Interactive University Project mines digital resources to teach kids about the Americas
By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs

10 Jan 2001 | Contemporary debate about General Augusto Pinochet's role in Chilean history has come to life in a new way for a group of Oakland teachers, who recently heard Pinochet and his troops - as their 1973 assault on the Chilean presidential palace was in progress - discussing what to do with then-President Salvador Allende.

These conversations, recorded by a Santiago radio station, are part of a rich trove of electronic resources that local K-12 teachers are developing in collaboration with Berkeley's Center for Latin American Studies.

The program - one of 11 being developed under the aegis of the campus's Interactive University Project - brings educators together to learn ways to incorporate technology into existing lesson plans as well as to develop curriculum that takes advantage of digital resources.

"Coverage of Latin America and Latino affairs in classroom textbooks is incomplete...." says Isaac Mankita, project coordinator for the center. "In San Francisco and Oakland, the diversity of students in classrooms highlights the need for teachers to know more about Latin America and Latino history and current events."

Oakland teachers spent several days discussing how they might use "Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey," the autobiography of Latin American intellectual Ariel Dorfman, to strengthen lessons on geography, history, politics, human rights and writing.

To support their efforts, the center published a Web site offering primary sources that shed light on Dorfman's account. Among them were recently declassified U.S. government documents on the Pinochet dictatorship; lyrics and sample audio files of Chilean music, movies and poetry; an audio recording of Allende's last speech; and radio traffic between Pinochet and his troops during their assault on La Moneda.

"We wanted to demonstrate different ways to use technology and showcase important resources that teachers could use in their classrooms," says the center's program assistant, Margaret Lamb.

In a parallel effort, eight San Francisco teachers, meeting with center staff, have been working together for most of this year - in person and through e-mail, chat rooms, discussion boards and document exchange - to research, develop and fine-tune lessons that capitalize on digital resources unearthed by the teachers themselves and their collaborators at Berkeley.

At a recent working meeting on campus, teachers Brigit Slevin and Genevieve Schmidt Camacho presented a lesson plan-in-progress designed to teach their elementary-age students how geography affected the colonization of the Southwest and the Native Americans living there.

Students would learn about settlement of the Taos, N.M. area, before and after arrival of the Spaniards, from digital maps as well as papier mache models made in class.

For Slevin, a fourth-grade teacher at Redding Elementary, "the point is making activities ... get across big ideas, whether through text or pouring water on paper - which they really like to do!"

Teachers involved in the program will evaluate the effectiveness of their units on Latin America in the classroom next semester. Their Berkeley collaborators then plan to refine and digitize the lesson materials and publish them on the Web for broad dissemination to K-12 educators.

"The Web and Internet technologies have tremendous potential for expanding learning opportunities in classrooms in pedagogically sound ways," notes Mankita. "This project helps us bring the people, culture and politics of Latin America into Bay Area classrooms."


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