We’re pleased to introduce the Library of Congress 2015-16 Teacher in Residence for science. Since 2000, the Library of Congress has selected an exceptional teacher to advise and collaborate with its educational staff. Trey Smith, a science teacher at Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will partner with teachers to develop models for integrating primary sources into existing science curricula and for making cross-curricular connections.
I would in no way compare myself to Benjamin Franklin–for a number of very good reasons. However, as a newly minted science Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, I recognize that reflecting on Franklin, both as man and myth, might help me make sense of the opportunities ahead.
Franklin pursued many paths. He was printer, postmaster, and philosopher; author, ambassador, and activist; scientist, statesman, and satirist; founder of a new nation and founder of many “firsts” in his adopted Philadelphia home. As a teacher, I wear many hats as well, assuming the roles of learner and leader, diplomat (among teenagers) and devoted educational technologist, advocate for my students and ambassador of the teaching profession.
As a science Teacher in Residence at the Library, I will take on diverse new responsibilities while remaining focused on what makes for transformational student and teacher learning. For instance:
- I will use the tools and habits of mind of librarians and historians to uncover and analyze primary sources that would be useful in science classrooms;
- I will help facilitate a professional learning community with colleagues from my home school as well as work with teachers from across the country in workshops, at conferences, and through online platforms; and,
- I will be writing and making public my perspectives on teaching science, highlighting the promising possibilities associated with using primary sources.
While so many teachers write, collaborate, and identify new ways to teach all year long–in addition to teaching in the classroom–I will take on these activities full time for the school year.
Franklin not only provides a model for making sense of my work as a teacher but also reminds me that I have a lot to learn this year and share with others. Teaching and living in Philadelphia, as I have done since 2007, it is not uncommon to turn a corner in the city’s core and see a reference to Franklin. A big blue bridge and broad parkway both bear his name. His likeness is cast in statues and sculptures. Franklin’s mythological status makes it easy to miss some of his contributions, especially in science.
Most people are familiar with Franklin’s experiments with electricity. Fewer, however, are familiar with his observations about the Gulf Stream, for instance. His maps provide a historical entry point from which to consider the circulation of the atmosphere and oceans in a science class. Franklin’s complex contributions to history and understanding of the natural world remind me that I will need to dig deep to unearth, especially for K-12 teachers and their students, stories of science that may be less well known but that will be useful for improving students’ understandings of science ideas and practices. Check out another map of the Gulf Stream from Benjamin Franklin.
The Library, with its collections of maps, photographs, video and audio recordings, manuscripts, newspapers, and other artifacts, is rich. I am fortunate to join a team that has been working for decades to make these artifacts available to teachers across the world. I am looking forward to an exciting year and to joining the ongoing discussion about how primary sources can inspire deeper learning.