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WebQuest Sends Students Back in Time

Technology Center

Three middle school teachers in Greece, New York, combined technology, research, and creative writing skills in the Back in Time project in which students imagined themselves at historical events.

Students at a middle school in Greece, N.Y., recently used the Internet to put themselves into the shoes of a Civil War soldier, an astronaut preparing to make the first trip to the moon, and an observer of the Constitutional Convention.

The project, Back in Time -- An Historical Fiction WebQuest, gave eighth graders at Athena Middle School the chance to research historical events using the Internet. They then wrote a short story as if they were a character in that event and created a PowerPoint presentation for their classmates.

Students worked in teams and could pick one of the following five events in which to "participate":

  • The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia
  • The Civil War battle of Gettysburg
  • The Apollo 11 mission to the moon for the first moonwalk
  • Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech
  • A mission with Frederick Douglass to help hide slaves along the Underground Railroad


Using wireless laptop computers that had been lent to the school as part of a demonstration program, students logged on to specific Web sites and read at least five short stories about the event. Each team had to designate team members to fulfill various roles, such as the

  • project director, who typed the final copy of the story and supervised the creation of the PowerPoint presentation;
  • sound technician, who located sounds for the presentation; and
  • graphics coordinator, who found illustrations for the presentation.

The assignment was a collaboration of three teachers: language arts teacher William Excell, social studies teacher David Alma, and school librarian William Haines, who did some of the technical work. The projects are scheduled to be posted on the school's Web site so other teachers can see them, Excell told Education World.

Part of the reason Excell developed the project was to provide students the opportunity to use laptops in conjunction with the development of creative writing and research skills, he told Education World. He also designed the project to help students become more comfortable doing research on the Internet, compiling and utilizing historically accurate information, and creating a multimedia presentation.


Eighth grader Adam, 13, said he learned a lot about the battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War, and the potential consequences for the country through Internet research. His team wrote a journal from the perspective of a soldier at Gettysburg. "I learned how things could have been different if certain things hadn't happened during the Civil War," Adam said.

Another eighth grader, Shannon, 13, said her team chose to write a story about a girl listening to King's "I Have a Dream" speech. "It was really fun," Shannon said. "I thought it was an interesting subject, and we had been learning about it in social studies. We learned what black people were going through at the time and how his speech moved people."

Don Menges, one of the school district's technology integration teachers, said the Back in Time project was one of the best WebQuests he had seen because it integrated skills into the assignment and was functional, concise, and easy to follow. "I think it's wonderful," Menges said. "The kids could do any of this stuff on their own in the library, but the access to information through the Internet is much quicker. And the kids are so motivated to do it."


This project went so well that Excell plans to continue the time-travel theme. He is planning another WebQuest called Back to the Future. That assignment will require students to research a historical figure or event and then make some extrapolations about life 20 years in the future -- such as changes to the political structure or education system.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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