Pathways to Freedom is a multimedia website focused on many aspects of the Underground Railroad and the slaves who traveled it through Maryland. The site was created by Maryland Public Television and is designed to support reading, writing and social studies for students at Grade 4 and Grade 8 in Maryland schools.
This site is focused specifically on the Underground Railroad in Maryland. Content and focus are designed to meet Maryland public school standards for reading comprehension; descriptive, informative, and analytical writing; and 19th century history standards for students in grade 4 and grade 8. Additionally, there are resources and specific assignments to support use in grades 5, 6, and 7 as well.
Target Student Population:
Primary focus: Students in grades 4 through 8.
Secondary focus: Teacher education students learning to develop rich and relevant lessons and learning activities.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Reading ability of 4th grade or higher;
Ability to perform basic navigational functions using hyperlinks on a computer
Type of Material:
Self-paced instructional material that can be used individually or as part of a class.
This site can be used effectively to teach aspects of the history of slavery in the United States, to provide stimulating reading activities, to promote specific writing purposes, and to develop and stimulate critical and creative thinking. It would be ideal as a component of an online, blended class or as a web-component in a face to face class.
A multimedia computer with a high speed Internet connection; Flash Player, version 5 or higher, computer speakers or headphones will also be helpful. Pop-up blockers should be turned off.
Evaluation and Observation
This learning object is designed to meet specific Maryland education content standards related to writing, reading, and social studies related to 19th century slavery in the United States. The lessons are supported by maps, primary source documents, and relevant folk art, music and stories. The site also includes teacher notes and teacher tips that support differentiated learning opportunities and customization to meet both learner and teacher requirements.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
Think sheets are provided with questions that will stimulate higher order thinking by the students. The reading level of all text in the course is appropriate for the targeted readers, and there is a recording that allows users to listen to each frame as they read along, supporting both struggling readers and ESL readers. The material is broad enough to be used effectively in different areas and levels of the curriculum.
The site is well-crafted with good photos and illustrations. It is respectful of the subject matter.
The only limitation to this material is that most of it is designed for read and respond type of learning. There are only a few activities that clearly engage hands as well as minds beyond clicking the mouse to move to different pages.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
Labels and buttons are consistent throughout the pages, as is the layout. The visual elements all work well to enhance the theme of the site. Information is presented clearly, and audio files provide users the opportunity to listen, read, or both when using the content.
In a few places the text was hard to read because of the background pictures behind the writing. Also, there were some broken links in some of the lesson plans for teachers to use.
Pop-ups are small and hard to read. Links that take you off-site (such as ed.gov) do not warn the user that they are leaving the main web site.
Other Issues and Comments:
This is a high quality site that provides a multifaceted way to learn about issues of slavery and the history and purpose of the Underground Railway. Through the music and part integrated, learners have opportunities to link history to things in their current lives. Teachers who decide to use this site may want to augment it with more problem-based activities to further stimulate student engagement.