George H. CassuttoSocial Studies and the World Wide Web

For the past three years, North Hagerstown High School in western Maryland has transformed itself into a school on the "information superhighway." Through the efforts of myself and a small cadre of dedicated student volunteers, the school has developed a site on the World Wide Web that is predominantly based on activities related to the Social Studies.


What is the World Wide Web and how can it be used for teaching History?

Social Studies teachers of are rapidly recognizing the pedagogical value of the Internet and its web as they lead their students to publish their work for all the world to see. This movement puts the educator in the role of facilitator, editor, and publisher, but it also forces both student and teacher to examine more closely the processes and content of the historical material that is being disseminated on the Internet.

The growth of the World Wide Web (WWW) has made it an important tool in the educational process. While the techniques still need to be refined, the WWW can be a powerful presentation tool for teachers, an on-line library for students, and a vehicle for self-expression for all members of the educational community. In addition to the postings of academia on all levels of the educational hierarchy, organizations such as museums and professional historical societies are also posting web pages. These sites are valuable resources that can contribute to making a school's history site a valuable reservoir of history-related links. The Web is also a repository for pages containing information on state and local governments, as well as an increasing body of material posted by the federal government. All of these resources are at the disposal of the Social Studies teacher in information dissemination, student research, and student web page development.

There are a variety of tools available to the social studies educator when integrating communications technology in the classroom. These include

  • E-mail: The most popular medium used on the Internet.
  • The World Wide Web: using a "browser," one can traverse the globe's computers in seconds.
  • Gopher: an older, text-based, menu-driven research tool.
  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP): to send and receive programs and documents from one computer to another.
  • Internet Relay Chat (IRC): a text interface that allows for a real-time conversation between two or more computer users.

Of these, e-mail and the World Wide Web have the greatest application for historical study and expression on the Internet. Since the most popular browser, Netscape, can access gopher and FTP sites on the Internet, one can see a merging of all of these aspects of the Internet under one telecommunications umbrella. Netscape provides an intuitive interface that integrates all these activities, and it is the most versatile and powerful of all the browsers. Through it, one can examine Civil War documents at the Smithsonian, Coptic manuscripts housed in Cairo, or hear Hitler's 1939 Reichstag speeches by way of their computer. Netscape allows for a multi-media approach to historical telecommunications.

The Internet is one of the best tools the teachers has to make the social studies curriculum become meaningful and interactive for the student. Comments I have received via e-mail show that a school's website is superior when it focuses on student projects and achievement. Almost the entire Internet has been developed by adults. When students have a hand in deciding what is posted to the site, the visitor knows that the site has been designed by and for the students rather than the adults of the school.

Within the confines of my Advanced Placement United States History class, I have used the World Wide Web to act as a repository for student essays, and in turn, as a source for constructive criticism for students' writing. During the 1995-1996 school year , students have developed four sets of essays. The first was an effort on the topic of the student's choosing. Students had to write using guidelines found in numerous guides to passing the Advanced Placement US History Exam. The essay followed the "free response" format found on the test. (These essays can be found on the World Wide Web site of North Hagerstown High School at

The second project involved "constitutional issues," which coincided with our study of the constitutional convention of 1787. The goal of the student was to use primary and secondary sources to relate the issues faced by the constitution's writers to issues found in contemporary society. One criticism the students received was that they failed to illustrate their theses with documents from the constitutional convention. It is the feedback on the project and the essays that helps the students learn and improve their skills at historical interpretation and writing.

These essays are found on the web at

The third project looked at Abraham Lincoln's moral and political struggle with emancipation of the slaves while reconstructing the American federal union. The students used Horace Greeley's letter to Lincoln and Lincoln's speeches as base sources for their theses. My students received very valuable criticism from a group of AP US History students at Stratford High School in Houston, Texas. These student-critics were writing under the direction of Gordon Utz, a 25-year veteran of the AP US History exam. Our North High student-authors had to really "face the music" when reading the comments of these AP student-experts, but the entire process was a growth experience for both sets of students, and for the educators involved as well. These essays can be located at

Our final set of essays discussed the growth of the Labor Movement of the late 1800s and the reaction of the American public and government to it. This essay series comes closest to replicating the Document-Based Question (DBQ) found on the AP US History Exam. The URL for this set of writings is

The entire process of the Advanced Placement US History Essay Exchange Project can be seen graphically on the North High website at

When a project brings in the involvement of other schools, teachers, students, and scholars, a feeling of collegiality and of coming together in spite of geography can be developed. Projects that strive for this goal tend to make learning exciting and informative for the students and rewarding for the teacher.

Students taking my ninth grade US Government class also used the Internet and web publishing to gain an interdisciplinary understanding of the relationship between American government, the people of the United States, its literature, and related scientific and mathematical concepts. Each unit throughout the year was developed by the ninth grade interdisciplinary team and placed on the Internet in the form of a web page. Schools and scholars from all over the globe were invited to participate in each unit in an on-going project entitled "Prejudice Reduction Through Global Telecommunications. Located at, these cross-disciplinary units included these highlights:

1) Team Pages: Students developed short biographies and posted them to the web site along with team photograph. The biographies were done in cooperative teams with their own division of labor, hence the title: team pages. Students also developed essays on American democracy. Students from Sterling High School in Colorado reviewed and responded to these essays by posting parallel essays to their web site and via e-mail.

2) The Beast Within (Studying The Holocaust): Students visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the White House, and the US Capitol building. They had the opportunity to hear debate on the floor of the US Senate, tour the White House, and care fully examine the exhibits of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. As a response, students posted essays, poetry, artwork, and comments to the website. Students have received a high level of response from scholars and schools in Australia, the United Kingdom and all over the United States.

3) Integrating Science, Social Studies, and Literature: Students viewed samples of science fiction stories dealing with genetic engineering (Star Trek and Jurassic Park). Essays dealing with these topics were posted to the web site. Schools were invited to engage in dialogue on issues relating to bioethics, space exploration, and extraterrestrial intelligence. Students also posted sequels to the story of Jurassic Park.

4) Profiles In Courage: Students investigated scientific and interpersonal aspects of HIV and AIDS. Students also analyzed the views and history of the candidates involved in the 1996 presidential election, and they responded to e-mail that discussed the nature of liberalism and the Conservative Movement in the United States. Students also conducted a public opinion poll dealing with definitions of courage as seen in historical and contemporary political figures. Students tabulated and posted data to the website, and schools were invited to participate in the survey on line.

5) On The Road Again: The Geopolitics of the United States: Students researched the government, history, economy, and environment of the 50 states. Schools from around the nation were invited to share e nvironmental data, views on political issues, and cultural information which would be e-mailed and posted to the web site to form a nationwide database. The Internet was utilized to obtain up-to-date information on each state in conjunction with traditional information sources. Quizzes on the regions of t he United States were posted to the website to act as resources for teachers globally who might want to use them in their own classrooms.

The impact of the Internet on K-12 Social Studies Education is difficult to assess, but there is no dispute that the changes to teaching and learning that are now underway are profound. Moreover, the future of the Internet, with increasing connect speeds and faster computers, will hold additional challenges for educators in all fields and on all levels. It seems that businesses, the government, parents, teachers, and the on-line community has a responsibility to the students of our nation to make access to the Internet universal and inexpensive if the United States is to remain competitive in the Information Age.

Conversely, the needs of educators will also have an impact on the nature of the Internet and its role in education. The World Wide Web needs to be refined before it can be smoothly added to the repetoire of all teachers dealing with a wide variety of student needs. The risks associated with the Internet need to be minimized before it can be justified as a universally visible teaching tool in all of our elementary and secondary schools. Such measures will probably involved some form of central office control resulting in censorship of undesirable Internet content, and while censorship is repugnant in and of itself, it may be a necessary evil to make cyberspace a safe place for students and teachers. Right now, many schools are able to achieve a level of safety through enforcement of a written acceptable use policy (AUP), but it remains tio be seen if solutions to these problems do not move from proactive (AUPs) to reactive (such as placing blocking software on student access Internet accounts).

Social studies educators have an excellent resource and forum when they use the Internet. It takes time and training to bring a teacher, a class, and a school onto the Internet, but once that has been accomplished, it can be rewarding and educational as well as fun. Young people have a natural affinity for computer-based learning, and Social Studies can become a more attractive subject when the Internet is included as a teaching tool. Computer technology will in no way become the only medium for Social Studies instruction, but it can enhance instruction through student publishing, open historical and scholarly discourse, and the rapid acquisition of up-to-date information. As with any source, the validity of the content of internet-based sources will have to be verified. Nevertheless, using the historical and social content on the Internet within the classroom will help generate support for this new and vital technology.

George Cassutto
Teacher of Social Studies
North Hagerstown HS (MD) (no longer in use. Contact:


Chandler, David. Running a perfect website, Que Publishers, Inc, 1994, pp. 40-42.

Crum, John W. AP American history, 4th ed. New York : Prentice Hall, 1994. 293 p.

Kellogg, William O. How to prepare for the advanced placement examination, AP American History, 3rd ed. New York : Barron's Educational Series, 1988. 316 p.

Research and Education Association, The best test preparation for the Advanced Placement Examination In United States History, Jerome McDuffie, Gary Piggrem, and Steven Woodworth, Eds., 1990. 659 p.

Excellent Social Studies/History Web Addresses To Visit:

Washington Social Studies

Tele-Teaching and Tele-Learning

Abraham Lincoln Online

Holocaust Pictures Exhibition

Discovery Channel Online

Social Studies Lesson Plans and Resources

Yahoo - Arts:Humanities:History

Social Studies Sources

Learning Tool - History

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The BIG BOOKMARKS LIST used at the Connected Classroom Conference contains a myriad of Social Studies links.

George Cassutto's Cyberlearning World

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