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Five Questions with Gretel von Bargen, 2018 Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute Participant

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This post was written by Gretel von Bargen, a high school International Baccalaureate biology teacher and a 2018 Einstein Fellow. Gretel participated in the one of the sessions of the 2018 Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute.

The deadline to apply for the 2019 institute is March 10, 2019.

Are you a school media specialist? This year we have a session just for you from June 19 to 21, 2019. The deadline to apply for that session is February 22, 2019.

Why did you apply to participate in the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute?

As an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow I had the opportunity to spend a full day learning about the history of the Library, touring the incredible Thomas Jefferson Building, and exploring behind the scenes of the Library. I was mesmerized and knew immediately that I wanted to spend a week at the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute learning why and how to incorporate primary sources into my biology classroom instruction. I attended the Institute last summer and my high expectations were surpassed!  Spending a week learning about the use of primary sources with teachers of all grades from around our nation was invigorating, academically stimulating, and quite fun!

What’s one thing that stands out about your Institute experience?

The teachers who attended the Institute were able to participate in lessons as if we were students and then had time to reflect and discuss how we would use or adapt the instructional activities in our classrooms.  I loved that teachers of students of all grades were able to collaborate and share ideas for modifying lessons. I was the only science teacher of the bunch, which was a benefit as I was able to expand my understanding of pedagogical methods traditionally only used in humanities courses.

Is there anything that surprised you about the Library or its staff?

The Library of Congress has a rich collection of digital resources available for public access.  Not only did we learn strategies for searching primary sources on, but we had the opportunity to attend an “open house” during which subject matter experts from the various Library divisions were accessible for sharing their resources and collections highlights with the teachers.

How has your teaching changed since your participated in the Summer Teacher Institute?

Throughout the week, I learned and practiced strategies for considering different perspectives and modeled how historians examine primary sources. There was emphasis on how primary sources can be used to have students construct their own knowledge, deepen understanding of textbook material and support learning of reading and writing skills. Utilizing my learning, I have adapted multiple lessons within my science class to include primary source materials such as photographs, newspaper articles, and video clips. Students can often relate to the stories, novelty, and curiosity depicted in the primary source material.

 What’s next for you and the Library’s resources?

Participating in the Institute absolutely provided the time to focus on a single lesson in depth. I was able to learn of new resources, practice facilitation techniques, and learn how to engage students in primary source analysis. I plan on continuing to incorporate primary source material into future lessons.

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