The Lessons of Williamsburg; Technology Opens Colonial Era to Teachers, Students of All Ages

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 26, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Lessons of Williamsburg; Technology Opens Colonial Era to Teachers, Students of All Ages


Byline: Jen Waters, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

American history is more than stories of people who lived a long time ago, says Richard McCluney of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The founding ideas of American government are concepts every student should grasp, he says. For that reason, the foundation, a private, nonprofit educational institution that preserves the restored 18th-century capital of Virginia, has created new teaching resources for teachers and students across the country.

Students now can experience the world's largest living history museum even if they can't visit it in person, says Mr. McCluney, vice president for educational outreach programs at the foundation.

"We as a nation understand the competitive needs with science and math, and basic skills like literacy," Mr. McCluney says. "We have lost the understanding that the reason for a public education is to train citizens to help each succeeding generation to be competent in the management of our society, for making intelligent choices. This can best be done with the skills of a historical context."

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has packaged history using modern technologies - the Internet, interactive television, DVDs and CD-ROMs - in an attempt to reach a larger audience and bring the 18th century to life.

The foundation offers printed lesson plans (www.history.org/teach) and materials for students in kindergarten through grade 12, as well as classroom simulations of items from the era.

Fifteen years ago, none of the new programs would have been possible, says Bill White, director for educational program development at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Digital technology has broadened the educational arms of the organization.

"There will always be a physical place that is Colonial Williamsburg," Mr. White says. "There is no way to replicate walking through the historical area, but it's not the only relationship the museum can have with visitors any longer."

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation recently partnered with textbook publisher Pearson Scott Foresman on several projects, he says.

"We provided materials for the national textbook series," Mr. White says. "We produced two CD-ROMs for them. We also authored their California textbook submission, which has been adopted in California, and they've been selling it to school districts there."

Giving teachers instructional strategies is one of the main goals of the education programs, says Tab Broyles, director of teacher professional development at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Every summer, the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute hosts a weeklong seminar for 500 teachers from across the country. It offers workshops that offer ideas for the classroom, she says. Participants spend time at Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. Tuition is $1,800. For an additional fee, teachers may apply for three hours of graduate credit.

"Teachers are totally immersed in Early American life," Ms. Broyles says. "They learn content that meets state learning standards, but they learn it in an active, engaging and exciting manner."

For instance, teachers can participate in a court trial, debate a resolution for independence, or take the role of a patriot or loyalist. The organization encourages teachers to purchase primary sources. Instead of simply reading from a textbook, using copies of original documents, such as a letter or newspaper article from the era, can be memorable.

For those teachers who are unable to attend the summer program, the organization hosts Teaching American History Conferences from September through April at school districts across the country. …

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