Lesley Anderson is a 2021–22 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator at the Library. The fellowship program appoints accomplished K–12 teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to collaborate with federal agencies and congressional offices to advance STEM education. Anderson teaches high school math, chemistry, biology and environmental science in San Diego.
As a STEM teacher, what resources at the Library have captivated you?
Beyond the obvious collections, such as the Wright Brothers or the Alexander Graham Bell papers, there are many artifacts that can be used in a STEM classroom. I particularly loved working on a free-to-use photo set of natural disasters to be featured on the Library’s homepage this summer. I also enjoyed compiling a related primary source set for teachers that will appear on the Library’s site for teachers.
I found so many interesting interdisciplinary connections that enable students to consider not only the scientific explanation for the cause of a disaster, but also the response to it and potential future mitigation.
How has the pandemic affected your fellowship?
The first half of my fellowship was all remote, which made it challenging to learn about how the Library is structured and how all of the departments work together. In the past two months, however, I’ve had the privilege of coming into the office twice a week, and I’m learning even more about the Library in different ways. It’s almost like having a second fellowship.
You’ve worked with federal agencies previously doing hands-on science.
I started my first teacher-research experience with NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, looking at photocopies of old records of Arctic expeditions to compile an archive of historical sea ice thickness measurements.
Then, I further fueled my enthusiasm for polar science with a PolarTREC expedition to the South Pole in 2017, retracing the steps of polar explorers who risked everything to be the first to study the Arctic and Antarctic.
Coming to the Library, I was immediately drawn to searching for polar science artifacts in the collections. I could barely hold back my excitement when I had the chance to sit in a room with materials from explorers and expeditions — Admiral Byrd’s scrapbook with pictures from Antarctica, the Frederick Cook papers and Finn Ronne’s notebook from the Byrd Antarctic expedition. Years ago, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I never would have guessed that I would have the opportunity to hold the original copies of those old photocopied notebooks in my very own hands.
Even though I have conducted research with federal agencies in the past, I came to the Library with an open mind and the intention to learn as much as I could from the experts in the field so I can take that back into the classroom with me.
How will your experience at the Library inform your classroom teaching?
Spending a year at the Library has renewed my passion for lifelong learning and curiosity. When I look at a primary source, I immediately begin asking questions and find myself starting to “go down the rabbit hole” as I begin researching other related topics to answer my own questions. I hope that I can inspire that authentic inquisitive process, reflected in the scientific method, with my students when I return to the classroom.
How are you sharing the resources you’ve discovered?
I’ve enjoyed writing blog posts, publishing articles, hosting webinars and presenting at conferences to share the word about how to use primary sources in STEM classrooms. My posts are searchable on the Library’s blog for teachers, and my webinars will be available on the Library’s website in coming months.
What do you want STEM educators to know about the Library?
I hope that STEM educators can see the Library as I now do — the site of a rich collection of STEM resources, including curated primary sources that are ready to be used in K–12 classrooms. Primary sources can provide new access points to phenomena that may engage students who are typically disinterested in STEM topics. Additionally, primary source analysis can be a tool to enable students to think critically about a resource and incorporate science and engineering practices into their interdisciplinary learning.
For more information about this program, visit the Library’s Teacher in Residence Programs page.