Heritage, 2007, Volume 1 Page: 24
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The Portal to Texas History:
A Teacher's Tool By Pam Murtha
As a Texas history teacher, imagine the benefit of having
access to thousands of historical documents with just a click
of a mouse. Envision having the ability to download lesson
plans that include primary source documents and meet Texas
Essential Knowledge and Skills requirements. Thanks to
the University of North Texas, these resources and more
are available to teachers online at UNT's The Portal to Texas
HistorySM web site.
Establishing an internet gateway to historical materials held
in Texas libraries, archives, museums, private collections, and
historical societies was the brainchild of UNT librarian Cathy
Nelson Hartman. She saw the benefit in providing teachers,
researchers, historians, students, and life-long learners with
online access to primary source documents about Texas history.
Additionally, features that would help educators teach
Texas history would be included in the portal's design. Initial
grant funding in 2002 allowed UNT Libraries to begin
transforming Nelson Hartman's vision into reality. Designing
a technical interface and a user-friendly infrastructure was the
first step in the development of the project. Subsequent grants
allowed the UNT Libraries' Digital Projects Unit to begin
digitizing historical documents from all across Texas, with the
first annexed collection coming from the Fort Bend Museum.
Women from Sllew LaRenim, a social club, pose in front of the old
Mineral Wells post office in 1913. Sllew LaRenim was Mineral Wells
spelled backwards. This photo, on the Portal web site, is from the
Boyce Ditto Public Library.
The museum's documents were previously available on the Internet,
but problems with a local internet provider and other
technical issues led to the site's closure. Fortunately, UNT was
able to absorb the FBM database, continuing the museum's
mission to provide public access to their collection. In 2004,
UNT Libraries launched The Portal to Texas HistorySM, and
last year the site experienced 4.5 million hits.
For educators, the UNT-hosted web site offers two main
resources for teaching Texas history. First, the web site allows
access to primary source materials that comply with TEKS
standards for teaching 4th and 7th grade Texas history. By using
the "Researchers' Portal" link and checking the "primary
source materials only" box, teachers can easily locate TEKScompliant
documents that support their lesson plans. Dreanna
Belden, UNT Libraries' coordinator for grants and development,
says that early on, focus group sessions with teachers
helped identify areas where primary source materials
were difficult to find. For example, educators complained
of a lack of primary resources to help teach 20th century
events that impacted Texas, such as the Great Depression
and World War II. Efforts were then made to locate historic
documents from this era to add to the portal's database.
Belden says that UNT Libraries continues to acquire suitable
materials that history teachers can use to meet state-mandated
Downloadable lesson plans, known as "Primary Source
Adventures," are the second teacher-friendly feature on The
Portal to Texas History's site menu. Developed by graduate
students and Ph.D. candidates in UNT's history department,
each theme-based lesson addresses multiple TEKS learning
standards, and historians review every one for accuracy. Each
PSA has separate lesson plans for 4th and 7th grade students,
including a PowerPoint slide show that incorporates primary
source documents (a printable version is also available) and offers
a student worksheet designed to promote critical thinking
on the chosen topic.
Developers took great care to ensure that every component
of a PSA would provide educators not only with downloadable
materials but would also provide other helpful information.
For example, if a teacher were to choose the 7th grade
lesson plan for "Life in the Civilian Conservation Corps," the
PSA would list several learning objectives, along with individual
citations that correspond to the TEKS standard each
one addresses. The lesson plan shows the primary source
materials used, including an oral history interview with
CCC participant, Claude L. Hendon, and Depressionera
images that add a compelling, visual element to the
lesson. The anticipatory set and instructional input sec
HERITAGE I Volume 1 2007
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2007, Volume 1, periodical, 2007; Austin, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45363/m1/24/?q=%22buffalo%20soldiers%22: accessed December 6, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.