TAMPA, Fl.- Two University of South Florida professors in the college of education are working together as husband and wife to develop a new app that will allow young children in grades K-5 to access primary resources, or firsthand accounts of events and experiences throughout history.
Michael Berson, professor of social science education and advisor for Muzzy Lane Software, and his wife, Ilene Berson, professor of early childhood in the department of childhood education and literacy studies, are working with Muzzy Lane Software and a team of people throughout the country on the “KidCitizen” project. In September, “KidCitizen” was one of three educational app development grants given by the Library of Congress. The grant is approximately $320,000.
This project isn’t the first time that the Bersons have teamed up.
“We have been working for a very long time, since we were undergraduate students in college” said Michael Berson.
He said that they have a good working relationship, citing her “thoughtful approach to the exploration of curriculum” and her “unique perspectives on the project.” While he is excited to work with his wife, he is just as excited to work with the rest of the team. All were handpicked to be part of the project.
“It is truly a national treasure and to be working with them to create next generations of learning tools, it is a very big honor for us here at the college of education,” Berson said.
The team will be identifying developmentally appropriate primary resources for young children through photos, journal entries, news articles and other resources the Library of Congress has to offer. The focus of the project is on teaching young children about Congress and civics.
“We know, historically speaking, from research in our field that children don’t learn when they simply peruse a text,” Berson said. “They have to engage in content and look and explore and get dirty and dig deep when they’re dealing with history, because for a lot of kids they look at history and they say well that happened a long time ago, that has nothing to do with me.”
Daryl Saunders, social studies supervisor and generalist for area IV schools in Hillsborough County, specializes in implementation of standards, curriculum and development. She will be making sure that the final product can fit in with the curriculum, in the Florida state standards.
“We want more variety of resources and we want to find ways to get more complex resources in the hands of kids in a meaningful way,” Saunders said.
Most children have a phone or some type of device. Rather than shunning the use of the device completely, a ramification of education is occurring.
“What we hope to do is connect children through images to learn about congress to learn about civics, you know, what can they do in their community, by looking at the past and connecting it to their present day lives,” Berson said.
Berson hopes that the app is something that is easily accessible for students and teachers. While it will be free, that doesn’t always mean that people will use or be aware of it. The team will be working no only on design and content but also on how they can make accessibility a reality.
“Kids change, society changes and we have to change,” Saunders said.