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Colonial Williamsburg Primary Sources CD-ROM

By Agnes Dunn - Posted Jan 1, 2005
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Overall Rating:5 Stars
Ease of Use:A
Product Support:A

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, P.O. Box 1776, Williamsburg, VA 23187; Phone: 800/761-8331; Internet:; Pearson/Scott Foresman, Phone: 800/552-2259; Internet:

Price: $40, Mac/Win hybrid CD-ROM, individual copy/single use.
Audience: Two separate versions are available: grades 1­3 and grades 4­6.
Format: CD-ROM: pictures, sound, text, and video.
Minimum System Requirements:
Windows: Pentium II (300 MHz) PC with 128 MB RAM, 30 MB available hard drive space, Windows 98 SE or 2000, 16-bit color monitor with 800 x 600 resolution, and 8x CD-ROM.
Macintosh: Power PC, G3 (266 MHZ), 128 MB RAM, 30 MB available hard drive, Mac OS 9.2x or OS X 10.1, monitor with thousands of colors and 800 x 600 resolution, and 8x CD-ROM drive.
Both systems will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader (included on the CD-ROM) to access the lessons. An Internet connection is recommended, but is not required.
Description: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has teamed up with Pearson/Scott Foresman to create two grade-specific primary source CD-ROMs, Colonial Williamsburg Primary Sources for grades 1­-3 and for grades 4­-6. The materials allow students to explore historical research using documents, pictures, stories, and artifacts through multimedia activities.
Reviewer Comments:
Installation: I reviewed Colonial Williamsburg Primary Sources using a 90 MHZ PC with a Pentium M processor, 12 MB RAM, and 10 MB free hard disk space, running Windows, and using a T-1 line. I also used a Gateway 450 MHZ computer with a Pentium III processor, 96 MB RAM, 9 GB hard drive, Windows 98, 6x DVD-ROM drive, and a cable modem.
Both CDs are plug-and-play programs. Adobe Acrobat Reader was already installed on my computer, so no installation was required.
When I inserted the CD into the drive, a small screen appeared directing me to click on PrimarySources.exe and this launched the program. Even the older computer that was below the recommended system requirements ran the program, with the exception of the videos. Installation Rating: A
Content/Features: The main menu of the grade 4­6 edition of Colonial Williamsburg Primary Sources looks like a historian's office in Colonial Williamsburg. The user accesses the primary resources by clicking on icons in the office.
A computer screen launched an opening video explaining the differences between primary and secondary sources. It was clear enough for 9 to 12 year olds to understand, and it provided a good introduction to the program.
Clicking on the tape recorder retrieved the oral histories. The account of Isaac Jefferson and the storytelling of "The Jackal and the Dog" are highlights of the program. However, the oral history of Vernon Geddy, who was born in 1897 and relates his 20th-century views of living in Williamsburg, does not fit in with the 18th-century content of the program.
The Colonial-building resources included the Prentis Store, the Peyton Randolph House, and the courthouse. An introductory screen that provided access via thumbnail pictures at the bottom presented ample background information on each building.
Students are able to explore Colonial artifacts in three ways by clicking on a container with compartments. The furniture or ceramics icons access a description, dragging the cursor on an object provides a 360-degree view. Bone fragments are also described. The archaeological heading allows students to move the cursor over an artifact for greater detail.
Printings and Drawings included four resources: a political cartoon, a portrait of a young lady, an English print, and a blacksmith print. The blacksmith print is an excellent resource for students to learn visual literacy and more about Colonial trades. I felt the cartoon was too challenging, however, and the English print and the portrait of the young lady were of limited use.
Written Documents includes a journal; York County, Va. records; and an article and advertisement from the Virginia Gazette. I found each of these very useful in explaining the life of Colonial Americans, particularly indentured servants and slaves.
The program also contains lesson plans for teachers and additional audio, print, and visual resources in a library.
The grade 1­3 version of Colonial Williamsburg Primary Sources is a simpler, but content-rich version of the program for older students.
The main menu uses cartoon pictures as icons for the historian's office. Resources are divided into Buildings, Artifacts, Artwork, and Stories. And, just as in the grade 4­6 version, a library provides lesson plans and additional resources.
This program is a lot of fun. Each section is interactive. The Buildings section asks students what their house would look like in colonial times. Users select from several options and drag features to an outline of a house. They can print the results in color or in black and white.
The Artifacts segment asks students to sort objects by the categories of metal, ceramic, or wood by dragging them into a chart. Pottery is reconstructed by dragging pieces into the correct location. Even 1st grade students enjoyed this feature and could complete the activity independently.
The Artwork portion contained five pictures. As students move the cursor over the people in the pictures, an audio feature describes the people and the activities that they are doing.
The Stories segment is structured like a book. Students drag pictures of their choice to illustrate the text.
There is an audio feature for each page and/or story. One of the stories is the African American tale "The Jackal and the Dog." I consider this story a highlight of this program, as well as the grade 4­6 edition.
Content/Features Rating: A
Ease of Use: This software was designed for young children by teachers. It is very easy to use. Students click on pictures to access the primary sources. A Help button appears at the bottom of each screen, and a prompt is always visible to direct students to click on the appropriate icon. A four-page overview of the program is included in the teacher materials. Ease of Use Rating: A
Product Support: Both programs are very intuitive. I doubt users will need to access product support, however, toll-free telephone support is available from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation at 800/761-8331 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time. Product support is also available from Pearson/Scott Foresman. Product Support Rating: A
Recommendation: Both editions of the Colonial Williamsburg Primary Sources CD-ROM are excellent resources for classroom use. Both are interactive enough to interest elementary-aged children, and the resources provide an in-depth analysis of 18th-century Colonial life in an age-appropriate manner.
I have already used three of the lessons contained on the CDs in the classroom, in exactly the form in which they were written. It is unusual for me not to alter a lesson contained in a teacher's guide!
Reviewer: Agnes Dunn, Social Studies Coordinator, Stafford County Public Schools, Stafford, VA; Phone: 540/658-6674; Fax: 540/658-6061; e-mail:

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