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A Small-Town Project With Big Results

Teacher's First Americans site, created for her pupils, draws international visitors.

December 14, 2000|STEVE CARNEY |

Her small town east of St. Louis had only a fledgling public library, and field trips to the local Indian ruins could convey only so much. So third-grade teacher Susan Liening turned to the Internet to supplement her lessons about Native Americans.

But she found most of the information was aimed at older kids, inappropriate for her 8- and 9-year-old students. "There was just nothing out there like this, so I had to create it," Liening said of her Web site, The First Americans, at "I wrote it right at their level and tried to find as many pictures as I could. Kids at that level are very visual."

The site features extensive details about Native American cultures such as legends, differences in the types of homes they built, what they ate and how they dealt with whites and with each other.

Liening and Judy Schurman, the Web master at Germantown Elementary School in Illinois, spent more than two months working before and after school to create the site, using Adobe PageMill.

"When the average person out there thinks of technology, they think of big schools, big budgets. All they need, really, is dedicated teachers willing to do the work," Schurman said. "Even though we're small and very rural, on any given day in any classroom you'd find technology in use."

Although she created the site as a resource for her pupils, Liening discovered that students and teachers from Japan to Great Britain also have found it useful and informative--as evidenced by the e-mails she's received.

"I was shocked. I did it for myself, but it was my hope other people would find it out there," said Liening, a 22-year veteran at Germantown Elementary, a pre-kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school with 280 students, about 35 miles east of St. Louis.

When her third-graders begin their monthlong study of Native Americans each year, they venture to the nearby Cahokia Mounds, the remnants of a large city built 1,300 years ago by Illini Indians. But once they leave there, they can return to their class and the Internet for in-depth learning about the Native American civilizations that once thrived elsewhere in the country. Liening said her 8-year-old students now are making kachina dolls, comparing languages and cultures and giving PowerPoint presentations of their class projects.

"The Internet has opened up a whole new world for these kids," she said.


Steve Carney is a freelance writer.

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