How To Use This Site

Teachers and professors can use this web site, including the GIS, the document links, and the suggested lesson plans, as part of their regular instruction of US History throughout the school year. The curriculum units can be adapted for short, 1-day activities, for more in-depth classroom investigations, or for independent student research projects.

The site was designed with high school and undergraduate American History courses in mind. However, it may be adapted for use with both younger and older students. We welcome feedback on uses of the site with any age group - please contact us to let us know how you are using it!

Why GIS maps and docs together?

We believe that this historical census GIS provides an excellent way to help students understand historical contexts of events, and broad patterns of data across place and time. It also can help teachers and students generate discussions and develop questions. However, the GIS is less useful for understanding specific human experiences, motivations, and actions. For those, primary-source documents can help students put a human face on the history they are studying. We believe that integrating these two types of resources provides a powerful combination of information to help students.

Using the maps

The GIS map can be used with an overhead projector to discuss data patterns with a whole class, or by students individually or in small groups at a computer to investigate particular questions.

NOTE: You can customize any map (zoom in, choose a year, select a data variable, etc) and save it, email it, or make it into a hyperlink by using the "Show URL in New Window" button. You can copy and paste this URL into an email, document, or web site of your own, and it will link back to the map as you created it.

We recommend that students be asked to make specific observations from the maps, such as comparing two locations using exact data values, or comparing the same location at different points in time. While the map makes it possible to identify broad and general patterns, students also need to develop the skills of making clear, specific observations and supporting them with evidence.

The maps are also an excellent resource for helping students to generate their own historical questions: why and how did this pattern develop? Students need to learn to separate what they see on the map (specific observations) from what they assume about the places and people there. They can learn to make connections between their observations from the map and their explanations that can be supported by the documents.

Using the documents

With each curriculum unit we provide links to on-line documents that students can use to deepen their understanding of the history being investigated. Most of these are primary-source documents, many from archives such as History Matters, American Memory, or the Gilder-Lehman collection. Some are secondary documents to help put the data in a larger historical context. The documents include photographs and other images, in addition to written texts.

We recommend that students use the documents to find specific evidence to support their historical interpretations. This requires them to copy some portion of the document and explain it's importance in their own words. Here are some suggested ways to enable students to do this:

NOTE: The National Archives and Records Adminsitration has a series of good worksheets to help students do this in the Teaching with Documents page (see the links under "Analysis Worksheets")

Teaching tips

What should students turn in? The intent of this site is for students to do an investigation, and turn in a project that states their questions, their conclusions, and the evidence they found to support their claims. This means they should copy information and/or images from the maps and the documents, and organize them to make sense of their question. They may turn in a word-processing file, a slide show presentation, or any other document that shows their claims and their evidence. They can copy and paste pictures of their maps, words from the documents, and pictures of photos or other images.

Ideas about assessment: Teachers need to decide how they will grade these projects, and communicate their expectations to students at the beginning. We recommend using a rubric that describes the factual knowledge students are expected to learn, as well as the research and communication skills students are expected to develop. We believe that computer skills (such as navigating web sites, creating presentations, etc) should be a very minor part of the grades for these projects. Instead we suggest that students should be graded on the quality of their historical argument and historical understandings. The curriculum units are not designed for the purpose of teaching computer skills.

We have used this Data Gathering Worksheet for students to copy and paste their maps and document excerpts as evidence. It is a Microsoft Word template file, and so can only be downloaded if you are using Internet Explorer. We continue to experiment with other simple ways for students to capture their work in the GIS. If you have a suggestion, please contact us!

We the People