Magazine article Technology & Learning

Welcome to Ourtown, U.S.A

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Welcome to Ourtown, U.S.A

Article excerpt

It's not a new idea, but it is a powerful one: the idea of sending youngsters into their own communities to learn about history, geography, and culture first-hand. The concept of a "classroom without walls" takes on new meaning when students use modem technology to gather information about the immediate world in which they live. At sites across the country students are doing just that--using high-tech cameras, scanners, tape recorders, and computers to produce multimedia presentations integrating the sights and sounds of the local community. And because the resulting presentations are more interactive than student-authored books, photo exhibits, or videotapes, they are particularly valuable as instructional materials for others--in settings ranging from other K-12 classrooms to libraries or chambers of commerce frequented by adults.

Greater Than the Sum of Individual Parts

Kathleen Duplantier is a resource teacher at Abita Springs Elementary School in Abita Springs, Louisiana, a small town 50 miles north of New Orleans. Her fourth-grade students use Macintosh computers with HyperCard to produce a multimedia database documenting the town's cultural diversity. All students in this K-4 elementary school work on the project.

The school year is divided into a study of the different ethnic groups who have settled the area. There are units on Native Americans, Germans, Hispanics, French, African Americans, and Italians. Students are introduced to a variety of ethnic foods, folk tales, crafts, and housing styles.

To personalize this cultural experience, the school invites representatives from the different ethnic communities to give talks. These presentations take place in the library, where they are recorded onto video and cassette tape. Taped follow-up interviews are conducted by the older students. The youngsters also obtain photos of their interviewees.

The Abita students then use computer technology to help them share their newfound knowledge. They use word processors to transcribe the interviews, write stories about the presentations they've attended, and publish a book which they take home to share with their families. And they create HyperCard "culture stacks" for each of the ethnic groups that they've studied.

The goal of the HyperCard project is to capture, compile, and transform a wealth of unrelated cultural facts into a series of connected stacks. The stacks contain far more than just textual information. For example, the African American stack includes musical recordings, while the stack on early Louisiana offers pictures of house types, plus QuickTime movies of arrowheads, spear-throwing, and spear-making tools.

Video sequences are brought in using a SuperMac Video Spigot (a special board which captures and digitizes video footage directly from VHS tape, then saves it in QuickTime format). Still images, including photographs and student illustrations of stories they've written for the stacks, are brought in with help from a flatbed scanner. Frequently, the drawings are linked to create animations. Interactive hypertext buttons allow viewers to jump to related stacks in the database.

Abita's Hypertext Folklife Curriculum is in its fifth year. Each year, students construct new stacks while adding more cards to the old ones. Kids become authorities on the cultures they study. A Macintosh in the library provides access to this multimedia curriculum for students conducting research. The cultural stacks are also displayed on parent nights and shown by teachers at professional conferences. Students as well are sometimes invited to make presentations at other schools. Community members have shown a strong interest in the stacks, and Duplantier hopes eventually to transfer the information onto CD-ROM, so it can be distributed more easily.

Platters That Matter While youngsters in Abita Springs use hypermedia to explore the multi-ethnic nature of their community, students on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota (a location celebrated in movies such as Dances With Wolves and Thunderheart) use a similar approach to take an in-depth look at one culture--their own. …

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