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NOVA: Charters of Freedom

By Alice Kurtz - Posted Jul 1, 2005
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Overall Rating:4 Stars
Ease of Use:A
Product Support:A-

Located online at:

Source: NOVA/PBS, WGBH Educational Foundation, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134; Phone: 617/492-2777, ext. 5400; Internet:

Access Fee: None.

Audience: Educators teaching grades 6 through high school.

Format: Web site.

Minimum System Requirements:

Computer with Internet access and Internet browser. Flash plug-in required for interactive portions.

Description: The NOVA: Charters of Freedom Web site is a companion to the PBS program, "Saving the National Treasures." These two multimedia resources examine efforts to preserve the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Reviewer Comments:

Installation/Access: The Web site loaded quickly. The home page is well organized; it is easy to find the section you are interested in using. The interactive examination of the Declaration of Independence requires a Flash Player, which is available from the site. Each page in every section offers a hotlink back to the home page. Installation/Access Rating: A

Content/Features: NOVA: Charters of Freedom provides an in-depth look at conservation efforts to restore and protect the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

The Web page features three major segments: Inquiry and Interview, Interactive and Overview, and Resources.

The Inquiry and Interview section includes an interesting science/social studies connection in Fading Away, a feature that explores the effect of light on cultural works. The segment includes an in-depth explanation of how and why light damages documents.

This section also answers that nagging question recently brought to light in the movie "National Treasure"—just what is on the back of the Declaration of Independence? This choice bit of information is found in a thought-provoking interview with conservators. The material includes a discussion about the line between restoration and cosmetic tampering.

The Interactive and Overview segment presents a quick-loading interactive copy of the Declaration of Independence that allows students to examine all of the damage on the document. As the mouse rolls over each section, a damaged piece and a complete explanation of the damage appears in a larger pop-up window. This inspection provides an opportunity to see a mysterious handprint on the document; this was quite a surprise.

The Case Closed section allows students to examine up close and in detail the $5-million case designed to preserve our important national documents. These are very high-tech frames.

The Resources section is probably the most useful segment for teachers. This area features a description of NOVA's "Saving the National Treasures" television segment, as well as the entire transcript of the program. A teacher's guide offers pre- and post-viewing questions for students, as well as some hands-on activities that give a better understanding of the effect of light on materials. The guide also provides lessons on how the documents were made, including information on the paper and ink of the time.

The Web links contained in the Resources segment are outstanding. The list begins with the National Archives' Charters of Freedom site, which offers an interactive look at the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Here, students can even sign the Declaration themselves online. The site also offers nice downloadable high-resolution copies of the documents.

The second listed link, The Star Spangled Banner, explores conservation efforts at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History for the American flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the "Star Spangled Banner." Students can hear a version of the song at this site.

An additional link offers access to the Smithsonian's online exhibits and archival resources. This link provides access to topics, images, and materials found in online exhibits around the world, including libraries, archives, and historical societies. I typed in the word Holocaust and immediately found 10 fascinating sites. One unusual site provided music played and written in the concentration camps and ghettos.

The link to the Center for History and New Media offers access to History Matters, a digital history program. This site is a gateway to primary sources located on the Web for high school and college history teachers. The material is quite rich, with a wide range of online history projects directed at diverse topics and audiences. The site provides tools and resources for historians, including a Web scrapbook, syllabus finders, and a poll builder.

The final link on the list, Protection from Light Damage, provides access to a technical leaflet from the Northeast Document Conservation Center. This technical piece offers a comprehensive look at all aspects of fading and structural damage caused by light, as well as a range of remedies.

This section also includes a very short list of recommended books. The topics range from conservation to the creation of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The titles are not annotated, so it is difficult to tell much about the reading level of the materials. Content/Features Rating: A

Ease of Use: The Web site is extremely user-friendly. Each page has a convenient, easy to find link to the home page in the top corner. The segments are clearly marked; there is no need for scrolling. All of the information fits on the screen.  Ease of Use Rating: A

Product Support: The site is so easy to use that it is unlikely that product support will be necessary. Technical Help is available in its own section of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) area.

The Technical Help information primarily pertains to adding browser plug-ins and other software. This material includes a section devoted to streaming video and a list of all 150 programs available in this format. Users can sign up here for an e-mail bulletin of upcoming NOVA programs and companion Web sites.

A Send Feedback icon appears on each page of the Web site. This takes the user to a page where a question or comment can be posted; this feature allows teachers to give feedback on a particular program.  Product Support Rating: A-

Recommendation: NOVA Charters of Freedom is a companion piece to the PBS video program "Saving the National Treasures" and should be used in conjunction with this program.

In addition, the Web site could provide an interesting learning center for students as they study American documents. It also would make an interesting exploration as an extension of a unit that deals with primary sources and their preservation.

A teacher could design a scavenger hunt for students to use as they explore the various segments on the Web site. Asking the students to find out what is on the back of the Declaration of Independence would surely elicit some interest!

The online teacher's guide adds richness to the experience of viewing the video program. It also provides additional hands-on activities for students.

The most useful stand-alone segment of the Web site is the Web links area. Although there are only a handful of links, they are full of valuable materials and tools to enrich the study of history. These alone make a visit to this Web site worthwhile. Recommended.

Reviewer: Alice Kurtz, 5/6 grade teacher, Irving B. Weber School, 3850 Rohret Road, Iowa City, IA  52246; 319/688-1170;

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