Primary Sources in Science Classrooms: Concussions, a Century of Controversy, and Football

This post was written by Trey Smith, the Library of Congress 2015-16 Science Teacher in Residence.

In 1905, nineteen high school and college students died after sustaining football-related injuries. An article in the Salt Lake Tribune outlines efforts to address deaths and injuries associated with football. A century later, controversy persists concerning concussions.

Salt Lake City Tribune, December 17, 1905

Salt Lake City Tribune, December 17, 1905

Minneapolis Journal, November 27, 1905

Minneapolis Journal, November 27, 1905

Science and health teachers can tackle brain science using current and historical primary sources about football. Teachers can arrange a gallery walk, jigsaw activity, or stations with primary sources to tease out the specifics of the events of 1905.

Select questions from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Newspapers to elicit students’ observations, reflections and questions about the reports. Then students will want to investigate further, perhaps exploring how the brain is affected by traumatic injury. Primary sources about football injuries can kick off learning about the brain, its regions, and its circuit, as well as about information processing in complex organisms.

Connecting brain science and football can engage students as they apply classroom learning to real-world concerns:

  • How do the quantity and quality of today’s injuries, especially those to the head, compare to those of the past?
  • What more do we know medically and scientifically? What do scientists still not know?

Inquiry into football and the brain could include a comparison between football of a century prior and the modern game. A 1903 video recording by Thomas Edison of a game between Princeton and Yale offers a look at football before the nationwide uproar.

  • What stands out as the style of play?
  • How does it compare to today?
  • How might the style of play affect human health and the brain specifically?

Check out a recent blog post by Tom Bober, the Library’s audio-visual Teacher in Residence, on analyzing this and other videos.

Students might also look at public policy and legislation. President Roosevelt was involved in the 1905 reforms. In 2014, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation released a Report on the Youth Sports Concussion Act that addressed the sale of products claiming to reduce concussions. While the bill described by the committee report never became law, it provides an example response to the complex issue of football-related injuries.

Youth Sports Concussion Act

Youth Sports Concussion Act

Teachers using problem-based learning models may assign students stakeholder roles: player, coach, parent of a player, league president, legislator, doctor, neuroscientist, equipment engineer, or even U.S. President. In 1905, just as is the case today, not everyone agreed that football should be seen as dangerous. Students could study the issues and advocate for a path forward. Students might design solutions using engineering principles or engage in arguments about public, organization, or league policy using evidence.

Advances in neuroscience and improved—but still incomplete—understanding of the brain require greater attention from science teachers. What other aspects of the controversy surrounding football might lead to deeper learning about the brain?

Multimedia Moment: Analyzing Film in the Classroom

Viewing a film in class is a commitment of time and technology. Teachers want students to be active viewers, but most are more familiar with passively viewing film and video. How can teachers present film in a way that students are more likely to analyze its content? What aspects of viewing film may be beneficial to consider before analysis?

The Américas Award: Bringing Literature to Life with Primary Sources

On Friday, September 18th, 2015, the Library of Congress hosted the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The award, co-sponsored with the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, recognizes work that “authentically and engagingly portrays Latin Americans, Caribbeans, or Latinos in the United States.” These diverse stories can be highlighted and brought to life through the use of primary sources.

Analyzing Persuasive Techniques in Historical Media Messages: Child Labor

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the current Library of Congress Teacher in Residence. Before 1938, child labor was a controversial topic, as arguments raged over the benefits and harms of children working in factories, on farms, and in the streets as news and delivery boys. Persuasive messages filled the media, asking the American people […]

Intern Lesson: Who Knew Analyzing Primary Sources Could Be So Exciting?

As the end of my internship draws near and I look back at all I have learned, one thing sticks out: I have been surprised by how exciting analyzing primary sources can be. I watched as teachers at our workshops sat with images in front of them, and their facial expressions went from an initial blank stare to expressions of full engagement and wonder as they looked at every detail of an image to answer questions like: What is the image trying to convey? Why? Who created it? In groups, the teachers became excited students working together to analyze an image.

The Great Gatsby: Establishing the Historical Context with Primary Sources

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the current Library of Congress Teacher in Residence. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is one of the most often taught in American literature classes. However, the further we move away chronologically from 1922,  a time of economic boom following the devastation of World War I, the less […]

Electricity and Primary Sources: Engaging Second Graders

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the current Library of Congress Teacher in Residence. A colleague and I were recently invited into a classroom at The River School in Washington, D.C., which provides “educational experiences for children and their families uniting the best practices of early childhood education and oral deaf education.” We visited to […]