This post is written by Amara Alexander, the 2019-20 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Library of Congress.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Originally from Huntsville, AL, I am a K-5 STEM teacher at Woodmore Elementary in Chattanooga, TN. I’ve been a classroom teacher for 12 years, with experience teaching 5th grade English/Language Arts and 6th grade science. I engage my students in investigations that allow them to explore the world around them as engineers and scientists. Engaging students with hands-on, mind-on instruction creates an environment for students to tap into skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
How has using primary sources changed your teaching?
Teaching with primary sources has enhanced my creativity and learning with primary sources gives my students a glance into the world beyond their community. The Library’s diverse catalog allows students to view first-hand accounts of history from all avenues of life and formulate their own understanding of historical documents. Students can begin to facilitate their own learning using the primary sources. Introducing students to primary sources nurtures natural educational experiences.
What prompted you to apply to be the Einstein Fellow at the Library of Congress?
Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Like Einstein, I am passionately curious and motivated to pursue and understand more about STEM education. This passion is shown through my instruction and interaction with my students. I applied to the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship to provide myself an opportunity for professional and personal growth. This Fellowship is a unique opportunity for any classroom teacher and I wanted to experience this new perspective.
What are your goals for your year as an Einstein Fellow?
During this Fellowship, I want to use this opportunity to absorb all I can to become a better educator and teacher leader. I hope to explore the hallowed halls of the Library and become immersed in the various collections in each of the reading rooms. I hope to encounter new individuals that will strengthen my intellect as an educator and deepen my understanding of other cultures. I believe this fellowship will positively impact my students, my colleagues, and myself, and I look forward to sharing these new learning experiences with them after my time at the Library.
What advice would you give to teachers who want to use primary sources in classroom activities given the push to meet standards and insure success on standardized tests?
Primary sources can be intertwined with the formal instruction teachers provide to their students on a daily basis. Allow time for your students to generate connections that outlast the traditional learning environment. With that in mind, those personal memories will resurface as students take formative and summative assessments. Branch out of your comfort zone and find a manuscript or audio recording for you students to delve into. The learning struggle, for you and your students, will offer new learning and an added tool to a teacher’s array of resources.