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Journey West With Lewis and Clark

R. J. Peters, whose creation, Lewis and Clark; A WebQuest, won third prize in the fall 1999 MasterSearch lesson-plan contest, offers Education World's readers a description of the WebQuest educational model and tips for incorporating Internet resources into classroom teaching. Included: More than two dozen links to online resources about Lewis and Clark.

"This was by far the best unit I've ever taught," wrote R. J. Peters about Lewis and Clark: A WebQuest, the WebQuest about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery expedition that she created.

"Teaching the Lewis and Clark unit was the first time I was able to motivate every single student to not only participate but also truly care about the quality of the work and at the same time get kids to be fascinated with the journey itself," Peters told Education World. Peters teaches at William R. Lummis Elementary School in the Clark County School District, Las Vegas, Nevada, where she also serves as Webmaster.


Bernie Dodge, professor of educational technology at San Diego State University, and Tom March began developing the WebQuest teaching model in early 1995. On The WebQuest Page Dodge describes a WebQuest as "an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuests are designed to use learners' time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners' thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation."

Learn more about WebQuests! Check out an Education World e-interview with Bernie Dodge.

A WebQuest should not merely send students Web surfing with no clear purpose. It should be organized to make efficient use of students' computer time. For this reason teachers developing a WebQuest first locate and evaluate Internet resources about their subject, then specify the most useful sites in the lesson for students to access.

For students, working on a WebQuest involves using such thinking skills as comparing, classifying, inducing, deducing, analyzing errors, constructing support or proof, abstracting, and analyzing perspectives. In his article WebQuests for Learning: Why WebQuests? Tom March, who now lives in Australia, explains that WebQuests help students learn to work in groups, develop higher-level thinking skills, and develop cooperative-learning strategies.


"Having previously created a pretty poor WebQuest Jamestown," Peters told Education World, "I knew that my first task had to be coming up with an exciting, motivating final project." She explained that the Jamestown final project required "superficial cooperative tasks where students worked in groups but didn't collaborate."

For the Lewis and Clark project, "I wanted something that students would likely all buy into and want to try their best at," she continued. "That's when the idea of the United States Treasury Board's deciding to create a commemorative coin in celebration of the journey" came to her.

The premise of Peters's WebQuest is that the United States Treasury Board has decided to create a coin to commemorate the Corps of Discovery's journey. Students in the class are divided into groups: one group is the Treasury Board, and other groups represent each of the main participants -- Sacagawea, Charbonneau, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Seaman, and Thomas Jefferson -- in the expedition. For the final project, students present their arguments about why their participant should be chosen to represent the journey. The board asks questions and then decides whose picture will appear on the commemorative coin.

"At the end of the WebQuest," Peters told Education World, "I sat back and let students take over the entire final board meeting. Students brought cupcakes, homemade cakes, even pudding that was based upon a recipe of Charbonneau's to persuade the board to select their character to go on the back of the new coin."

"Each presentation lasted approximately three minutes," she explained, "and afterward, the board members were required to ask questions and take notes. I was nearly in tears over how persuasive and well written their essays were to the board members."

"Had I been the one deciding," Peters said, "based upon their presentation I would have selected Seaman [the dog]! However, the board ended up selecting Jefferson. They rightly pointed out that without his vision and leadership, the trip would never have occurred."


Both Dodge and March emphasize that the most important element of a successful WebQuest is the teacher who designs it. Peters told Education World, "I ... have a great love myself of the journey [of Lewis and Clark], and I am sure that my teaching relayed this.

"I ended up showing my students all four hours of Ken Burns's documentary, in parts," Peters told Education World. She said that students usually don't like watching movies or videos in school. "So I was surprised that my ten- and 11-year-old students stated at the end of the documentary that it was great!"

Peters also said that another teacher at her school tried showing the Ken Burns video and gave up after about 20 minutes because the students were bored. "The difference between what he and I did is that I used the WebQuest and had students read Scott O'Dell's Streams to the River, River to the Sea."

Peters also told Education World that during her students' final presentation, "I was most surprised at the depth of their knowledge of the trip (trivia) and the understanding they gained of historical decisions the journey's members made."

"I am sure having them all read Streams to the River, River to the Sea at the same time helped a lot," she explained, "along with my enthusiasm and knowledge. They were fascinated and wanted to discuss the different endings of the video and the book. A number of students on their own bought Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose to learn more."


Education World asked Peters, a doctoral student in educational technology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, for advice to teachers interested in incorporating Internet resources into their classroom teaching.

"For teachers just starting out, I would first find a pre-made Quest and use it in your classroom before you decide to create one," Peters advised. "Realize that WebQuests are not independent projects -- they require as much teaching as any other large scale project."

Peters further recommended to Education World that after students finish working on a pre-made Quest, teachers should evaluate how the project went by asking themselves these questions:

  • Did I have to constantly go back and re-teach concepts that were not specified?
  • Were many of the links dead? Could I contact the authors regarding dead links, and were they able to replace them in a timely fashion?
  • Were students interested?
  • Could I have taught the same content in a faster, more efficient manner?
  • Did the Quest help students learn or reinforce specific, required skills, or was the project an extra thing I had to do?
  • How did the quality of students' work compare to other non-Internet projects the students have done?


Peters constructed her Lewis and Clark WebQuest in a graduate-level class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, taught by Dr. Neil Strudler. "The entire process took approximately 30 hours," she told Education World.

"WebQuests seem to be the hot Internet topic for teachers," Peters continued. "But," she warned, "many of the Quests I see are so poorly written -- unmotivating, [with] unclear teacher instructions, vague, with criteria for evaluation, and little to no structured student collaboration."

Peters emphasized that the final task of the Quest should motivate and engage students. It should be something more than simply making a poster. Final tasks "should be interesting and worth students' time."

For teachers who have tried a pre-made Quest and want to construct their own, Peters recommended doing it through a university class. "At the very least, carefully look over Bernie Dodge's WebQuest page to learn more about how to create one."


For teachers who want to incorporate Internet resources into their teaching, Peters offered these additional suggestions:

  • Break tasks into small, manageable parts.
  • Structure activities so that students work together and are held accountable for their tasks as much as possible.
  • Know what your students can and can't do, and teach accordingly.
  • Don't expect students to "surf" and find anything -- students first need to know how to use search query symbols such as Boolean terms. Then they need to know how to read summaries and scan for appropriate sites. Having students use pre-screened links is a much more efficient way of using the Internet.
"Look into such on-line projects as A Journey North," Peters said. "There are thousands of terrific collaborative projects out there and many of them free, so pick one that fits your curriculum and is applicable to your community and environment."

"Finally," Peters told Education World, "don't expect the Internet to raise student's test scores immediately. It won't. But it might motivate and strengthen your classroom's community and cohesiveness."


  • The Journey of the Corps of Discovery PBS created this site, the mother lode of online information about Lewis and Clark, as a companion to Ken Burns's documentary film. Classroom Resources includes activities and lesson plans.
  • LewisAndClark is a member of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Inc. Site visitors can choose a virtual tour from point to point along the trail or a particular spot to visit. The searchable site includes short excerpts from the diaries of Lewis and Clark as well as sketches and drawings.
  • Lewis and Clark and Us In this article Cullen Murphy, the managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, describes his family's vacation following the trail of Lewis and Clark.
  • Mountain Memories This commercial site, designed to commemorate the upcoming bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery journey highlights attractions, real estate, rafting trips, and other tourist activities along the expedition's route through Idaho, Montana, and Washington. The emphasis is more on current attractions than historical events.
  • Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail This site, prepared by the National Park Service, is packed with information, including a section on Following the Trail Today. It offers extensive links to related sites, including historical organizations and travel information for locations all along the trail.
  • Surfing the Net with Kids At this site, Barbara J. Feldman, a syndicated newspaper columnist, offers short reviews of her choices as the best Lewis and Clark Web sites.
  • The Beads of Lewis and Clark This resource offers a short but interesting discussion of the beads Lewis and Clark took with them and how they used the beads in trading with the Native Americans they encountered.
  • Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery This is the home page of an organization headquartered in Great Falls, Montana. The group provides live reenactments at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center and holds an annual festival.
  • Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Inc. This site includes a detailed history of the Corps of Discovery, with illustrations.
  • Lewis and Clark in Missouri This site has been produced by the state of Missouri for the upcoming Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. There's more information here about the bicentennial than about the historic journey.
  • Fort Clatsop National Memorial This National Park Service site details Fort Clatsop, the spot near the mouth of the Columbia River where the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1805-1806. The various narratives here include lots of quotations from such primary sources as the journals of Lewis and Clark and President Thomas Jefferson's letter of instructions to Captain Meriwether Lewis for undertaking the journey.
  • Brookings Renegades Muzzleloaders Club The members of this club, headquartered in South Dakota, share an interest in the fur trade era before 1840. The group sponsors several educational programs during the year. The site includes links to related sites, particularly Lewis and Clark sites and history sites.
  • Official Site for Astoria and Warrenton, Oregon This Web site highlights two towns at the western end of the Lewis and Clark Trail and includes photos and information about the nearby Fort Clatsop National Memorial.
  • American Treasures of the Library of Congress: The Lewis and Clark Expedition This exhibit includes photographs of maps believed to have been carried on the expedition as well as updated maps that were issued with the final report of the expedition.
  • The National Lewis&Clark Bicentennial Council The Web site of the official group planning the upcoming bicentennial celebration of the Corps of Discovery journey includes a list of present-day historic sites along the route.
  • Bibliography of the Lewis and Clark Expedition This is an extensive bibliography about the Corps of Discovery, compiled by Lance Gillette, of secondary material, including books, journal articles, monographs, dissertations, and Web sites.
  • Historic Steps of Lewis and Clark From USA Weekend Online, this article takes students on a virtual tour, asking questions along the way; when students choose the correct answer, they are rewarded with a link to the next step. At the end of the trail is a list of links to related Web sites.

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Mary Daniels Brown
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Last updated 04/21/2004