This post is by Jacqueline Katz, the 2022-2023 Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Library of Congress..
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I have been a biology and chemistry teacher at Princeton [NJ] High School for 10 years. During my second year of teaching, I was given the opportunity to build a 3-year research experience for students. This program enriched my passion for scientific research, leading me to complete Master’s of Science degrees in both Chemical Biology and Cell and Developmental Biology. Both degrees led me to think about the localization of certain molecules in cells and the subsequent effect on the physiology of that cell. The ability to be a student alongside my own students helped me to find greater meaning in my work as an educator.
How has using primary sources changed your teaching?
Primary sources have helped my students both observe how knowledge is acquired and absorb the story of scientific discovery. When interacting with primary sources in the science classroom, my students have been able to understand the processes required to reach the level of knowledge we have today. It is easy to take for granted the things we know about photosynthesis and the structure of the mitochondria, but once students explore the original experiments and ideas, those single pieces of information reveal themselves as journeys of scientific inquiry. Primary sources show students that humans just like themselves are responsible for the discoveries recorded on a textbook page.
Why did you apply for the Einstein Fellowship?
I applied for the Einstein Fellowship to get inspired and motivated! Motivation can be contagious, and to remain effective in the classroom it is vital that I stay motivated for my students. This fellowship will allow me to explore new content and resources in order to grow as a person and educator. I hope to return to the classroom with new information to share with my students and colleagues, as well as contribute to the work being done to build the scientific literacy of our citizenry.
What are your goals for your year as a Fellow?
I hope to build my capacity to guide students to understand how knowledge is constructed and elevate the stories behind the science I teach. I have recently become interested in epistemic practices and the role they play in developing scientific and data literacy. With so much information available, our students must leave our classroom one step closer to being scientifically and data literate. This experience at the Library is going to provide me with time to explore and develop resources to bring epistemic practices into science classrooms around the country.
What advice would you give to teachers who want to use primary sources in classroom activities given the push to meet standards and ensure success on standardized tests?
To maximize the many benefits of primary sources in the classroom, I would recommend “checking multiple boxes” when incorporating primary sources. For example, consider using an advertisement that introduces a scientific phenomenon, makes a claim, and presents data or evidence. When exploring this advertisement with students, the class will ask questions about the content to be covered and employ literacy skills to assess the credibility of the source. Find primary sources that provide an entry point for some important conversations surrounding equity and ethics in the content you teach. Although these conversations don’t directly meet standards, they are vital for the growth of our students as citizens. The potential for transfer of skills from primary sources to course content, standardized test situations, and real world information will benefit students both inside and outside of the classroom.
Do you enjoy these posts? Subscribe! You’ll receive free teaching ideas and primary sources from the Library of Congress.