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Author: Kathleen Ferenz
Title: The Bay Area National Digital Library Project and the Library of Congress: Enriching History Classes with Riches of the Internet
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
April 1999

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Source: The Bay Area National Digital Library Project and the Library of Congress: Enriching History Classes with Riches of the Internet
Kathleen Ferenz

vol. 2, no. 1, April 1999
Article Type: Article
PDF: Download full PDF [36kb ]

The Bay Area National Digital Library Project and the Library of Congress: Enriching History Classes with Riches of the Internet

Kathleen Ferenz

The Bay Area National Digital Library Project (BANDL), uses the Internet to provide students with a vast repository of high quality digital primary sources of information on American history and culture. Closely associated with a K-12 public school outreach project of the Library of Congress, BANDL grew out of two concerns schools face at this threshold of the Information Age:

This paper discusses the experiences of the three schools involved in the project, and it explores some of the early findings of the BANDL project as they relate to initial research concerns. The schools have begun to develop inquiry curricula that teach humanities lessons by utilizing digitized the primary source documents from the Library of Congress' American Memory Collection.

The BANDL project has prompted Fremont High School to seek a digital age librarian. Garden Village Elementary and Ben Franklin Intermediate are working together to develop and implement new articulated K-12 curriculum standards and to seek staff development that will equip teachers to handle inquiry curriculum design. Drawing on the experience of these BANDL schools, author Kathleen Ferenz suggests how other schools that are new to technology can not only adopt Information Age technical tools such as the Internet, e-mail, and listserves, but also use these tools to transform the process of teaching and learning.


When I was working as a middle school teacher just a year ago, if I had wanted to introduce my students to the riches of the Library of Congress, I would have had to travel to Washington D.C. and apply for what the Library calls a "reader's card." Today, any citizen can view over a half million digital objects in the Library's American Memory historical collections via their web site. In theory at least, students and teachers can browse through George Washington's papers or Walt Whitman's hospital notebooks, listen to recordings from ethnic Northern California communities of the 1930's, sift through Matthew Brady's Civil War photos, or view films of San Francisco between 1897-1916.

But in reality, even though more 78 percent of all US public schools and 27 percent of all classrooms now have Internet access, few teachers use these resources. As schools become digital, they often find that the challenge isn't access to information, it is what to do with it all! Ultimately, all kindergarten through 12th grade schools will need to ask: Who can manage digital-age information? What role should the librarian play? How can teachers use information technologies effectively? And finally, how will all this result in meaningful learning for our students?

The Bay Area National Digital Library project (BANDL) seeks to answer those questions while posing two others for teachers of humanities:

  • How can we best harness the power of new and emerging information technologies in support of learning?
  • How can schools use curricular and pedagogical changes to transform core relationships between teachers, and the ideas that connect them?

.02 Fremont High: A typical California school with no librarian

Like many public schools in California, Sunnyvale's Fremont High does not have a librarian. That position was eliminated in 1981 due to declining enrollment and Proposition 13, which drastically reduced California tax revenue to schools. But library assistance will be essential as Fremont begins to work with the Bay Area National Digital Library, a project that is creating inquiry-based lessons that draw on the resources of the Library of Congress. To ensure that BANDL has the necessary library support, Fremont plans to ask a full-time teacher to enroll in evening and weekend classes at one of the nation's few remaining library science programs still offered at San Jose State University. Fremont is having to "grow its own" in part because California has so few qualified librarians. Although about half of the state's schools have access to the Internet, California ranks last among the 50 states in the number of students per librarian. Positions for librarians have been scarce here for over a decade, and many candidates have moved away or found new careers.

Moreover, across the nation, the job of school librarian has changed. Today, the school librarian needs teaching and technological skills because the library has changed from a room full of books into a central network that reaches beyond physical boundaries to connect classrooms and students working in their homes to resources across the nation.

To support BANDL at Fremont, the librarian will need to be an information literacy/media specialist who can actively collaborate in curriculum design, provide technology training and coaching to teachers, and redesign the school library to accommodate computerized resources. "We need to reestablish the role of the librarian," says Fremont High principal Pete Tuana. "We need to grow into it. If we don't do a good job of this we will absolutely short-change the school." If the job is done right, however, Fremont and its students stand to reap benefits that reach far beyond the library into the school's career academies and other coursework.

.03 Connecting digital age library science and school reform

Fremont High and the Fremont Union High School District - a district that has been without school-based librarians for 18 years - see the expense of hiring a digital-age librarian as part of long-term commitment to school reform. Fremont High is a Hewlett-Annenberg Leadership school and part of the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative(BASRC), the Northern California affiliate of the Annenberg Challenge, a nationwide effort to revitalize public schools. [NOTE: The Annenberg Challenge began in 1993, when former US ambassador Walter Annenberg announced the largest private gift to public education in US history, half a billion dollars in matching grants for public schools. The Annenberg Challenge is a public-private partnership that now serves over 1.3 million urban and rural students in over 30 states. ]

Fremont is participating in BANDL along with two other BASRC schools: Garden Village Elementary and Ben Franklin Intermediate, both in Daly City. At all three schools, the goal is to teach social studies by connecting students' personal lives to the "big ideas" of history. Using Internet-based collections -specifically the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress and the California Heritage Collection of University of California Berkeley - teachers are coaching students to "be historians." Students must find and analytically evaluate primary and secondary sources, present information in ways appropriate to their audiences, and support their conclusions and ideas.

.04 What research has discovered about technology in the classroom

In traditional classrooms, textbooks and other secondary resources comprise the bulk of all lessons. Teachers and students use primary source materials mostly for show and tell. Similarly, in traditional curricula, teachers use information technology primarily for enrichment or to publish student reports. But, as a recent study has shown in Edweek Magazine, that's not an effective way to use technology -or to teach students.

Used correctly, technology can serve as a catalyst that improves teaching not only in classes that use technology, but teaching throughout the school. What has now been shown to be most effective is teaching that engages student interest and builds higher-level thinking skills. This was shown empirically through recent research commissioned by Edweek Magazine, which asked the Educational Testing Service to analyze National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data. They were looking for evidence of whether the use of computers in schools helped or hindered students' achievement. Edweek looked at at the 1996 NAEP data on a state-by-state basis and correlated computer use with academic scores. Research director Harold Wenglinsky found that computers can both help and hinder: Used in the right way, technology can stimulate better teaching and learning. Used in the wrong way, it can backfire.

Specifically, Wenglinsky found that eighth graders who used computers mostly for "simulations and applications" performed better - two fifths of a grade level better - on NAEP than students who did not. When teachers gave students "drill and practice" work to do on their computers, they performed half a grade level worse on the NAEP. Similarly, fourth graders whose teachers used computer mainly for "math and learning games" performed better than students whose teachers did not. Moreover, students whose teachers had received professional development classes in computers outperformed students whose teachers did not receive that instruction.

BANDL draws on all these lessons, by fully integrating technology into the teaching and learning of humanities in ways that interest and motivate the students, by pushing students to develop higher level literacy skills, and by providing on-going professional development opportunities for teachers.

.05 Curricular considerations

To develop BANDL curricula, teachers must fundamentally change three facets of their teaching: curriculum, assessment, and instruction. That means that classroom lessons must encourage students to apply knowledge in a meaningful and interesting way, and lessons must be designed to lead to the learning results expected from students. Those results must, in turn, be tied to academic standards, to the essential questions the unit of study is trying to answer, and to whatever curricular big ideas might be worthy of understanding. Finally, teachers need to devise assessments that will clearly show how well students understand the material. Considering this complex interplay of standards, assessment, and curriculum design, it should come as no surprise that two BANDL schools are involved in reform efforts that focus on those areas.

BANDL's curriculum design is rooted in principles developed by noted authors Wiggins & McTighe, who advocate planning the curriculum "backwards." Wiggins and McTighe say teachers should wait to develop specific lessons and select teaching strategies "until the last phase of the process." Specifically, they write, "Until we have specified the targeted understanding, the assessment tasks implied, and the enabling knowledge and skill necessary to master such tasks and display understandings, a discussion of learning activities and teaching strategy is premature. Teaching 'moves' must be made in light of our goals and what they require.."

Drawing on those backward-to-forward design principles, BANDL teachers approach the development of their lessons in three separate steps. The first step is for teachers to determine what results they expect from students: to define the academic standards, verbalize what "essential questions" the unit of study will try to answer, and define what "big ideas" are "worthy of understanding." The next step is to devise on-going assessments that can be integrating into the teaching and into lesson design by asking, "What evidence will we have of how well students understand the material?" The final step is to design classroom activities and learning experiences that will encourage students apply their knowledge in a meaningful and interesting way. This requires the teacher to undertake a considerable amount of planning, asking, "What activities and resources will students need to make meaning and to understand what is being taught?" There's an adage among technology educators that sums all this up: "It's not about the technology, but more about the learning."

To effectively integrate technology into learning - into curriculum, assessment, and instruction - teachers and students will not only need the assistance of a digital-age librarian and an up-to-date school library, they will also need to have a solid grasp of their subject matter and an understanding of how to teach key information literacy skills. Information technology, guided by a certified professional school librarian, can help teachers to gain skills in both areas.

.06 The challenge at the three schools

Each of the three schools participating in the Bay Area National Digital Library project - Fremont High, Garden Village Elementary, and Ben Franklin Intermediate school - has a BANDL curriculum and technology design team comprised of several teachers, an administrator, and at the middle school there is a librarian/media specialist on the team. These resources are written into the schools' grants, which are underwritten by a two-year grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The schools' teams develop curriculum and pedagogy designed to draw on new and emerging technology resources - and importantly, to also transform core relationships between teachers and students.

Teams of teachers at all three schools have begun to work with the new models of humanities curriculum design and technology integration. They collaborate with each other and receive on-site support from the BANDL coaching staff. Since distance and time are a factor in providing on-demand support for participants, the BANDL coaching staff moderates a web site for participants as well as an Internet-based conversational forum called a "listserv." To jump start the project, team members from all three schools met at a residential summer institute in August 1998. The week-long institute was designed to promote collaboration among schools, to develop an understanding of inquiry curriculum design, to sharpen technology skills, and learn what was available in web based primary resources.

BANDL teams at Garden Village Elementary and Ben Franklin Intermediate, which are located across the street from each other, are designing inquiry-based, technology-rich lessons based on the new standards and assessments. The two schools are now in the second year of a coordinated four-year school reform project. Teachers are designing standards and assessments and fully articulating them across all grade levels, K-8.

This year, at Garden Village elementary, teachers in two upper-grade classrooms - one combined fourth and fifth grade class and a separate sixth grade class - have redesigned the way they teach social studies. Students are creating a history museum that will demonstrate what they have learned about the past and show it is connected to their own lives. In creating the museum, students learn to use primary and secondary sources as well as to analyze and organize what they have learned. In the late spring, when these students serve as docents to other students who tour their classroom museums, they will also be learning to present what they have learned.

At Ben Franklin, interdisciplinary teams of eighth-grade Language Arts and Social Studies teachers began this year with a unit based on their social studies standard. The unit, entitled "What's Worth Fighting For?," first steeped students in the ideas of the American Revolution. Students then analyzed digitized copies of the Declaration of Independence, early papers from the Constitutional Convention, and other on-line sources. Although the unit was successful, the school faced multiple hurdles in implementing it. Even though Ben Franklin does have a full-time librarian and part-time support staff, the library's print collection is not automated. It also lacks the depth needed to support full-scale inquiries on many topics. To help make up for this, the librarian has received several grants to upgrade information technology in the library. She also collaborates in planning and delivering lessons and teaches information literacy skills to students and staff.

Fremont High has also worked intensively on planning. After attending a summer institute with the two other BANDL schools, team members developed a year-long plan that included coaching, time for classroom lesson design, and an outreach plan to involve the rest of the school. Veteran teacher Grace Voss, who had never used e-mail prior to the summer institute, surprised her colleagues by opening the school year with a literary unit based on the civil war era novel "Killer Angels." Voss' students successfully developed inquiry skills by locating primary resources that could verify the accuracy of events in the novel.

.07 Lessons for other digital age history teachers

Drawing on what these three schools have learned, it's clear to me, as director and coach of BANDL, that teachers will need to grapple with two new skills before they and their students can benefit from lessons developed around primary resources like those of the American Memory collection: First, teachers will need to learn to find appropriate technological resources for their classrooms. Second, they will need to develop curriculum that successfully draws on those resources. To learn both skills, they will need timely support in the classroom, collaboration at multiple levels, and above all, time.

All three BANDL schools receive on-site support from the BANDL coaching staff. In each school, a classroom curriculum/technology coach and a librarian consultant meet regularly with teachers and school library staff, and the coach maintains close contact with each school's administrators and district officials. As mentioned earlier, the BANDL coaching staff also provides a web site for participants and moderates the BANDL listserv.

BANDL has also established the Bay Area National Digital Library Librarians Network ( This is an additional outreach and staff development opportunities for 16 school librarians who teach in Bay Area member schools. In, librarian professionals and the BANDL coach are working together to take on new roles associated with both emerging information technologies, and whole school change efforts. This group is supported by a moderated listserv and meets for at least four full workdays this year. Each librarian decided to study the situation at their school and their role in relation to the school reform efforts their schools are engaged in.

.08 Conclusion

The BANDL project has taught its schools a number of lessons that are applicable to all K-12 schools as they move the teaching and learning of humanities into the digital age:

  1. Upgrade your library and invest in on-going training for your librarian and support staff. The librarian should be a skillful user of information technologies, should teach information literacy to both teachers and students, and should provide leadership for school-site curriculum development.
  2. Provide opportunities for your librarian and teachers to collaborate on curriculum design. Inquiry curriculum demands that humanities teachers have a solid grasp of the subject students will investigate. The librarian can help teachers to upgrade both their subject knowledge and their information literacy skills.
  3. Start small and devise a plan to grow out to the rest of your school. When shifting away from traditional curriculum and staff development, a school is implementing a change of norms and culture. By growing skills in-house, a school will create a sustainable change.
  4. Support your staff by embedding curriculum design, technology training, and related staff development opportunities into school operations. Teachers need coaching and time for peer collaboration as well as developed strategies for using primary source materials well.
  5. Allow more time for planning and management. BANDL teachers say that time is the factor most critical for implementing a shift from traditional to inquiry-based curriculum. Each BANDL school has embedded collaborative planning blocks into their master schedule, and coaching time occurs in addition to regular planning time with peers.

Lessons learned from this first year will be applied to the second phase of the project, BANDL II. The project will accept 15 new schools in Spring 1999. This new group will document how lessons learned from three schools can be scaled up to include more schools and applied to diverse school settings.



Bay Area National Digital Library Project(BANDL)

The Bay Area School Reform Collaborative

American Memory Collections, The Library of Congress

National Archives and Records Administration

California Heritage Collection, The Bancroft Library http://sunsite.Berkeley.EDU/CalHeritage/

Education Week on the Web. The Link to Higher Test Scores by Jeff Archer

The Insider's Guide for tips n preparing your Digital High School Application

Print materials:

American Library Association. Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning. American Library Association.1998.

International Society for Technology in Education. National Education Technology Standards for Students. Eugene, Oregon: International Society for Technology(ISTE). June 1998.

Loertscher, David V. Reinvent Your School's Library in the Age of Technology, A guide for Principals & Superintendents. San Jose: Hi Willow Research and Publishing. 1998.

Loertscher, David V. From Library Skills to Information Literacy - A handbook for the 21st Century, California School Library Association. San Jose: Hi Willow Research and Publishing.1997.

Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development(ASCD). 1998.

Kathleen Ferenz, BANDL director and coach, is a visiting educator with the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative. She taught middle school for over 10 years and is a lecturer in the Instructional Technologies Department at San Francisco State University. She is also a 1997 American Memory Fellow. She can be contacted at: