Library of Congress Seeks Teams to Develop K-12 Apps on Congress, Civics

Associate Editor

Congress has appropriated $950,000 to the Library of Congress for a competition to develop “engaging” Web and mobile apps to explain to K-12 students how the legislative branch works, and the importance of civic participation.Congress icon button_560x292blog_iSTOCK.jpg

The library, which is conducting a search for teams comprised of educators and technologists who would produce the apps using primary online sources from the library, will oversee the development process. Primary sources include the photographs, letters, maps, and architectural drawings that are historical materials in the library’s collection, said Lee Ann Potter, director of educational outreach for the library, in an interview. Secondary sources like the law library and can be incorporated as well.

“Our concern is the content,” Potter said. Many apps don’t live up to their educational promises in their marketing, she said. “You play around with them a little, find the interactivity may be great, but the substance is not enough,” said Potter, who taught U.S. history to Houston high school students in the 1990s.

Organizations have until May 31 to apply for the grants, which will be distributed to grant winners over a two-year period. No specific number of grants, or amount for grants, has been established, Potter explained. The library will determine that once it reviews the range of applications with a panel of judges, and decides which applicants will receive funds.

An Anonymous Congressional Appropriator?

Perhaps suprisingly, no member of Congress has come forward to claim that he or she is responsible for this appropriation.

Just couple of weeks ago. I was able to give a briefing to education staffers about this. We had a full house. There was that much interest to alerting constituents,” Potter said. But no one identified his or her boss as championing the funding.

Maybe the impetus for the money comes as a result of a study last year indicating that 35 percent of Americans couldn’t name even one branch of government. And my colleague Ross Brenneman wrote in Education Week Teacher last year that funding typically hasn’t followed national praise for civic education.

This is the first time the library has ventured into overseeing app development in education, said Potter, who added that a “hackathon” was considered to jump start the project, but the library chose another path. The grantees will work with the library’s Teaching With Primary Sources program in developing the online interactives and mobile apps for use in K-12 education. That program provides professional development opportunities for educators and enables the development and dissemination of teaching materials focused on using the Library’s digitized primary sources. 

Ideally, Potter said the first iterations of the apps would be ready for testing in the 2016-17 school year and finished for 2017-18, but that doesn’t mean the apps would only be available in schools. “We want kids to play with these,” she said.

Whatever apps are created will be made available free, since taxpayers are footing the bill for the development. 

Applicants should demonstrate a record of success in the development and implementation of curricular programs on Congress and civic participation, and/or the development and long-term maintenance of successful online interactives or mobile apps for classroom use, the library indicated in its release.

“The right organization or organizations working on this are going to know enough about what’s in the current curriculum about understanding how a bill becomes a law, and that that will be part of an app showing the value of engagement by the people,” Potter said.

The application deadline is May 31, 2015. For more information, application requirements, and selection criteria, see the Notice of Funding Availability.

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