This is a guest post by Daniel Angulo, an intern with the education team at the Library of Congress as part of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) internship program.
In 2011, I boarded a plane and started my first international travel to Spain. I had enrolled in a study abroad program in Granada, Spain—a small college town south of Madrid. Besides the daily cultural and language exchanges I had while walking the Moorish markets, I felt most of my learning happened while walking on cobblestone streets that mapped this beautiful city. I admired the remains of history and the marvelous buildings anchored deep in Spanish soil. One of my favorite site visits was the Alhambra, which I was also able to appreciate from my own bedroom window.
As a 6th grade teacher, I love to share my travel experiences with my students. Especially when I teach history, I am able to share pictures and personal experiences that are relevant to the concept being taught. Sharing pictures, I have realized, has enriched my student’s learning in multiple ways, and has provided them with images that stimulate and support their learning of the concept being taught.
Similar to this, I have found that using primary sources in the classroom has been a powerful learning tool. Analyzing primary sources, just like sharing my personal pictures, has provided students with first hand information from the past. This information allows students to build connections between the concept being learned and the primary source. This is powerful learning.
In one history lesson about the importance of primary sources, I asked students, “What methods do historians use to help them answer questions about what happened in the past?” Students engaged in a collaborative conversation and shared their conclusions aloud. Then students formed small groups and analyzed five photographs of different sections of the Alhambra in Spain, shown here, focusing their study on the design. Students recorded their observations, listing the architectural elements, decorations, shapes and functions they observed from the pictures. In the final activity, students identified similarities and differences between my pictures and the historical photographs being analyzed.
The activity ended with re-visiting the essential question: “What methods do historians use to help them answer questions about what happened in the past?” As students reflected back to the essential question, they concluded that historians need to ask questions in order to understand the present, use a variety of methods to help them answer questions, and examine evidence in order to draw conclusions to their own questions.