EdTech 541 Content Area Activity2

Reflection: Relative Advantage of Using Technology Across Content Areas

As an elementary teacher I teach all content areas. With the increasing pressures of high-stakes testing, elementary teachers have to “pick and choose” what to teach so the students will perform on year-end tests. Some students are taking year-end tests as early as February and March because of computer and bandwidth issues in the schools. Sadly this means that teachers might only focus on the content that will be tested. The only way to truly add in those other content areas is to integrate content areas together.

My original content area is language arts/reading/writing instruction for third to fifth grades. Although my content area is a vital one, it is also important for me to incorporate some of the “forgotten” or “lost” content areas into my focus area. For these three content areas I chose to focus on the theme of Life on the Oregon Trail for 4th grade. This is a fun unit that children enjoy and can easily encompass all content areas with a little research. While students could possibly learn about the history of life on the Oregon Trail, it is likely to be uninteresting if the content is simply read and memorized for later regurgitation.

Using technology can definitely be a bonus for including various content areas. For language arts and social studies standards, students are required to recognize and use primary source documents. This is becoming increasingly exciting as so many primary source documents have been digitized and is now viewable with a few clicks on the computer. It is very exciting to have students examine hand-written journals of pioneers while comparing and contrasting with a transcribed version.   Students will not only get caught up in the life of those they are reading about, but they can also learn what kinds of details to include in their own diaries.

There are so many amazing options and advantages of using technology across multiple content areas. It truly is the simplest way to integrate and cover multiple content areas. The textbook discusses this topic for over 100 pages. I chose just a few of my favorites for the purpose of this reflection:

 1. Virtual Field Trips. According to Roblyer & Doering (2013), “Field trips have been used as a context for teaching and learning in the social studies ever since the Internet entered the
K–12 classroom.” The authors continue, “Virtual field trips can provide students the opportunity to construct knowledge actively through interacting with historic places, experts, and artifacts. When integrated into the curriculum and not used as rewards, field trips can be among the most valuable and effective modes of history teaching, especially local historic sites.

2. The opportunity for students to compare and contrast the past with the present.

3. Digital Storytelling. Roblyer & Doering (2013) describe digital storytelling as “the process of using images and audio to tell the stories of lives, events, or eras. In this technique, students use personal narrative to explore community­based history, politics, economics, and geography. These projects offer students the opportunity to make their own lives a part of their scholarly research” (pg. 341).

4. Students with access to the Internet and technology have the most up-to-date information that generations before have not been able to find so easily.

Students in this information-age are truly the luckiest generation. While many people argue that technology is “evil,” knowing where to find appropriate information is truly the key. There are so many options for integrating multiple content areas into one lesson and technology has the ability to make it easier.

Content Area Choice 2: Primary Source Documents

Over the course of these three Content Area Choice lessons, I am combining my content area of third to fifth grade language arts/writing with other curriculum content areas. As per fourth grade Common Core State Standards, students study the Oregon Trail extensively. All three of my Content Area Choice activities revolve around a common theme of life on the Oregon Trail. I will connect my current content area focus of language arts,writing, reading (fluency and comprehension) with social studies.

Content Area Choice #2: Social Studies Learning Activities includes two parts. Part one will address the need to expose students of all ages to primary source documents and how they differ from secondary source documents through exploration of a variety or images, documents, diaries, maps, etc. Part two of this lesson will involve an activity using Google Maps and linking to information found in the primary source documents.

In regards to Social Studies, historical document analysis, and reading comprehension, Massey & Heafner (2004) offer teachers three suggestions to help students better comprehend what they read:

  • Pre-Reading: Establish a purpose for reading and make as many connections to background knowledge as possible.
  • During Reading: Use graphic organizer to understand the arrangement of the texts. Attempt to make connections to multiple texts. Compare and contrast various points of view.
  • Post-Reading: Monitor comprehension through questioning. Synthesize information across a variety of texts.

As a teacher prepares to instruct students with unfamiliar texts and primary source documents, it is important to keep the above reading strategies in mind to help achieve the best possible chance for success.

Part 1: Primary Source Documents

Learner Description: Learners are 4th grade students learning about the Oregon Trail through a variety of daily activities.

Teacher Note: ALL images are hotlinked and will take you directly to the website reference.

Activity 1: Introduction to Primary Source Documents: What are they?

During the next several activities, students will be investigating primary source documents. Before beginning however, it is important to DEFINE what a primary source document is.

    • Students will understand that a firsthand account (primary source) is told from the perspective of a person who participated in the event.
    • Students will understand that a secondhand account (secondary source) is told from the perspective of someone who was not a participant in the event.
    • Students will understand the point of view (firsthand or secondhand) of an account affects the focus and information told in the event.
    • Students will understand that there will be similarities and differences between firsthand and secondhand accounts of the same event.
Activity Directions

Teacher will define and discuss the definition of “Primary Source” and “Secondary Source.”

      • Set up a dramatic situation in the classroom (for example, another teacher bursts into the room and does a spontaneous crazy dance and then walks out without an explanation).
      • The next day, the teacher will ask every student to write a description of the dramatic event that happened the previous day. They need to describe carefully what they saw and heard.
      • Read a variety of personal accounts (“primary sources”) and how they may differ from student to student. Was there more than one version of the story?
      • Think of situations from the students’ lives where there might be more than one version of the same event – for example, if you have a fight with one of your brothers or sisters, do you both tell your mom the same story?
      • Have a class discussion about the information in the social studies texts or newspapers. Is it information from one person’s point of view? How could we determine if it is a primary source?
      • With guidance from the teacher, guide students in creating a list of ways to determine if a document is a primary source document (the date, the author, etc.).
      • Remind students of the E-book diary activity. Will each student’s story be the same as their peers? Will the event be generally the same? What kinds of details will be different?
      • Students will write in their own Oregon Trail notebooks a working definition of “primary source documents.”

Activity 2: Primary Source Document Investigation of Oregon Trail Landmarks

On the Oregon Trail Website, there are 30 Historical Sites listed. Divide the class into 6 groups. Each group will be responsible for exploring 5 historical sites. Each site includes a photo or sketch of an event, a brief synopsis of an event that happened there and a first-person diary account about that location.

      • Students will practice determining primary source information (the diary quotes) from each site and compare to the secondary source information (the broad description or summary of the site).
Activity Directions
      • Each group will visit their assigned historical sites on the website.
      • The students will highlight, copy, and paste the primary source information (from each site) to a Google document for their group. Students will use this information later in the activities.
      • Students should identify the name of the historical site followed by the copied and pasted information. The teacher can model how this is to be done via the SmartBoard. Example: St. Louis, Missouri. Emigrant/author Francis Parkman:”The boat struggled upward for 7 or 8 days against the rapid current of the Missouri, grating upon snags and hanging for two or three hours at a time upon sand bars. In five or six days we began to see signs of the great western movement that then was taking place.”
Screenshot of the St.Louis historical site retrieved from http://www.america101.us/trail/Stlouis.html

Lesson Extension

Compare handwritten journal entries with transcribed (typed for ease of reading) journal entries. Both journals are considered primary source information. Have a class discussion why. Is the information the same whether it is typed or handwritten? Is the handwriting more valuable than the typed words? Do they tell the same story of the events that happened? Which version do the students prefer?

Activity 3: Diary Compare and Contrast

As pointed out in the introduction/definition Activity #1, many people can experience the same event and have entirely different stories to tell. Catherine Sager and Harriett Scott Palmer are two women that traveled the same Oregon Trail. While they had many similar experiences, their diaries are very different.

      • Students will read through portions of the diaries and compare and contrast the differing views from these two primary source documents.
Activity Directions
      • Students will be divided into two groups.
      • Group one will peruse the diary of Catherine Sager (Pringle) HERE.
      • Group two will peruse the diary of Harriett Scott Palmer HERE.
      • The teacher will display a large Venn Diagram on the SmartBoard. Each group will present some findings from their reading about each pioneer. They will list the differences and commonalities in the Venn Diagram. Students will record the same Venn diagram information in their individual Oregon Trail notebooks.

Activity 4: Stories through Primary Source photos

According to Smithsonian National Museum of American History in conjunction with Thinkfinity by Verizon, “Photographs provide us with images of past events. Today, historians study the content and the meaning of these
visual images to locate information about a particular topic, time, or event. Photographs can convey countless details
about life. For historians and for us, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” While not a full source of information, often a photograph can tell a story that hasn’t been recorded.

        • Students will examine various websites with primary source photographs and answer questions to create a possible story for that photo.
Activity Directions

The teacher will display the following images (one at a time) on the SmartBoard. Each image can be access through direct link (provided) or downloading and printing for individual work. Students will examine each photo then answer a series of questions that may help them formulate the possible story behind the photo. This portion may be modified at the direction of the teacher based on the time constraints and needs/dynamics of the students in the classroom.

Either as a group discussion, in small groups, or independently, students will examine the photos carefully then answer the following questions about each photo in their Oregon Trail Notebooks:

        • What is happening in the photograph?
        • Make a list of any people in the photograph.
        • Make a list of any objects in the photograph.
        • Make a list of any animals in the photograph.
        • What time of year is pictured? Time of day?
        • Where do you think this photograph was taken?
        • Who do you think took this photo and why?
        • Write one paragraph about what you think is happening based on the clues in the photo.
          • Fort Laramie (Fort William) from an 1837 sketch by Alfred Jacob Miller
          • The Wagon Accident
          • Oregon Trail Ferry
          • A Pioneer Family


          • Computer or tablet
          • Oregon Trail Notebooks
          • Venn Diagram included in the Oregon Trail Notebook
          • Questions for photo questioning included in the Oregon Trail Notebook
          • Copies of the photos if necessary

Part 2: Maps as Primary Sources

Google Map Activity

Visit HistoryGlobe.com. Show the 1843 map of the Oregon Trail and the modern map. How are they different? How are they the same?
Modern Map

1843 Map
For the pioneers, landmarks were an important part of their journey. Ask students why landmarks might be helpful to the pioneers? Perhaps it is because it helps them to know where they are, how far they have come and how far they still have to go?

In this activity students will be using the landmark photos found on HistoryGlobe.com and copying them to their own map of the Oregon Trail. This activity may be a bit more challenging for some students; consider pairing students together if necessary.

          • Students will create an interactive map with either primary or secondary source photos/sketches.
          • Students will learn how to copy an image and link into their own map.

In this Google Map activity, students will be following the links on HistoryGlobe.com beginning on the “Trail Tour” button. This activity will be easier if the students have three tabs open on their browser. One tab for the HistoryGlobe Trail Tour website, one tab for the HistoryGlobe modern map, and the third for the Google Map.

trail tour button

Activity Directions
          • Students will go to My Maps powered by Google and “Create a new map.” My Maps requires students to either log in to their own Google account or a class account set up previously. Teacher Note: Consider projecting the instructions onto the SmartBoard for easy reference.
          • Students need to rename their map to: Oregon Trail Landmarks.
          • The first stop on the HistoryGlobe.com’s trail tour is Independence, Missouri. Students should either navigate to Independence, Missouri on the map or type in “Independence, Missouri” into the search bar and press enter. See screenshot below. Keep this tab open because students will come back to it in a minute.
          • Locate the Marker Tool. Add a marker (it will show up as red) to the map on Independence, Missouri.
          • Go back to the HistoryGlobe tour on the Independence, MO page. Right click on the image and choose “Copy Image Location.”
          • Rename the “Point” to Independence, Missouri. Click on the camera icon (as shown in the screenshot below).
          • Follow the directions on the screenshot below. Be sure to SAVE at the end of this step!
          • The image is now linked on the map!
          • Repeat all the steps with the next stop on the Trail Tour at HistoryGlobe.com
          • At the end of this activity, students will have multiple red “markers” on their interactive maps. Each red marker is now linked to a photo/sketch.

            English Language Arts Standards – Writing – Grade 4

            Text Types and Purposes


            Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.


            Use a variety of transitional words and phrases to manage the sequence of events.

            Research to Build and Present Knowledge


            Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.


            Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

            Social Studies Standards Grade 4

            Standard 2.1 Students will understand how Utah’s history has been shaped by many diverse people, events, and ideas.

            a. Chart the routes that diverse cultural groups took from their places of origin to Utah, using maps and other resources.

            b. Explore points of view about life in Utah from a variety of cultural groups using primary source documents.

            c. Explore cultural influences from various groups found in Utah today (e.g. food, music, religion, dress, festivals).

            e. Explain the importance of preserving cultural prehistory and history, including archaeological sites and other historic sites and artifacts.


            Engaging students with primary sources. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://historyexplorer.si.edu/PrimarySources.pdf

            English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature » Grade 4. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/4/

            Harriet Scott Palmer on Crossing the Great Plains – American Memory Timeline- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/expref/oregtral/crossing.html

            Massey, D., & Heafner, T. (2004). Promoting reading comprehension in social studies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 26-40. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.ed.sc.edu/raisse/pdf/SocialStudiesArticles/PromotingReadingComprehensioninSocia Studies.pdf

            Pringle, C. (2001). Across the plains in 1844. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/resources/archives/two/sager1.htm

            Roblyer, M.D., & Doering, A.H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (6th ed.). [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

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2 thoughts on “EdTech 541 Content Area Activity2

  1. Jen,
    I definitely understand the difficulty of having social studies be a “lost” content area when it comes to technology usage, but I like you many ideas of enhancing the instruction! I chose social studies as my first project because I thought it was so interesting being able to search and use primary sources in that way, while still using 21st century skills. It is so important to illustrate to educators that there are so many resources to use and incorporate into social studies instruction.


  2. Kaelyn B says:

    Great post! I can’t believe I did not mention digital primary sources in my blog post! Unfortunately, my high school students don’t always find the handwritten letters as exciting. But I’ll keep working on them!


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