Using Webquests in the Social Studies and History Classroom
Webquests are a great way to engage your students in some kind of authentic learning. Webquests can take on a lot of forms, but at their core they're either inquiry based, project based, or problem based learning.
In social studies classrooms, this can be a great way to take content that may seem unimportant or uninteresting and make it much more compelling. Writing an outline about the Civil War might be boring; reading the diary of a battlefield nurse and then producing a documentary about her might not be. Webquests harness the availability of resources on the Internet to challenge students with these inquiry, project, or problem based tasks.
What Are Webquests?
Let's start with a brief explanation of what webquests are. They are an instructional framework for setting up a classroom lesson using the Internet. They were designed in the 1990's by Bernie Dodge, and they're still quite popular because of their simplicity.
A webquest has a few parts - an intro, a task, a process, an evaluation, and a conclusion.
- The introduction is like a hook, pulling the students in with some interesting fact, scenario, or question.
- The task is perhaps the most important part. This defines what the students will do. A good webquest needs a good inquiry, problem, or project based task.
- The process lays out how students are going to accomplish this task. This will also provide them with a set of online resources (i.e. websites, videos, web apps) that they'll need to complete their task.
- The evaluation tells students how they will be assessed. It's a rubric.
- The conclusion closes the activity but suggests other ways that students can continue to learn about the topic at hand.
If you need more background on what webquests are, you can consult this Yahoo article.
So How Do Webquests Fit Into Social Studies Classrooms?
History and social studies teachers have a lot of leeway when it comes to incorporating projets into their classes. If a teacher has access to a computer for his or her students, then webquests are a perfect way to do this.
First, you need to identify what it is you want your students to learn. Then, you need to determine what task your students are going to complete, and how the completion of that task will demonstrate their learning. Finally, you need to figure out the nuts and bolts of how they're going to do it - the process.
For example, in this Holocaust webquest, students need to posit a counterfactual (a "what if") about the Holocaust and then write an imaginary newspaper story of their version of history. The task is a somewhat project based and somewhat inquiry based. It's authentic, and it deals with an interesting topic.
To complete the task, students will need to learn a great deal about the Holocaust. What happened? How are events and people related, such that if one thing changes how are other people impacted? These are the kinds of complex questions you want students to ask and answer in their inquiry.
Or, in this Civil War Webquest, students have to put themselves in the shoes of a nurse from the American Civil War. After reading her diary, they need to have an imaginary interview with the woman. This requires the students to ask questions, but it also requires them to understand how the nurse would have responded to those questions. Again, it's inquiry based learning that isn't simply driven by comprehending a written text. It's driven by a desire to understand who the nurse was.
The possibilities are limitless. There are literally tens of thousands of webquests available online, but many of them are subpar. This RSS feed is updated with some good ones. You'll need to spend some time browsing what's available to find something you can use, or you could go about creating your own. If you choose to make your own webquest, then here are a few tips to keep in mind so that your webquest isn't subpar:
- Start with an engaging task. This is the foundation of your webquest.
- Make sure your process is well organized.
- Choose appropriate links and resources to list in your process.
- Make your assessment criteria clear in the evaluation.