Why did I think that a digital learning library would be better than a textbook?

This past week I was helping my 4th grade daughter with her social studies homework  and I noticed that her textbook, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill textbook, North Carolina, was published in 2003. She was working on Chapter 11 which covers the state, local and national governments. Now, it doesn’t matter much that the general and historic information is from 2003, but the book shows photos of the then senators, Elizabeth Dole and John Edwards. The publishers are probably happy when people like Donnie Harrison, Wake County Sheriff (his photo is in the book as well), are re-elected. It really got to me that one of the mini activities was to have the students read a pie graph showing “Where Each State Tax Dollar Goes”, from 2001.

So, what would it be like for a teacher to not pick up books from the book room at the beginning of the year? What if he/she just said, “I’m going to use the book as a guide and use current resources and tools to wing it”? It may be liberating. It will likely be difficult because ‘winging it’ will require providing students with access to technology and the web.

Fortunately (so I thought), a couple of days after our homework session I noticed through eSchoolNews that Pennsylvannia had started a Digital Learning Library. I searched in the 4th grade curriculum for activities/resources on government. I was a bit dissapointed to find the following:

  • A link to an assignment where students create a mobile showing the 3 branches of government using paper, yarn and colored pencils.

Click the link at the bottom of each page

While these materials are linked to the state standards and benchmarks and they are easily accessible, they are very similar to what the text offers. The information is dated and, in terms of thinking skills, these are low level thinking skills. It appears to be more of the same.

I can see that it is going to be some serious work to provide students with meaningful learning experiences without using the textbook. What about these options.

  • Create a Resource on Local, State and National Governments for the PublicTake the structure of the textbook and the digital library resources and have the students create a wiki that can be viewed/edited by the rest of the world. This would guarantee that the information would be current.


  • Covering the Primary Elections – At the time of the unit there were primary elections going on in North Carolina. What if the students embarked on a project to cover the primaries with a focus on local, state and federal governments? The early voting polls were open for 10 days and the site was very close to school. What if the kids went and taped interviewed of volunteers, voters and candidates during this election period? The audio or video clips could then be edited and compiled to share with other 4th grade students around the world. The students could have researched the candidates, just like voters did, to learn more about the issues.
  • Analyzing State Budget Figures – Turns out that the it’s a bit more difficult than I thought to find out details on current state of North Carolina government budget figures. Maybe that is a good thing. With help, the students could locate the information, compile it into a spreadsheet and then present it in the same type of pie chart that the book uses.
  • Web Resources – Look for links to news reports, videos and other media that relates to the topic.

If I was a 4th grader, I know which I would prefer. Too bad that the teachers and the students don’t have the tools to provide these types of learning experiences on a daily basis.


3 thoughts on “Why did I think that a digital learning library would be better than a textbook?

  1. Reading your post got me thinking about how it’s not only about getting students to use technology by clicking on links to do the same things that they would be doing in textbooks/ worksheets, (even though the info is up to date) and thinking ‘Im doing a great cutting edge job with digital tools!

    …but using technology to anchor meaningful, creative and currently ‘real’ projects which can be co-authored, shared and built upon our students for an authentic audience in the public domain of our digital community.

    I know that as a 4th grader I would definitely feel empowered!

  2. Maxine, thanks for the comment. I like the idea of “using technology to anchor…”. Technology is now a given, it’s how we structure the learning that is the new paradigm.

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