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National Park Service Offers Teachers A Web Portal Into Educational Materials On Parks


Teachers looking to bolster their science, history, and culture curriculums can now turn to the National Park Service, which has created a website especially for them.

The new online service launched Thursday for educators uses spectacular natural landscapes to teach science and the authentic places where history happened to infuse an understanding of the challenges the country has faced as a nation.

“This site is a significant milestone in realizing the National Park Service’s potential as a premier provider of place-based education,” said Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. “We have been entrusted with the care of the places that define the American experience, and now, through our new Teachers website, we can share these places and the lessons they teach with those who may not be able to visit in person. Students can learn about their country through educational materials that are teacher-tested and methods that are proven to enhance student comprehension.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the site should help inspire students, through their teachers, to seek out national parks

"Bringing America’s national parks into classrooms will help students build a lifelong connection with nature, history and the broad and diverse culture of our Nation,” said the Interior secretary. “This new web tool is a perfect example of how technology can be used to bring us closer to our treasured landscapes and the stories and places that define the American people. I hope students and teachers across the country will use these new resources to learn about the parks and to inspire a future visit to our public lands, which belong to all Americans.”

The website is user friendly and easily searchable by location, keyword, and more than 125 subjects, ranging from archeology to biology to Constitutional law. An English class can study literature with a lesson plan from Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, a history teacher can borrow a traveling trunk from Jefferson Expansion National Memorial to make the story of westward expansion come alive, science students can chat live with a ranger from Grand Canyon National Park, and future explorers can climb Mount McKinley in Denali National Park.

The site also features materials produced by National Park Service programs, including nearly 150 lesson plans from the National Register of Historic Places’ award-winning Teaching with Historic Places program.

The website is just one part of the Park Service’s ongoing commitment to education. Every year, national parks offer more than 57,000 educational programs in parks for nearly three million students, in addition to the 563,000 interpretive programs attended by 12.6 million visitors.

At launch, the website offered more than 700 lesson plans, 140 field trips, 50 traveling trunks, 44 distance learning opportunities, 16 teachers’ institutes, 47 online galleries, and 100 teacher workshops, and will add new content as it is developed. The site also offers teachers the opportunity to rate the materials provided.

The National Park Service is also working with partners and educational institutions to expand programs and encourage the use of parks as places of learning. The agency has partnered with the Department of Education to integrate national park resources into core curriculums and, each summer, dozens of teachers participate in professional development opportunities in parks, creating education materials based on park resources through the Teacher Ranger Teacher program.


With all due respect to Director Jon Jarvis, what he declares here to be “a significant milestone” in education has been available to students and teachers for many years. Indeed, the best of this site was prepared by the History Division under the direction of its former Chief Historian, Dwight Pitcaithley. Probably ten years ago at this point, Dr. Pitcaithley’s staff solicited my permission to scan and upload two of my books, NATIONAL PARKS: THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and YOSEMITE: THE EMBATTLED WILDERNESS. As they stressed, students in poorer communities who could not otherwise afford the physical books would greatly benefit. Would my publisher (the University of Nebraska Press) and I agree to forego our royalties in the interest of assisting them?

That Nebraska and I were glad to do. However, no scholar is ever prepared for what this news release alleges—that until Mr. Jarvis’s administration came along, nothing was happening. Not until he took office was the Internet properly used. If that were so, how did the History Division find the time to scan and post over 4,500 separate publications, including National Park Service studies, reports, and published books? But alas, although many of the links on the new web portal go directly to this earlier material, that History E-Library is not even mentioned. Again, the proper citation is to Dwight Pitcaithley and his staff—and his successor Dr. Robert Sutton, neither of whom I see mentioned here.

Rather, it would appear that the entire, original site has been all but abandoned. The site today has many broken links and missing images, even a picture of Jon Jarvis himself. What happened? Formerly, everything was quickly and easily accessible. The variety of in-house and scholarly materials virtually leapt off the page.

Just because Dwight Pitcaithley and his original team are no longer in uniform does not mean they are dead. And even if they were, they should be credited for their years of service and innovation. That is what attribution means. For that matter, National Park Service web sites offering “place-based education” have long been maintained by most of the individual parks themselves. Simply, the whole national park system is “placed-based education,” and was even before the Internet came along. Every teacher in love with the national parks has contributed to that. The credit was always the country’s—and the country’s alone.

I would like to echo Mr. Runte's comments about the value of the History e-Library that the professionals in Dwight Pitcaithley's office (primarily former NPS historian Harry Butowsky) built--laboriously, by hand, over the past 15+ years. However, it's my impression that the new portal for teachers has a somewhat different focus -- on materials designed specifically for classroom use in a K-12 environment -- while the History e-Library offers a broader assortment of parks-related historical documents, studies, and so forth that are useful, yes, to teachers, but also to other students of parks history. These items are also not, generally, put together in the kind of "lesson plan" format that a lot of the materials on the new portal are.

I would also like to add that the History e-Library has NOT vanished, but it has been moved and enhanced (available here now), in part in response to recommendations included in Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service--a major 2011 study commissioned by Pitcaithley & Sutton's office, for which I was the lead author. In our analysis of the NPS's use of new technologies, my co-authors and I made a strong case for the value of the e-Library. We noted that "

roviding access to research within the NPS is an area where the chief historian's office at WASO has been a leader for years," and we called attention to the e-Library as "the closest thing to a 'portal' for anyone researching park history." But we observed that "the page is often difficult to find unless one knows to look for it . . ." (see p. 90). We recommended, therefore (p. 95), that the NPS "upgrade and reconfigure the current NPS History E-Library portal in accordance with professional library and web standards . . . and ensure that the site is linked directly from the NPS main history page."

While getting the e-Library linked from the main History page still hasn't happened (to my great frustration), the e-Library HAS been upgraded according to our recommendations and is now available here. Efforts by anyone reading this forum to press Director Jarvis and others to make the site even more visible from the main NPS "discover history" page would certainly be welcomed.

--Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

While the NPS History e-Library hasn't vanished, it IS vanishing. As mentioned, there are a plethora of broken/corrupted links; sadly, following Dr. Butowsky's retirement it appears that no one is managing the library. A library (electronic or otherwise) isn't of much value if books are missing from the "shelves". No new content has been added to the e-Library in at least six months. While there is an effort to migrate content into the IRMA (Integrated Resource Management Applications) Portal (, this superb resource (for teachers or otherwise) won't be of much value without a renewed commitment to preserve a 15+ year effort. This should include coordination with other NPS departments, along with [as Imperiled Promise suggested] elevation of this resource to a level (as the USGS' Maps, Imagery, and Publications and the Forest Service's Pubs, Regs & Manuals Websites are linked at the top-most level).

Thanks, RD, for your comments. I will pass them along to colleagues in the Chief Historian's office, which does still retain responsibility for this (however, no longer with the intense focus and loving care given by Dr. Butowsky, I don't believe). I am not sure exactly how the migration is being handled--in specific technical terms--and I sure am frustrated that the resource does not appear at the level. We'd sure love to see that happen, but honestly don't know how to press for it! And if lots of internal links are broken, we certainly would want that fixed before it would be promoted more visibly.

RD, I am wondering if you can point us in the direction of some of that "plethora of broken/corrupted links" that you found on the e-Library? I have alerted the Chief Historian's office to this discussion, but I myself have not run across the broken links in searches that I've conducted. So it would be helpful if you could point out the things you've looked for and been unable to find. Having worked in digital collections, I can only imagine that this migration has been very challenging technically, and things are bound to break on the way. As for new content, I don't believe the Chief Historian's office any longer has staff who can regularly do that.

Also, can you provide the link to the top-level NPS page that you would find most logical for a link to the e-Library?

Dear Al, RD and Anne, Thanks for your notes above. We are well aware of some of the problems with the NPS e-history program. As you note, our wonderful historian, Harry Butowsky, retired a year ago last sommer, and we have not been able to fill his position, and since the Website required almost daily care and feeding, we have not been able to take care of all of the broken links, etc., required.

We are, however, not ignoring the problem. Two years ago, we started working with our natural resources office to enter all of Harry's 4500 entries into its system, called IRMA. This is a slow and expensive process, because each file needed to be reformated and reconfigured, but once the e-history library is entered into this system, it will be much more user-friendly. Someone will be able to search by author, title, subject, key words, etc., which will benefit NPS staff, historians outside NPS, and the general public. Another feature, is that it will be much easier to add to the database. We are commited to keeping the project going, and hope it will be complete in a year.

We also have updated our program Website, our Oral History Website, and have started a Facebook Page, after numerous requests from within and outside NPS. As Anne noted, she led a team of historians who conducted a survey of 1500 historians in NPS, and provided us with a wonderful report--"Imperiled Promise"--which provided us with recommendations that will strengthen our program both in the short- and long-term. Improving the e-history database is just one of the recommendations we are following.

Finally, as Anne noted in her final note, if you could point to specific problems--broken links, etc.--that you find, we will do our best to fix them, while we are in transition to the IRMA database.

Bob Sutton, Chief Historian, NPS

...our wonderful historian ... retired a year ago last summer, and we have not been able to fill his position, and since the Website required almost daily care and feeding, we have not been able to take care of all of the broken links, etc., required.

A real-world reminder of the impacts of shrinking NPS budgets. Creating and maintaining any kind of meaningful on-line presence requires both funding and qualified staffing.


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