Mrs. Mansfield's Middle Ground

Indus Valley WebQuest Evaluation

The "Indus Valley WebQuest" addresses several important social studies standards for the middle school curriculum.  Geared toward middle school social studies students, "this WebQuest was originally created in...2002 using a template available fro the Bernie Dodge WebQuest page" by Russell Tomlin and Stacy Kaplan, librarian and history teacher, for John Muir Middle School in California.  Interestingly, I initially found and adapted a portion of this WebQest for use in my own geography class, with gratifying results I might add, not anticipating that I would have occasion to reconsider its educational merits as part of the CEP 811 course.

Student tasks, processes, and evaluation criteria for the portion of the WebQuest involving the role of religion in ancient Southeast Asia are clearly stated. The WebQuest is a time travel scenario that requires students to engage in inquiry and cooperative learning to create a time capsule about the daily life, medical advancements, and religions of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, which will then be presented to the class.  Student groups are required to gather, analyze, and then evaluate data before constructing and presenting a time capsule, including justification for their choices. 

This constructivist approach to learning requires students to engage in higher level thinking by: 1) analyzing primary and secondary sources, 2) defending their choices, 3) responding to open-ended questions, and 4) synthesizing information for presentation to an authentic audience, their classmates.  Having conducted the religion portion of this WebQuest with my own classes, I found it to be an extremely effective teaching tool that challenged students at all skill levels. It is consistent with Bernie Dodge’s conception of the WebQuest as an inquiry-based, constructivist activity that promotes higher order thinking skills, allows for differentiation, and scaffolds learning by providing quality resources online. The shortcoming of this WebQuest is that it claims to have a three-fold focus, but the portion of the assignment involving daily life and medical advances needs clarification, whereas the objectives for the religion aspect are clearly articulated. Compare Figure 1 and Figure 2.

Fig. 1 - Daily Life and Medicine Requirements
Fig. 2 - Religion Requirements

Also absent is an explanation of the curriculum standards targeted by this WebQuest.  Major national standards that correlate with Michigan’s Grade Level Content Expectations (GLCEs) are addressed nonetheless.  For example, this task fulfills GLCEs regarding the origins and beliefs of major world religions.  Although it states that “each research team will focus on…the origins, beliefs, and spread of” Buddhism or Hinduism, I was unable to find a requirement about the spread of religion articulated in the student tasks and, therefore, added an additional element addressing this standard when adapting the WebQuest for use in my own seventh grade class.  Another modification that I implemented, in order to improve student engagement and increase technological literacy skills, was the change from a physical time capsule to the creation of a digital time capsule, thus integrating technology in the synthesis phase as well as in the acquisition of information.

Technically speaking, the Indus Valley WebQuest works.  A manageable number of working links guide student research.  Although some links connect to “notes” pages that, unless used with assistive technology such as a voice reader, offer little advantage over printed documents, other links, such as the Mohenjo-daro slideshow link, demonstrate meaningful change.  The same general project could, in theory, be completed using traditional tools such as books, slide shows, and films, but the internet allows students to access resources, such as artifacts, that would simply be unavailable in most schools. 

Technology also provides the advantage of flexibility, allowing individuals and groups to move at their own pace, access resources from alternate sites, and access interactive materials.  Differentiation may occur in several ways, such as use of assistive technology, assignment of roles within groups, and differentiation according to student interests.  For example, students choose whether to investigate Hinduism or Buddhism for the religion section of the activity.  My first-hand experience was that this WebQuest also differentiates by ability as it sets floors rather than ceilings for student achievement. Furthermore, I found that students naturally rose to their own zone of proximal development as a result of the structure of this activity.  Overall, the Indus Valley WebQuest is an effective, student-centered tool for involving students in meaningful inquiry, developing higher order thinking skills, and improving student engagement.

Tomlin, R. and Kaplan, S. (2002). John Muir Middle School.  Original URL:

        Retrieved January 27,    2009 from


Image retrieved February 4, 2009 from