Getting Right to the Source with Science-Related Primary Sources from the Library of Congress

Did you know that the Library’s education specialists write a column titled “Right to the Source” in The Science Teacher, a magazine published by the National Science Teachers Association? Each article features a primary source and offers context or historical information. Here are a few from recent issues with additional teaching suggestions.

Letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Mabel Hubbard Bell, May 4, 1917

In January, we highlighted a letter that Alexander Graham Bell wrote to his wife Mabel Hubbard Bell, describing an experiment where he reflects light under water. This simple letter outlining his experimental process and the variables includes a drawing of the apparatus he used. Students can use his letter to recreate the experiment and may consider why he decided to write his wife about this experiment instead of sending the information to other scientists or to a scientific journal. Teachers can also point students to the Library’s primary source set on Scientific Data collection to see how other scientists documented their work.

Cover Page of the Origin of the Species

February focused on the title page of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Though many of us will only glance at a title page, this article encourages us to linger a little longer and consider Darwin’s background and experience based on the memberships listed. Encourage students to consider why Darwin decided to include his memberships on the title page and why this might be important. Share this cartoon with students and ask them what they think is being expressed. How does it connect to reasons why Darwin listed his memberships?

Page in Lezioni accademiche; with early barometer created by Torricelli, 1715

March featured a drawing of Evan Torricelli’s first mercury barometer that was included in a letter sent to a friend. This blog post about the barometer provides teaching ideas and tips on how students can make their own barometers. The Library’s Weather Forecasting primary source set offers primary sources that document the history of weather forecasting and how scientists kept track of weather throughout history.

Muddy Jim and other rhymes, 1919

April’s issue spotlighted Muddy Jim and Other Rhymes, a book of “Health Jingles” created by Emile Berliner and some of his associates. In the early 20th century many people were drawn to cities hoping for jobs and better lives, but they often found long hours and low pay, inadequate food and water, and slums rife with disease. The book, illustrated with color drawings, highlights the need for children to brush their teeth, bathe, get a good night’s sleep, and avoid tobacco. Students can read the book and consider what good health habits were not included. How effective do they think the rhymes were? Ask them to design their own healthy habits guide. What would they include or leave out?

If you are a member of the National Science Teachers Association, you can access these and our other “Right to the Source” articles on their Web site. If you are not a member you might visit your local library and ask the librarian to help you find The Science Teacher.

Information Literacy: Building Observation and Questioning Skills with Newspaper Ads

As we were designing our series of posts on information literacy we were drawn to the American Association of School Librarians “Standards for the 21st Century Learner.” These standards focus on the importance of students being effective readers, not just of printed text but also of images, video and sound recordings.

Mobilizing Diversity During World War I

When the United States entered World War I, it was also grappling with issues related to suffrage, immigration, and social inequality. The country needed the work of the entire populace to fuel its efforts in the Great War, and the nation’s leadership tried to rally all people of the country around the war, urging all to unite against a common enemy. Students can examine primary sources from the Library of Congress to better understand how minority groups were recruited to help support the war effort.