This resource is intended to provide students with a overview of the history of the Silk Road through the experiences of its long-distance travelers. It is also intended to explore the movement of ideas and technologies. We have attempted to provide a dense and compact resource with more background than the bubble at the bottom of the page in the world history text, less detail than a book like Franck and Brownstone's Silk Road and more history than a National Geographic article. Even so, the website is large; in its entirity, there are approximately 55 pages of varying lengths.
The size and level of detail allows the website to be used in a variety of ways depending upon the amount of time you will devote to an investigation of the Silk Road, the age and ability of your students and your access to technology. The website could serve as a thorough core source for a multi-day unit on the Silk Road. It could also serve as a quick hit activity if you can only schedule the class in the computer lab for one day and maybe devote a second day to discussion.
Also, we have included reading guides which make it easier to check that students have done the reading. Since many students have home access to the internet or access through school or public libraries, the website can be assigned to be read outside of class.
The below are reading guides, discussion questions and project ideas to help use this website in the classroom
Materials for Designing a Class Web-design Project
This project is the culmination of four years of experimentation with electronic media as a classroom tool. Creating projects in electronic media is a different experience than writing a standard research project or even manual kinds of media projects such as posters. Authoring electronic media engages a different set of skills than traditional assignments. Many students discover strengths and interests they did not know they had. Also, the relative obscure research topics undertaken in this project and the visual nature of the medium require students to use a wider array of resources and to use those resources differently than they do in traditional assignments.
There are seldom single sources that cover the history of the movement across the Silk Road of a technology like gunpowder. Because of this, students have to piece together the story of the technology's movement by examining a broad range of sources from each society along the route, looking for small pieces of evidence such as dates, minor occurrences and, importantly, artwork depicting the technology. The total story is assembled by sorting through these relative small bits of evidence and seeing the connections between places along the route. This mode of investigation is more like real historical research than many traditional assignments. It pushes students into types of sources and search strategies that they might seldom otherwise use. They have look at art, archeaology and literature to find information on a topic like gunpowder. And they have to look in not just one culture, but several. I have always believed that this research pushed students out of comfortable territory and into much more robust avenues of investigation. Students learn the excitement of discovering a piece of evidence, of solving a mystery and of making real contributions to knowledge.
Designing for a real audience was an important part of making this project "alive". In our case, we were designing our website to be used by Bangor's 7th grade world history students and teachers. As a result, students had to use different language than they do in their normal writing. This audience called for especially clear, descriptive and plain language. Also in designing their pages, the constant refrain of "Will 7th graders spend more than two seconds on this page?" gave an urgency to good design that is not always present when creating a product that only the instructor will see. In addition, the fact that this website is live on the web adds another element of authenticity to the assignment.
Students respond enthusiastically to the process of building web-sites. Our software is free and thus not very sophisticated, often frustrating, but students are excited to be learning a skill of obvious value. Also, the visual nature of websites allows students to express their own style, to try and develop a product that looks great. For no other assignment, have students come to me saying, "I woke up last night knowing how I was going to do my page." To me, there is no greater valuation of this assignment than the level of engagement that it creates in the students.
The Journey of a Thousand Li project was undertaken by Bangor High School's Asian Studies class. This is a full-year class which this year consisted of 14 high-functioning seniors. The project was begun in mid-spring and continued for a little more than eight weeks. In the first four three weeks of the project students worked in pairs researching the journey of one of the Silk Road's long-distance travelers. This research was submitted in a series of short papers. After rewriting, several of these papers were then posted on our email conference so that all members of the class had information about al the travelers. In this way, we as a group learned the history of the Silk Road by linking together the stories of these eight travelers.
In the second part of the project, I was responsible for taking the students' research on travelers and compiling that into the History of Travelers section of the website, so the work seen in that section originated from student work. The students themselves began researching the product or technology which they had chosen. They worked in groups of three and four. We had at our disposal four Macintosh computers (iMacs mainly) with internet connections, print capability and a scanner attached to one machine. Students also had access to computers in the high school library and in several other sites throughout the building. Students composed their websites on Netscape Communicator 4.7 which can be downloaded for free from Netscape's website. Most students had never designed a website and my own experience was limited. I did relatively little instruction on the mechanics of Communicator and concentrated formal instruction on issues of useability and good design for the web.
Below are the forms, project descriptions and scoring guides used in executing this unit.