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Introducing Primary Source Analysis to Students: Lessons from the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute

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This guest post was excerpted from e-mail correspondence from Eden Kuhlenschmidt, who works as a school librarian in Indiana. Eden participated in a 2012 Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teacher Institute. She wrote to us about her experience taking what she learned back to the teachers and students in her school. Watch this blog for the 2013 Summer Teacher Institute application – coming next month.

Wow–oh, my goodness, I just had two of the best days, and most exhausting, that I’ve had with a Social Studies lesson in a long, long time.  I talked the two sixth grade social studies teachers into letting me present the Waldseemüller Map: World 1507 and the Primary Source Analysis tool as part of their beginning of the year mapping unit.

1507 Waldseemüller World Map in action

I realized I had to teach the tool before letting the students loose on it – and at the same time I would be modeling the tool (we call it a graphic organizer) for the two teachers.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the kids wowed me.  We started off doing a map poster I created together with using the tool.  The poster showed pictures I had taken of maps in the Library of Congress geography and map collections. For the 6th graders we added to the headings on the analysis tool – Observe (“What did I see?” and drew eyeballs), Reflect (added the word Infer which reflects that spot in their science notebooks and the question “What do I already know?”, a drawing of a head with a big brain) and Question (added “What do I want to know?” and a giant question mark).

It took them awhile to understand the difference between “observe” and “reflect,” but I think 80% left with a good understanding.  We had 150 students in the first group write a reflection on what they learned and what they liked. My personal favorite: “I learned that libraries have more than books, River Valley Library and the Library of Congress are really bigger than my elementary school library, and Ms. K. got to do something really cool this summer and let us see the pictures.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you for showing us this activity and the Waldseemüller map.


Comments (3)

  1. Eden, how wonderful to see your project! I’m sure the kids learned a lot, but even better that you educated the teachers. Great work.

  2. The best part of teaching is learning; learning from our colleagues who bring new and inspiring ideas back to our schools to share with others. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I was one of the sixth grade teachers who participated. The students were not only engaged, but wanted to outdo the other groups. I was amazed at how quickly they were able to reconstruct the Waldseemuller map. It was a great lesson and great day. Thank you Ms. K. for your wonderful lesson.

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