Internet and Primary Sources in the K-12 History Classroom

A week ago I went to the NCSS conference in Seattle. One of the sessions I went to discussed how history teachers could teach their classes without textbooks using their own knowledge and expertise as well as primary sources from the internet. Never before have so many sources been available to teachers and students. Although you would think that this might be something that many teachers would be interested in doing – especially considering the lack of funding for textbooks in many districts – but most history teachers I’ve met continue to rely heavily on textbooks.

Ruffin and Capell, the authors of Dispelling the Myths: Using Primary Sources in the K-12 Classroom, claim that teachers often site the same reasons for not using primary sources in their classrooms: “1. Primary sources are irrelevant to children, who are not able to grasp the nature of the material 2. A teacher cannot afford to veer off of a prescribed curriculum, and primary sources lend nothing to standardized tests 3. Primary sources are inaccessible and hard to find 4. Primary Sources are not for the K-12 classroom” (Ruffin and Capell, 2009, p 26). In many cases the exact opposite is true. History textbooks are bland, boring, and excessively politically correct.

The authors argue that when using primary sources, students are more easily able to relate to the people of the era they are studying. A student can read about the era they are studying from a textbook and learn that there were bus boycotts in Montgomery during the Civil Rights Movement, or they could go and read the pamphlets that protestors spread. Students could read (and sometimes watch) what people said about the bus boycotts. Frankly, traditional teaching methods try to tell you what happened like a story, but one in which you never get to know any of the characters. By reading the individual stories of some of the characters in history (and not just the important well-known ones) we are able to determine many of the events that shaped the world we know today. Students are also able to draw their own conclusions from inquiry-based learning. They also “[teach] students to actively discover and evaluate information rather than simple memorize and regurgitate facts, which helps to improve their critical thinking skills” (Ruffin and Capell, 2009, p 27). These skills are becoming more and more focused on in prescribed curricula and standardized tests.

Primary sources were once extremely hard to use in K-12 classrooms. They “are unique documents, one-of-a-kind creations, generally housed in archival repositories, special collections libraries, and historical societies. Because of their uniqueness and rarity, finding and using primary sources is much different than finding and using circulating books in the library… Due to the sheer number of archival documents in existence, it can be difficult to locate appropriate items for classroom use…Prior to the digital explosion, teachers had to schedule field trips to the archives or to invite an archivist to visit the school, or they had to use facsimiles of primary documents available in in secondary sources, such as textbooks” (Ruffin and Capell, 2009, p 27). These sources are now available online for teachers to find to use in their classrooms and also for students to find so that they learn how to do their own research.

The internet now allows teachers to bring a lot more depth and relevance to their history courses, but teachers have been slow to adopt this option because of their traditional reliance on textbooks. Using primary sources lets teachers be much more creative with their lesson plans. It also allows students to develop critical thinking skills. Primary historical journals and photographs help show students that history isn’t just a story that they must memorize. They show students that people throughout history were just like them.

This method of teaching meets NETS-T Standard 1: Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity; Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments; and Standard 5: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership (because each primary source you expose yourself to increases your knowledge of history as well, there’s so much out there to learn about). This method of learning also applies to NETS-S Standard 3: Research and Information Fluency when students are expected to find their own primary sources for the time period they are studying.

Ruffin, E. and Capell, L. (2009) Dispelling the Myths: Using Primary Sources in the K-12 Classroom. The Journal for the Association of Library Service to Children. 7 (1), p 26-31.

Primary Sources in the Social Studies: Political Cartoons

The internet has led to an increase in communication and globalization. In addition to allowing students to interact with others and do research in different ways, they are now able to access a variety of sources that would have been difficult to access in the past. A wide, seemingly endless variety of primary sources exists on the internet. In a good social studies class, these sources are used frequently as they allow students to make their own conclusions and learn how historians gather the information they use for their books. Students are able to not just learn about the Civil Rights movement, but see the pamphlets that leaders gave out to black citizens of Alabama after busses were desegregated. These sources allow history to become far less dull and it also makes history more relevant to many students. The merits of these sources are well known (although we still often use them in limited ways due to our confusing love of textbooks), but one type of primary source is often overlooked: the political cartoon. This is perhaps because political cartoons don’t look “scholastic” when you first look at them, and they are almost always politically biased.

Political cartoons, however, do remain one of the most interesting forms of primary sources available to students and they have unique merits. Hammett and Mather explain these in their article “Beyond Decoding: Political Cartoons in the Classroom”. According to the authors, “Political cartoons provide provocative, satirical and subjective illustrations and interpretations of events, people and social issues, framed by ideology, morals and agendas” (Hammett and Mather, 2011, p 104). Political cartoons “can be used to teach about and critically reflect upon key themes such as democracy and democratization and power, representation and citizenship.”

Hammett and Mather’s (2011) point that “provided with the space to lampoon and critique elites, cartoonists can provide insights into a country’s social and political zeitgeist” (p 105) shows how I most often have tried to use political cartoons. Political cartoons should be used in history class to show students how the people who lived in a time period viewed what was going on. They should be used in geography classes to show students what people are thinking in another country. In the 21st century we are now able to have our students go online and find many political cartoons – foreign and historical. A simple Google search will lead you to an abundance of cartoons. Having students analyze these cartoons to discover if and how they are biased as well as showing what they are trying to explain is an excellent way to reinforce concepts that you are covering in class.

Hammett, D., Mather, C. (2011) Beyond Decoding: Political Cartoons in the Classroom. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, vol. 35, no. 1, p 103-119.

For example, the above cartoon could be used in a lesson about current government spending. Students could determine how it is biased, what it’s trying to say, and whether or not it’s relevant. This is a subject that many of my students have background knowledge and opinions about. If topics for political cartoons are chosen that students do not have a lot of background knowledge about it is necessary to show them that the cartoon may still be biased.

I always end up editing these posts and adding NETS Standards at the end. The types of learning exercises described in this post and this article meet NETS-S Standard #4 because it makes students think critically about the information that they have found. Students have to try to incorporate biased political cartoons into the knowledge that they already have. This requires them to find out what is being referenced and to determine how accurate the information is.

(Dr. Zobel, I was gone for a conference last week, you told me I could post this late, thank you ~Rachel)

Web Sources: Topic B Internet-Based Student Collaboration and Communication

My topic this time around was the overly-broad (I kind of feel like I’m cheating) subject of ways to increase learning through internet-based collaboration and communication. As such, most of my links address either NETS-S Standard 2: Collaboration and Communication or NETS-T Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assignments, The sources that meet the latter are generally designed as sources that will help you gain the literacy required to better address the former standard.

Web Sources:

This site Is the one described by the authors of my 2B Article Review. They describe how creating a blog is an excellent way to display related information and this is the one they created. It is an excellent example of what undergrads working together can do. I like how it’s a wiki, but it doesn’t really look like Wikipedia because it has a different layout for one, and also because it was created mostly by young college students and was not overly refined by professional editors. I think it gives a closer example of what determined students can do. On a non-computer science related side note. This blog was designed to give social studies teachers links to information and media about the Massachusetts State Standards (which are different in number, but similar to Oregon Standards). This helps you as a teacher meet NETS-T Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assignments.

The first link showed you a well put together wiki from undergrads, but this link will show you to a list of student-created wikis that can show you what younger students can create. It also gives teachers advice about how to create their own classroom-based wikis! This helps you meet NETS-T Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assignments.

I discussed using Skype to have your students interact with other students. Although this is a wonderful experience, it is often one that is very difficult for you to manage to put together due to time constraints or lack of contacts in a region you’re interested in. This website links you to the Peace Corps. You can have one of their representatives speak to your students from many of the countries they are participating in. Although this won’t give your students the same view point as talking to locals, it will teach them about a place from a memorable perspective. This meets NETS-S Standard 2: Collaboration and Communication.

This site is a place where educators can meet other educators in different places so that you can set up email pals for your students in other regions or countries. I’ve found that although Skyping gives you a unique feel for someone because you are talking to them face to face (almost), many students get very nervous and hesitant in this situation and depending on how comfortable your students are, it may be simpler to have them write instead. This also meets NETS-S Standard 2: Collaboration and Communication.

This website is similar to the one posted above in that it is a place for educators to meet other educators in foreign countries. This site is designed to help educators find other students to collaborate on projects with rather than just keeping in touch with. It might be interesting to have history students collaborate on a project that involves an event that happened between two countries – for example a group of students in Mexico and one here working on the Mexican-American War – it would show the students firsthand why learning is improved when you can learn about something from an opposing perspective. It also meets NETS-S Standard 2: Collaboration and Communication.

I discussed in my second article review the benefits of using a class wiki in order to have students collaborate on a project online. I also explained how a wiki is different from a blog (allowing multiple editors, extensive hyperlinking) and how these aspects can make it a useful medium (able to work several student pages together more seamlessly). When I was introduced to this idea I thought it was fascinating but I didn’t realize that it was something that I could actually create myself for a classroom fairly easily. This wiki-hosting site could be considered the wordpress of wikis. And if you are an educator using it for classroom use it is free to use. This allows teachers to meet NETS-T Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assignments.

Schools Look to Skype for Sharing (2009) Electronic Education Report, vol. 16, p1-2.
This short article is available on EBSCO and describes the future of Skype in education. (It’s admittedly not nearly as interesting as most of these other links I’ve posted – I wouldn’t suggest reading it unless you are particularly interested in Skype). It describes how some educators see Skype as a tool to allow them to teach classes to students who aren’t in their classroom and then allowing schools to offer a wider range of classes. It somewhat meets NETS-T Standard 5: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership.

If you are perhaps a teacher to younger students, but you like my ideas about incorporating student-researched information into a technological lesson this is worth looking into. Like its name implies, it is a blog site designed for the needs of younger students in mind. I’m aware that YOUNG students wouldn’t be able to use this, but it would perhaps be suited more towards grades 4-8. This helps meet NETS-T Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assignments.

This is a link to several blogs created by children ages 6-14. I had no idea that kids that young were writing blogs – kind of amazing what kids can do. If you are showing (probably somewhat older) students the basics of creating a blog, these might be some examples you can show them. This can be used to help them create their own blogs, which allows them to meet NETS-S Standard 1: Creativity and Innovation as well as Standard 2: Collaboration and Communication (more specifically creativity and communication).

This site is about allowing young children to act as journalists in an online setting. It meets NETS-S Standard 2: Collaboration and Communication and NETS-T Standard 2: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assignments.
I found this site through a somewhat-convoluted train of thought that I feel the need to tell you about (and not even in this less-important parentheses format that I seem to have been using) although you can stop reading here if you are exhausted from reading already. Today I was informed that a the students I’ve been Skyping with in Gaza Strip (see Article Review 1B) will be unable to contact us because they have no electricity as much of their infrastructure has been bombed by Israeli raids today. I felt the need to raise awareness for this. (http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Israel_Gaza_Strip_and_West_Bank). Students who I talk to frequently are in a place where our government (or in the case of the last link, the Australian government) says we should not risk traveling to under any circumstances. I read the news articles that follows:
http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/12/world/israel-gaza/index.html [for those of you just glancing through, this is not one of my ten sources]
I couldn’t help but think “wow that is dry and distant sounding”. Even from a more local source like Al Jazeera it still sounds like something “sad” but I know that when I talk to the students in Gaza they will have a COMPLETELY different story to tell. I know that one girl’s uncle’s house was destroyed. I can only imagine she will have something to say about that.
Students have stories to tell. Life isn’t something that just happens around them. They live it. Even here in supposedly homogenized, politically-correct America they have things that are happening. They see how people are affected by the election or by a storm. Why not let them create their own news stories, because I’d love to see what they have to say.

Wikis for History Class. Article Review 2, Topic B

When I wrote my last article review about learning foreign points of view in a classroom through working with foreign students over the video-conferencing tool “Skype” I wasn’t quite sure what topic that fell under. After much thought I’ve decided that I’m finding an article that relates to my previous article through the topic of increasing student learning through internet collaboration (as you may imagine, all Skype learning articles are extremely similar) or I suppose the topic could be using internet tools that weren’t really available when I was in high school. My second article review shows how students can learn more about history by creating class “wikis” that they can work of together. They can also work with other students in other classrooms.

The authors of “The Making of a History Standards Wiki: Covering, Uncovering, and Discovering Curriculum Frameworks Using a Highly Interactive Technology” studied how well making a wiki worked at allowing undergraduate students to show history-related information. “Wikis are web pages that can be easily edited by multiple authors. They invite active involvement by teachers and students who collaborate in new roles as authors, editors, and readers of academic content” (Maloy et al, 2010, p 68). Because of the prevalence of the site “Wikipedia” the term wiki is often confused with it. Wikipedia is the name of a specific, overwhelmingly-large wiki, but there are many, many others. They are websites that allow multiple editors (or even the general public) to post about topics. They are very similar to blogs that allow multiple editors. Most wikis are also known for their heavy use of hyperlinks which allow users to easily find the material they want. The article’s purpose is twofold. The authors hope to show teachers how wikis can be used by students and they also explain how to create a wiki and the issues they were faced with including confusion with the wiki giant “Wikipedia”.

The authors tell us of the various forms of new internet technology that can be used to teach about history. According to them, wikis are ideal because of the massive amount of interrelated information. Hyperlinks make it easy to reach other information. And the ability to have multiple authors and editors across different classrooms (all of one’s history classes could participate together) allows students to write their own information and connect it with information that their peers have gathered. This leads to a sense of connectedness that is often difficult to relate to students in history classrooms.

This article and the method of learning it describes are relevant to multiple NETS-S Standards. Standard 1: Creativity and Innovation is met by having students put their information together in a wiki by allowing them to create their own sources of information (even if much of the information is gathered from other sources). Standard 2: Collaboration and Communication is also readily applicable. By having students combine their knowledge with others’ they are working together and also (likely) communicating with others who are writing their own parts of the wiki as well as learning how to portray information to an audience of their peers. Standard 3: Research and Information Fluency is met by having students each do individual research for the pages they are responsible for. Standard 6: Technology Operations and Concepts is met by teaching students how to input media (such as pictures or videos) into their wiki pages. It also reinforces more basic computer skills and makes students familiar with the process of posting their own information on the internet.

Maloy, R., Poirier, M., Smith, H., Edwards, S., (2010) The Making of A History Standards Wiki: Covering, Uncovering, and Discovering Curriculum Frameworks Using a Highly Interactive Technology. History Teacher vol. 44, p 67-81.

Skyping Science: Learning Through Foreign Collaboration (Article Review 1, Topic B)

Social studies is a field where we hope that students will gain a sense of perspective. We hope that students will learn about other cultures and how they are similar in many ways to our own. Our students should also gain the sense that other people around the world have very different lives, but that they are still people with the same dreams, aspirations, and hopes that we have here in America. This term in my social studies pedagogy class my professor has been trying to make us think of completely new ways and meaningful ways to introduce these concepts in our class. He’s put particular emphasis on having students make contact with people in other countries so that they can experience stories of other places firsthand.

The article I am choosing to review is called Skyping Science and it tells about a pair of schools that chose to work together on a physics project using the online video-conferencing tool Skype. One of these schools was located in Chicago, Illinois and the other was from Shanghai, China. Because the students at the school in China attended an international school, they were all able to speak English. Students were excited to get to talk with students from another country. “My students wanted to talk to the American students and ask them questions about their lives as teenagers in another country” said the teacher from Shanghai. One student agreed that “I absolutely loved Skyping. A am really interested in international studies, and this was something I thought was really fun. I liked getting to talk to students from China and asking them about what they did in school. It was also cool to see [that] they are learning the same things in physics”.

The global perspective that students learned through this activity was far more impacting than just learning about physics. The power that the internet has to reinforce the idea of globalization is very pronounced. Interaction with others over Skype meets NETS-S Standard 2 Communication and Collaboration in which “students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others”. But more importantly to a social studies teacher like me, this type of activity allows students a sense of what life is like for other people and allows them to empathize in a way that would be impossible by just reading a book.

I learned just how effective using Skype can be this term. I worked with a group of students trying to learn English in Gaza Strip to allow them to have a native English speaker to practice with. We communicated for an hour twice a week and I was amazed by how much I learned. Like most people who think they are up to date with information about Gaza I knew about the situation with Israel and Palestine (in reference to my last review, go look it up on Wikipedia if you are unaware). It was another thing entirely to hear about it directly from students. I talked to a boy who had never left the 25 by 9 mile wide territory of Gaza; “they won’t let you leave” he said of the Israelis and he dreams of someday moving to Hawaii. The same boy was visibly shocked when I lifted up my laptop and showed him Astoria, Oregon as seen through my window at home. He said that he didn’t know that people lived to close to trees. These are only a couple examples. The impact of just talking to other students in foreign countries is much greater than I originally gave it credit for.

Skyping Science (2010) Science Teacher, v. 77, p64-66 (no author)

Sources for/about Teaching Internet Research Methods to High School History Students

1. Ellis, R., et al. (2011) High school students’ experiences of learning through research on the Internet. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. Dec2011, Vol. 27 Issue 6, p503-515
This article is available through EBSCO and shows how students view internet research

2. http://www.austincc.edu/history/inres00title.html
This website is by a Community College professor and is designed to teach Community College students how to properly use internet research.

3. https://history.colorado.edu/undergraduates/paper-guidelines/using-internet-research
This website is also written by a professor and is designed to help students use internet research properly. It is more in depth and more difficult for high school students to grasp.

4. Poyntz, Nick (2010) The future of the past. History Today; Apr2010, Vol. 60 Issue 4, p52-53
This article explains how historical scholarship has been affected by blogs and is available through EBSCO.

5. Ward, Anne (2010) Teaching Civil War Mobilization with Online Primary Sources. OAH Magazine of History; Apr2012, Vol. 26 Issue 2, p37-41
This article explains how one teacher has used internet research of primary sources by her students effectively to increase their knowledge of the Civil War. It is also available on EBSCO.

6. Shiveley, James and VanFossen, Phillip (2009) Toward Assessing Internet Use in the Social Studies Classroom: Developing an Inventory Based on a Review of Relevant Literature. Journal of Social Studies Research, v33 n1 p1-32
This article reviews how the internet should be used in a social studies classroom. The authors believe that it has been used inefficiently. This article is available on EBSCO.

7. http://chnm.gmu.edu/resources/essays/files/history_matters_intro.pdf
This PDF gives educators an idea of how to use internet primary sources effectively with their students. It discusses how bad information is displayed on the internet.

8. David, Jane (2009) Teaching Media Literacy. Educational Leadership; Mar2009, Vol. 66 Issue 6, p84-86
This article (on EBSCO – again) informs teachers about how the teaching of media literacy has changed over time. I thought this might be an interesting article for teachers who have been teaching for a while. It may also show younger teachers how many of the older teachers were taught to handle media literacy.

9. Mills, Kelly (2001) USING NEW MEDIA TO TEACH EAST EUROPEAN HISTORY. Nationalities Papers; Sep2001, Vol. 29 Issue 3, p499-507
In my first article review on this topic I discussed how many historians were only recently becoming familiar with the idea of using the internet for research. This article (EBSCO) shows how one such person started using this new method 11 years ago.

10. Leary, John (2000) World crisis as “teachable moment”: joining global issues, international law, and the Internet in the classroom. The History Teacher (Long Beach, Calif.); May 2000, Vol. 33 Issue 3, p321-333
This article is an early example of a teacher using the internet in a classroom. It’s focused less on teaching students research methods (it’s from way back in the early days of the internet) but I felt that it was an interesting way to show how teachers began incorporating the internet into their classrooms.

Wikipedia: Valid Source?

Wikipedia is a word that people at my school have strong feelings about. English teachers scorn it and state that it doesn’t belong in school, yet the students love its easy access for information. It’s the first place many of them go to get any sort of background information on a subject, and I must admit the first place I usually look as well. Just today, the students in a class I was observing were looking up information on the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI. I sat among a group of students who automatically exited out of Wikipedia to search for the information on a different website. When I asked them why they did that, they informed me that Wikipedia is the best place to find information and that it’s especially useful because they can easily click hyperlinks to other information they might not know about, but despite this teachers frowned upon its use and would tell the students to find the information elsewhere.

The question of whether Wikipedia can be used as a viable resource has been disputed throughout the years. Its value and potential falsehoods have been made very visible to the public. Nora Miller (2007) explains these ideas in her article Wikipedia Revisited. She discusses the founder of Wikipedia and his “vision of Wikipedia as free content encyclopedia written by volunteers from around the world” (Miller, 2007, p. 148) and how Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, said it was inspired by a passionate belief in the Objectivism philosophy of Ayn Rand which focuses on the world as created by individuals and focused on the needs of individuals. Wikipedia is based on the idea that everyone can and should add to the collective wisdom of the world. In this way Wikipedia reminds me of a smaller facet of the internet as a whole: it’s a place where people can gather their knowledge no matter who they are.

This is a noble idea, but it can cause problems for academics. Wikipedia makes a very tempting source: it has information on just about anything, and that information is readily available it even provides “a guide on how to cite an article from Wikipedia in all the standard academic formats” (Miller, 2007, p. 147). It provides simple, easy to use information. Miller (2007) quotes the New York Times in stating that “more than 100 judicial rulings have relied on Wikipedia [since] 2007, including 13 from circuit courts of appeal, one step below the Supreme Court” (p. 147).

Despite its ease of use and comprehensive information, Wikipedia has an Achilles heel. “While supporting the goal of openness and verifiability, the username structure of the site provides complete anonymity for its editors and administrators, which renders the site constantly vulnerable to vandalism and fraud” (Miller, 2007, 149). This is the reason most teachers cite when prohibiting the use of the website in the classrooms.

Many of my students who use Wikipedia do quite well with it. If it were such a bad source, one would wonder why we don’t more often see more vandalism. Wikipedia states that this is because you need to have sources for your information in order for it not to be switched back quickly by one of their editors. Wikipedia may a place where people are able to share their knowledge, but if you can’t back up that knowledge it will be removed. It is more accurate than the general internet in this regard. This leads me to not blow off Wikipedia as it is no less valid than most of the other internet sources that most of the students I know go to for information. I’m not teaching English. I work with history and government students. When students do look things up in class they rarely have to report back on where they got specific bits of information. When they do I am shocked by how bad their sources are. They rarely think about doing research out of books: they include too much information and the students aren’t sure what is relevant. Students are generally unaware of using articles from a source like EBSCO and we no longer can afford to have a librarian who can teach them the basics of how to find information (budget cuts have gotten harsh in my district). Students are left coming to history class with only the skills in research that they have developed by “googling” information when they’re curious about it. So long as they’re going to be unaware of decent research methods they may as well use Wikipedia to get more accessible and accurate information than a website like “Joe’s Civil War Page” (I made that up, but you get the idea) that includes a few fun graphics at the top, but doesn’t have nearly as many people keeping an eye on the content that is posted there.

This article helps teach teachers how to be more critical of the sources that they are considering in their classrooms. This helps students learn NETS-S Standard 3 by allowing them to access appropriate sources of information. When we simply ignore a source that many of them view to be valid without letting them know why this source is less appropriate it does not help them learn how to evaluate sources. Students must learn to evaluate whether they think that information on Wikipedia or any other website is valid, and if students are to be banned from using a website they should know why. This is perhaps less true with younger students. I work with 11th and 12th graders who think we’re the ones who are confused.

Miller, Nora (2007) Wikipedia Revisited, ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Vol 64, No 2, p. 147-150

Article Review: How Research has Changed in the Digital Age

With the changing state standards in the social sciences, we are now expected to incorporate more aspects of reading and writing into our teaching. I work with 11th and 12th grade students and we are often unaware of the best ways to help our students achieve as writers, as this was not our area of expertise. This article in History Teacher describes how we can use digital media to help our students learn. It gives tips for how to teach students to do their own historical research. Given the age group I work with, I felt this was an appropriate thing to concern myself with.
Daniel states that “overall, historians have almost universally embraced basic computer technologies like word processors and library databases, but many remain wary of more sophisticated tools and have yet to delve into digital history” (p, 262). She spends much of her article Teaching Students How to Research the Past: Historians and Librarians in the Digital Age trying to find out why they are so hesitant to changing to a more modern type of research as well as how to best allow students to gain the skills needed to properly do digital research. Teaching improved research methods is applicable to NETS-S Standard 3: Research and Information Fluency.

Daniel begins by explaining how historians did their research before they were able to use digital sources. As a 25-year-old who has done most of her research with digital sources it was interesting to see how it was done before. Historians “prefer[ed] to follow footnotes in articles and books, to read book reviews or to consult their colleagues, or if their favorite sources fail, to browse the library shelves” (Daniel, 2012, p. 264). She states that in 2002 following leads and citations in printed sources was still the most favored method of doing historical research. In 2010 the American Historical Association stated “that use of online primary sources, while widespread, [was] still far from universal among historians” (Daniel, 2012, p. 265).
Today’s students are frustrated with the lack of guidance they receive when learning how to do research. Youth today are comfortable with finding information, but had difficulty ”integrating their information seeking practices into the broader research process and acquiring the critical reading and thinking skills that build good researchers” (Daniel, 2012, p. 265). Daniel is concerned that today’s students did not develop research skills from another era of research and thus are starting their research habits with digital sources. This means they are unfamiliar with the ideas of complex research which involves getting information from several sources and putting it into context on your own. Even if you were able to find it, often no one source would tell you everything you need to know in a way you could understand it.

Daniel states that students are comfortable with their search-engine skills, but that they need more than the ability to search for information. The problem with internet-research is not lack of information, but an overwhelming overload of often-irrelevant data. As such, the skills of “acquiring sufficient contextual information to narrow down a topic, identifying relevant and quality resources, and processing them” are what students need to learn today (Daniel, 2012, p.265).

Students in my history class often try to do the first of these items – acquiring sufficient contextual information to narrow down a topic – by quickly going to a website like Wikipedia and getting some background information. I’ve heard English teachers oppose this idea several times because they find that this site and ones like it are “full of inaccuracies”. I’ve not found this to be the case, and I promote them using Wikipedia as a way of learning enough background knowledge so that they can put their research into context. I don’t let them use it as a source however.
When students are asked to identify relevant and quality resources I find that they often don’t know what this means. The simplest way I know how to explain this concept to my students is to find the information you need to explain your topic, don’t just explain your topic based on the sources that you find with your subject written somewhere in the title. (If someone else knows of a better way to describe this idea – and there must be a better way – please mention it in the comments).

When it comes to process resources, I tell students to try to explain what you understand in your own words and style. Don’t try to rephrase what an author wrote in their paper – my students should have more information at their disposal. Combining multiple ideas should give the students a unique perspective. Again, if I were an English teacher I would have a better way to explain this to students. As it stands, I feel like our history classes have just become another place for students to experiment with writing, and that’s alright, they need the practice.
This article did not do a great job at explaining how to teach students to use digital sources well, which is what I had hoped it would do when I read its title (identifying relevant sources – it’s still a struggle for some of us). It did do a good job of trying to explain WHY students don’t know how to use digital sources well, and I definitely fell into that category when I was the same age as my students. The educators and administrators who decide how we teach our students didn’t grow up in the “Google Generation” like my students and I did. Their ideas on how research should be done are based on methods of research that we (for better or worse) rarely use anymore. By recognizing why our weaknesses lie where they are as well as some basic strategies for how to help improve them, I believe I will be able to help my students handle digital research better.

Daniel, Dominique (2012) Teaching Students How to Research the Past: Historians and Librarians in the Digital Age. History Teacher, Feb 2012, Vol. 45, Issue 2, p. 261-282.