California is undertaking an experiment that could have ramifications across the country: A new program under way in select California elementary schools has history teachers scrapping traditional textbooks in favor of digital learning materials.

The custom-built history program, called History/Social Science for California, from educational publisher Pearson Scott Foresman, blends printed text, digital, and activities-based instructional methods aligned with state standards.

Through the program, state educators have access to a complete digital curriculum with online books, video, assessment, and interactive learning tools. Using these materials, teachers can build a lesson, teach an entire class, or tailor activities to suit students’ individual needs, the company said. The program also is aligned with a new set of digital textbook standards, called SCORM (for Sharable Content Object Reference Model), that officials say should allow the state to integrate these resources with other digital learning platforms or materials.

Seven of the largest local districts within the Los Angeles Unified School District recently adopted the model, and this fall several hundred other districts across the state also will follow suit. Pearson estimates that close to 50 percent of all K-5 students in the state soon will learn history and social studies through the program.

Apart from teaching social studies, program developers say the digital resources also will help students meet state reading standards. Education officials say the program offers direct benefits to the state’s large population of English language learners and is designed to help ensure that history and social studies are incorporated into a typical school day. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, 80 percent of the nation’s fourth-graders spend less than three hours a week learning social studies.

“Schools are recognizing that our program is highly effective,” said Paul McFall, president of Pearson Scott Foresman. “The rapid and enthusiastic acceptance of our curriculum confirms the huge appetite for our new approach.”

Last November, the California State Board of Education unanimously approved the program as part of the California 2005 History-Social Science Adoption for Instructional Materials.

“Technology in the classroom can be used strategically to improve student achievement and help prepare our students for success in the competitive global economy of the 21st century,” said Jack O’Connell, California’s superintendent of public instruction.

More than 200 districts throughout California already have selected the program.

“I’m really impressed with how the program uses the Strategic Reading Initiative techniques embedded in the text,” said Chris Hoover, a fifth-grade teacher at the Taylor Street School in Sacramento’s Robla School District.

Last year, the Lamont School District, near Bakersfield, Calif., successfully piloted the program, and later became the first district in the state to purchase the curriculum outright.

“This is a potent weapon for us in meeting a number of educational challenges we face,” said Cheryl McConaughey, assistant superintendent at Lamont. “We don’t have to worry about extraneous content; our teachers have a lot of options to help them teach and reinforce social-studies and reading standards at the same time.”

Officials at Lamont and other school districts say they like that students can work directly in their text workbooks, which are more condensed and focused than the standard textbooks. They also find that the array of digital and activity tools help engage students.

“History [and] social science comes to life with exciting text, vibrant media clips, and activities developed by real California teachers and historians at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation,” said McConaughey. “Our teachers are thrilled with virtually all aspects of the program.”

Across the country, technology advocates who spoke with eSchool News said they would be closely monitoring California’s progress with the program.

“We know more students are more deeply engaged by learning strategies that involve technology and content in digital, multimedia format,” said Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based ed-tech advocacy group. “Printed text is not the communications mode of maximum impact for any age group any longer–look what sways public opinion and wins elections. But, among young learners, it is particularly true that richer forms of communication and representation have more impact.”

Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for technology at the Plano Independent School District in Texas, said the move to an all-digital format is significant for two reasons. For one, he said, “the information provided by Pearson digitally can now be delivered to any student at any location where they have a device connected to the internet.” Additionally, Hirsch said, in California’s case, Pearson also provided a tool that enables teachers and students to remix digital assets to create a more individualized learning environment.

What’s more, he said, project designers adopted SCORM standards in their development of the program. SCORM is a collection of standards and specifications adapted from multiple sources that allows for the interoperability, accessibility, and reusability of digital learning materials. By incorporating these standards, Hirsch said, developers left the door open for California educators to meld the new social-studies program with other statewide learning resources that adhere to these same standards. “Other content providers may now see that utilizing open standards such as SCORM provides even greater utility to educators and may open up their market to a wider audience,” Hirsch said.

“The availability of an entire course [digitally], with all associated resources, … may spur the adoption of personal computing initiatives where every student has a device capable of accessing the network to use these digital resources,” he added. “This may push the conversation of digital copyright back to the forefront, so that educators are given a clear path that permits them and their students to operate within new copyright laws that acknowledge the era of remixing we’re now in.”


Pearson Scott Foresman

California Department of Education

International Society for Technology in Education

The Nation’s Report Card

Past eSchool News articles on SCORM