Discs Put High-tech Spin On American History

December 02, 1990|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER - Tina Brockman thinks American history should be more than reading about glorified images of George Washington and Ben Franklin. Or memorizing dates like 1776 and 1861.

History should be, well, like the colorful images flashing across the television monitor in a Westminster High School classroom, where middle and high school social studies teachers gathered recently to learn about laser discs.

This latest technology in teaching combines pictures, maps, graphics, music and narration to explain American history. The discs, which can hold 54,000 frames, are controlled by a teacher or student at a computer work station.

"If it does for students what it did for teachers this morning, it'll be remarkable," said Brockman, chairwoman of the Westminster High social studies department.

The laser discs are already used in history classes at Sykesville and Mount Airy middle schools and could be available in all classrooms in a couple of years, teachers said. Disc players cost about $600 each. "It entertains and teaches," said Mike McDearmon, a Sykesville Middle School seventh-grade teacher. "It's another way for us to reach students."

Consider, for example, a short segment on the expansion of the United States. The question -- how did the nation grow? -- flashes on the TV monitor. Seconds later, a narrator raps: When the U.S. fought the Revolutionary War Thirteen colonies bordered our eastern shore We won that war in 1783 And the English gave up the land to the Mis-sis-sip-pi. . . .

It's called Map Rap. And it's just a small component of the laser disc program, which includes details of U.S. history from the lives of average Americans through pictures and journals.

"Rather than open a book, kids would rather watch TV," McDearmon said.

The discs not only provide teachers with an additional teaching tool but also provide students with another reference source. Instead of plodding through library and text catalogs, students can obtain information instantly from laser discs. In addition, they can rearrange images from laser disc programs to fit their own presentations.

Brockman noted, though, that laser discs will not replace textbooks or having students do research in libraries. Laser discs, she said, will augment those tried-and-true teaching methods.

Paul Engle, a Mount Airy Middle School history and geography teacher, said he uses laser discs in his classroom about three times a week.

"The creative way history is presented is eye-catching to students," he said. "It makes history come alive and makes it very exciting."

George Fisher Jr., a Westminster Computer Center sales consultant who helped with the presentation, said laser discs are among the new programs his firm wants to introduce to teachers.

He said that computers have not been used in schools to the extent they have been in the business world and that many teachers still fear using them.

"But new technology like this is making it easier for every person to use," he said.

During the presentation, Mount Airy Middle School eighth-grader Brett Dixon operated the program with ease. He admitted history wasn't one of his favorite subjects but said he liked the laser disc program.

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