Amara Alexander, a K-5 engineering teacher from Chattanooga, Tenn., is the 2019-20 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Library. She wrote this piece for the Library of Congress Magazine.
Few things help students learn like getting up close to primary sources — the raw materials of history.
Seeing, say, the penciled sketches of experimental telephones that Alexander Graham Bell drew in his lab notebooks nearly 150 years ago helps young people better understand the engineering-design process and lets them see history unfold.
As the 2019-20 Einstein Fellow at the Library of Congress, I have spent the past several months exploring such treasures with a teacher-researcher’s goals in mind.
The need for primary sources — original documents and objects created at the time under study — to facilitate lessons focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education has guided my investigations.
Primary sources increase student engagement, growth and retention of concepts. The resources I discover during my year here will enhance my classroom instruction and the learning experiences of my students.
The STEM-related historical documents and artifacts in the Library’s many reading rooms and online are captivating.
In the Manuscript Division, I discovered African American inventor Lucean Arthur Headen, who owned his own automobile manufacturing company in the 1920s and produced a car he designed called the Headen Pace Setter. Wow! A moment in time, previously unknown to me, unfolded as a result of my research here and yielded connections between STEM and history. Knowing this story will create additional opportunities for me to expose students to new STEM career paths.
In addition to visiting reading rooms, I’ve searched the Library’s digitized collections to uncover primary sources related to science and engineering practices.
Through the Library’s website, inventions and discoveries from bygone eras leap from Bell’s lab journal pages into the hands of today’s students, inspiring their own creativity and extending their depth of knowledge. Historical documents chronicling the advancement of weather technology transform the history of meteorology from an abstract conversation to a hands-on exploration rich with analysis and questioning.
Taking on the role of a teacher-researcher empowers me to explore new topics, make unique discoveries and share what I’ve learned with fellow educators, colleagues, students and parents. Thanks to my time at the Library of Congress, my community now has access to primary sources and historical expertise that will expand the power of learning and advance knowledge and understanding.
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