Project to pave way for teaching women's history

Judy WellmanThe new Roads from Seneca Falls project could change a whole generation’s understanding of women’s history, according to Judy Wellman, professor emerita of history at SUNY Oswego.

Wellman (pictured) and Joanne Silverstein, of Syracuse University’s Information Institute, are co-administrators of the program, under a $213,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The goal is to compile and create online resources for K-12 teachers and their students on women’s history and leadership.

With women comprising the majority of the U.S. population and nearly half of the nation’s labor force and management, current social studies syllabi fall short on the contributions and leadership of women, Wellman said. Roads from Seneca Falls will compile current Web resources and women’s history lesson plans—much of it on the college level—and extract the best for K-12 classrooms.

“It’s such an important issue, and one of the reasons teachers don’t include it is because it’s hard to find good material,” Wellman noted. “So we’re providing something helpful, but also in a way that can make the learning fun.”

Project leaders are working with an advisory board Wellman calls “stars of women’s history across the country,” including some Oswego professors and other top experts and teachers from around the United States.

The project will create three reference components:

- Pathways to Education Networks, to provide searching for and access to the topic’s best information and teaching material on the Web;

- Virtual Reference Desk, titled “Ask Lizzie”—like “Ask Jeeves,” except named for Elizabeth Cady Stanton—where experts will answer women’s history questions e-mailed by teachers and students; and

- Taking to the Road, a section linking users to historical sites, museums, community institutions and libraries with significance to women’s history and leadership.

“Kids use the Internet as a first line of research, and we want to give them a quality access point, to make sure they find the best stuff first,” Wellman explained.

Teaching exercises will likely emphasize interactive classroom opportunities that provide access to primary sources. “It’s really a hands-on approach,” she said. “It introduces students to critical thinking. It also allows teachers and students to work with several different learning styles.”

A July workshop in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the women’s rights movement, will introduce teachers to the collected materials and invite feedback. The goal is to have the service available by March 2007 for Women’s History Month.

Wellman said much of the funding will support tagging and Web work at SU, but that the grant will also cover her administrative fees, an administrative assistant, a small honorarium to members of the advisory board and organizing the workshop in Seneca Falls.

“We’re hoping it changes the understanding children have on what they know about women’s history as well as what women can do,” Wellman said.

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(Posted: Jan 25, 2006)