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May/June 2002
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Building Prior Knowledge
by Linda C. Joseph, Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools, Library of Congress

[Editor's note: URLs mentioned in this article appear in the chart that follows.]

How many students sit silently in the classroom with no understanding of the events behind a story because they do not bring prior knowledge with them from conversations or experiences at home? What are some strategies teachers can use to introduce information crucial to comprehension? What role can technology play in assisting teachers with presenting prior knowledge in an engaging way?

Kathleen Waugamann, a fourth grade Safety Net teacher, took advantage of several technology tools to aid her students in understanding the book Teammates by Peter Golenbock. Teammates is a story about Jackie Robinson and his friendship with Pee Wee Reese, both Brooklyn Dodgers, in an era of segregation. Waugamann employed the Big6 framework to design this powerful lesson that engaged her low-level reading students in learning about the '30s, '40s, and '50s. (See the Lesson Plan sidebar on building prior knowledge.)

To begin the lesson, Waugamann wanted each student to identify with the notion of what it would be like to be a baseball player. Students went to predetermined Web sites to view baseball cards and the information each contained. This was the first step in building a foundation of knowledge. Then, digital photographs were taken of each student. They posed in baseball stances with a ball or bat. The pictures were inserted into Microsoft Word and a border was placed around each picture. These "baseball cards" were hung on the bulletin board for all to enjoy.

The most powerful part of the lesson was the PowerPoint presentation created to show the injustices that existed during the time period when Jackie Robinson became the first black in baseball to play on a white team. Waugamann scoured the Web for primary resources that would depict actual events that happened when Jackie Robinson lived. She then put together in a very compelling slide show with simple, descriptive text and a series of images that showed segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, violence, and the changes made during the Civil Rights Movement. Students viewed and discussed the content of the presentation before reading the book. As Waugamann put it, "They were full of questions about the pictures."


Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s (by Popular Demand)
Explore a wide range of original source materials such as newspaper articles, letters, and photographs that tell the story of Jackie Robinson and the history of baseball from the 1860s to the 1960s. The Robinson story is told in five chapters: Drawing the Color Line, Barnstorming and the Negro League, Breaking the Color Line, Robinson as a Dodger, and Robinson's Later Career. This unique collection draws from all resources available at the Library of Congress.

Beyond the Playing Field
Jackie Robinson was a strong civil rights advocate both on and off the field. The National Archives and Records Administration holds numerous records that pertain to his quest for equality, including letters and telegrams to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. In one telegram to President Kennedy, Robinson implores him to make every effort to provide federal protection for Dr. Martin Luther King and his contingent who are attending the funeral of Medgar Evers in Mississippi.

Crossing the Color Barrier
If you are looking for a one-page biography of Jackie Robinson along with a few of his quotes, this is a good site to visit. In addition to Jackie Robinson, the Amateur Athletic Foundation honors four other men who crossed the color barrier of Major League Baseball: Larry Doby, Henry Thompson, Williard Brown, and Dan Bankhead.

Jackie Robinson Historical Timeline
When students click on the images of the timeline, a pop-up window appears with relevant facts and photos. It is another great starting point to spark student interest in reading about the first black man to play in the major leagues. In fact, he starred in his film biography The Jackie Robinson Story in 1950.

Remembering Jim Crow
Jim Crow ruled the South from about 1890 to well into the 1960s. Remembering Jim Crow is a documentary funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities that examines this era in depth. This companion site contains a wealth of information including several slide shows that describe visually the injustices of the past plus excerpts from interviews of individuals who lived and experienced or observed repression. In addition, there are samples of the Jim Crow laws that were part of everyday life in the South. Social studies teachers will be able to supplement textbooks with lots of rich content from this site.

To inform parents about this activity, Waugamann published an article in her Safety Net newsletter. Her goal was to include parents in the learning process by having them share their knowledge with their children. See the Sample from PowerPoint sidebar for an example of what she wrote.

Prepared with prior knowledge, students began reading and discussing Teammates with great enthusiasm. They knew the vocabulary and the context of the story in history. They had confidence to ask relevant questions. Kathy Waugamann summed up the experience as follows: "If you had told me that I would be using technology with my students as a tool a few weeks ago, I would have laughed. Now I am a believer!"

Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools Home Page (http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools) with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee (http://www.cyberbee.com) for more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff.

Lesson Plan

Building Prior Knowledge

Unit Context: Reading, comprehension

Content Objectives: Responding to text

Big6 Skills

1. Task:

Skill Level: What is segregation?

Concept Level: What was the social ramification and impact of hiring a black baseball player, Jackie Robinson, in the Major Leagues in the 1940s?

Application Level: What role did Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese play in easing the process?

Activities: Preview the PowerPoint presentation to enhance prior knowledge, find facts contributing to the social climate in the U.S. during the 1940s—specifically, segregation. Find facts about both the black and the white baseball leagues.

2. Info Seeking: Web sites, Harcourt/Brace fourth grade anthology, biographies

3. Location: Web sites (See article and sidebar.)

Activities: Go to specific bookmarks to locate information, visit the resource room and library.

4. Information Use: Compare/contrast conditions of black and white baseball players in the 1940s.

Activity: Create a Venn diagram to compare both leagues.

5. Synthesis: Produce a PowerPoint presentation and a Word document that demonstrates a deeper understanding of the story Teammates by Peter Golenbock.

6. Evaluation Rubric

4 – Demonstrates excellent understanding of the societal implications of the first black man in white baseball leagues that is fully supported with evidence from the text, explanations, and interpretations.

3 – Demonstrates good understanding of the changes in society and the world of sports with the hiring of the first black baseball player in white leagues. Ideas are supported with adequate evidence from the text or explanations.

2 – Shows some understanding of the connection between the first black man hired to play on a white team and its impact on society, but with few ideas developed.

1 – Brief response, minimal understanding of the impact of the first black baseball player on a white team.

At the bus station in Durham, North Carolina, Jack Delano, photographer, 1940 (courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Primary resources from a variety of Web sites were used to create a PowerPoint presentation about Jackie Robinson and segregation in the 1940s. The photograph in this slide came from the American Memory Collections at the Library of Congress. Marion Post Wolcott photographed it in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1939.
Samples from PowerPoint,
Directed to Students' Parents

The purpose of this activity is to show the incredible courage of Jackie Robinson and people like him who helped break through racial barriers. Please talk to your children!

Students in Mrs. Waugamann's classes will be reading Teammates by Peter Golenbock next week. This is a nonfiction book about Jackie Robinson and his friendship with fellow Dodger Pee Wee Reese.

In preparation for this activity, we will be building the students' background knowledge by viewing a presentation and discussing the issue of segregation in the U.S. during Jackie Robinson's lifetime.

It would be very helpful for your child if you, or any members of your family would share any personal remembrances of segregation in the '30s, '40s, or '50s. Children have many questions about this period of American history. They wonder about the Ku Klux Klan, who they were, why they were so racist. They are concerned about injustice that was prevalent during that era. "Why couldn't black kids and white kids play together? Could they walk on the same side of the street? They went to different schools? They couldn't eat together? Couldn't even sit together on the same bus?"

Resources/Web site addresses:

Beyond the Playing Field

Crossing the Color Barrier

Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s (by Popular Demand)

Jackie Robinson Historical Timeline

Remembering Jim Crow

Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educator’s Guide to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson Street, Columbus, OH 43211; 614/365-5277; ljoseph@iwaynet.net.

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