Heliocentric, Geocentric: Using Library of Congress Ebooks to Explore Science-Related Primary Sources

This guest post was excerpted from a blog written by Tom Bober, who works as a library media specialist in Clayton, Missouri. Tom and his students used one of the Library’s new interactive ebooks, the Student Discovery Sets, which are available for free for iPads on iBooks. Tom participated in a 2014 Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute.  Information on applying to the 2015 institutes is now available.

Student using eBook for Class Activity.

Student using eBook for class activity.

I had been looking for ways to integrate research skills for a fifth grade class that is currently studying space and motion. While students had mostly been studying observational aspects to space, such as moon phases, their teacher shared that they had also been introduced to the terms ‘heliocentric’ and ‘geocentric.’

The new Library of Congress “Understanding the Cosmos” ebook has a great selection of primary sources that could help support that topic. Originally, I thought that I would encourage students to explore the differences within several geocentric models, but after asking a few questions, it became clear that they were still hazy on the definitions.

Each student at a table was given a different primary source to analyze. I projected the ebook and showed students how to access the ebook, their primary source, and how to draw on the primary source, modeling some reasons they might make notes on their tablets.

ibooks-promo-art-master-compI found that most students were focused on their analysis. They loved the pinch and zoom feature and used it to see details that couldn’t be seen otherwise. They used the draw feature to circle items that they found interesting, unusual, or important. They used a finger to write “Why?” about some of the writings around the models. Because I wanted to review their writing, allow them to have concrete evidence of their thinking and focus their conversations with each other, I had them record their observations, reflections and questions on a primary source analysis tool.

After students analyzed their primary sources, I asked them to confer with others at their table and to determine which of the items represented either a heliocentric or geocentric model of the universe. While in their groups, I encouraged the students to refer to their analysis of their individual item and to focus on the differences and similarities in the items to help them understand each term. It was wonderful to watch the students as they discussed some of the differences between the drawings and current information on the planets.

When the class shared out at the end of the session, only one group didn’t have correct definitions of ‘heliocentric’ and ‘geocentric,’ but that group still used a very logical explanation for their thinking. However, by the time two more groups had shared, they asked to change their idea based on what others had said.

Tom Bober

Tom Bober

This discussion embodies why I appreciate the use of primary sources in learning. Analyzing primary sources as part of an activity encourages the struggle that leads to learning. Students had to observe, interpret, and apply their understanding of these primary sources to create a definition for a pair of words. They brought in their own understanding of the solar system and of language to help construct that understanding. They worked individually and then collaborated to agree upon meanings that weren’t confirmed by the teacher until all had an opportunity to make their own learning journey. Overall, I would consider this a good experience with using primary sources to explore this topic and a promising first use of these new ebooks from the Library of Congress.

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