This guest post comes to us from Mary J. Johnson, an educational consultant to the Library of Congress.
When I attended the Library’s June Summer Teacher Institute, I was struck by how much the week of immersion in primary sources altered participants’ preliminary teaching plans. Between Library of Congress website discoveries and tours of real primary source collections, attendees extensively changed and enriched their plans.
Participants arrived at the Institute with projects in mind. They came from private and public schools, schools in high poverty urban settings and wealthy suburban locations, and schools with sizable English language learner populations. There were school librarians, elementary teachers, Advanced Placement History teachers, principals, English teachers, a museum educator, an education librarian for pre-service teachers, and more.
A second grade teacher hoped to combine the study of George Washington, known as an expert surveyor and cartographer, with a mapping unit. She wanted her children to “make a map just like George Washington.” Imagine her reaction when Ed Redmond of the Library’s Geography and Map Division led a tour into the vault and invited her to view an original map drawn by Washington himself!
Working in an urban school district with 90% free and reduced lunch students, another teacher planned to use Lewis Hine’s child labor photographs to demonstrate the importance of education to her students. She found powerful photographs in an Industrial Revolution primary source set. The child labor subject link on one item led her to still more resources. She will use each image to counter apathetic student complaints: “Just let me sit here. What’s the point? Why should I be working so hard?”
Several participants had planned projects related to immigration. In an activity introducing strategies for using multiple primary source formats, we studied an immigration document, a musical score with lyrics, and a political cartoon. “Immigration Figures for 1903” presented statistics to reflect an anti-immigration point of view, much as people manipulate statistics today.
The Summer Teacher Institute ended with an impressive tour of all the projects developed throughout the week. By Friday, the majority of teaching ideas had morphed into far richer primary source learning activities. Some Institute participants had forged totally new paths.
As for me, I’m on a quest to discover the story behind handwritten edits of the United States Constitution. When one of the Library’s Early American History Specialists, Julie Miller, brought an original printed draft of the Committee of Style to our Institute, I was astonished at the evidence of contentious and difficult decisions throughout the document. In that moment, the Constitution came alive for me.
What Library of Congress primary sources have changed and enriched your own practice? What would you still like to find? The experts at the Library of Congress are here to help!