Random Thoughts: Change, Primary Sources & Other Stuff


It wasn’t quite a rabbit hole, but you just never know where a single comment will lead you. It all began with a post about Mother’s Day resources in America’s Story From America’s Library, a Library of Congress (LC) site for younger learners. The treasures shared inspired me to offer primary sources and stories about Teddy Roosevelt, which are useful in conjunction with The Legend of the Teddy Bear, a picture book. Others quickly shared more resources and teaching ideas. I can almost hear the teddy bear songs. Swapping stories about using primary sources and sharing stories told through primary sources is what the TPS Teachers Network is all about.

The network is a professional social media platform  . . . . Read More


There is nothing quite like seeing what we’ve read about in person!

A few days ago I visited the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston where the auction for 55 Prime Negroes, accustomed to the culture of Rice was held at 11:00 am January 21, 1857, by Louis D. DeSaussure – There it was, a reproduction of a familiar document I use in various teaching activities.

It is believed that 35 – 40% of the slaves in the United States entered through the port of Charleston. Many were sold at Ryan’s mart, owned by Thomas Ryan, a Charlotte alderman and former sheriff.  Ryan’s mart is the only known existent building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina and on the National Register of Historic Sites.

Most of the story about the journey to America and the auction process is told through visuals, but some artifacts exist. These include a whip, chains, balls, and the chilling auction block.

The flyer is ideal for observation, questioning, and encouraging engaged discussion.

  1. Understanding flyer vocabulary
  2. Descriptions of the slaves and what they mean
  3. The condition of the document and written notations
  4. Issues surrounding using the document in the classroom

Related Resources


Rice field tools displayed at the Rice Museum, Georgetown, Georgia.

The Rice field flyers are available through Duke University Libraries Emergence of Advertising in America, 1850 – 1920.  Search for auction flyers such as List of 17 Rice Field Negroes for Sale and 55 Prime Negroes


Content is part of a longer post  published on the Teaching With Primary Sources Network, Feb. 2018


Last December I wrote about the Camp Algona Nativity Scene created by German Prisoners of War. Earlier, I wrote about  a visit to the historic Surf Ballroom in nearby Clear lake, another small north Central Iowa city.  Stars over Clear Lake, historical fiction by Loretta Ellsworth weaves together Camp Algona and the Surf  in a story of remembrance and discovery.  Shifting between 2007 and the 1940s, Lorraine returns to Clear lake for the first time in many years. She revisits places and people of her past, remembering Jens and other prisoners of war from nearby Camp Algona who worked on the family farm during World War II.  Other friendships and family struggles contribute to the story with a surprise ending.

It’s a compelling summer or holiday read  – and an interesting way to learn about German Prisoner of War Camps and historic ballrooms, two aspects of  American history and culture that are not widely known. The novel is for older high school students and offers many interesting curriculum possibilities.

Learn how to find and use primary sources in your classroom!

Ellsworth, Loretta. Stars over Clear Lake, St. Martin’s Press 2017.


The DP.LA, The Digital Public Library of America has published 20 new Primary Source topics on diverse topics for U.S. and World history, science and technology,  literature and arts. Primary sources sets, including those curated by the Library of Congress,  are collections of multiple individual primary source artifacts surrounding a specific theme  They are free, quality “go-to” tools for teachers needing resources and for media specialists collaborating with or identifying appropriate resources for teachers. 

New DP.LA sets include the expected (The Battle of Gettysburg) and possibly unexpected but wished for (Columbian Exposition), boosting the total of sets available to well over 100!   This is great and welcome news! The growing and complementary collections of sets from DP.LA and the Library of Congress

Continue reading Revisiting Expanding Collections of Primary Source Sets, Internet@Schools, Sept/Oct 2017.

Primary Source Sets Comparison, DP.LA., Library of Congress (Including ebook Student Discovery Sets) 

The onset of technology in education coincided with my experience planning a small, but attached lab as part of a new media center in the 1980’s.  In a short while I was reorganizing and repurposing a very old media center to accommodate computer labs. In the early 2000’s my former school districts planned new media centers with multiple computer labs and workstations. The labs were heavily used; spaces were sometimes booked weeks in advance.  That was then; this is now.  The rapid implementation of 1:1 computers makes it apparent that a model that worked for 20-25 years is no longer needed.   What is happening to all of those labs and computer areas within media centers? How labs being redesigned and spaces repurposed? What design mistakes did we make in 15-20 years ago?  What still works?

I posed my question to discussion groups and received numerous thoughtful and interesting responses.  There is exciting change in place as media specialists continue to respond to and become part of change. Their responses also suggest much of the old is still good while long-standing and traditional design musts are still there as are long-standing design woes.   Other features became quickly obsolete.  An article addressing my questions and was published in Internet@Schools, March/April 2017.  Complete article: Integrating Technology Then … And Now: From Computer Lab to Design  Flexibility


First used in 2000, this lab open, u-shaped lab worked well for teaching and collaborative learning. It was easily supervised and has helpful storage.  It could become a Makerspace in 2017.



fischerquoteThis December, as they have since the end of World War II, residents and visitors to Algona, Iowa, will gather to view a Nativity Scene created by German architect Eduard Kaib while he was a German Prisoner of War at Camp Algona.

Kaib, an architect by trade, created a small nativity scene that impressed the Camp Commander who asked him to create a larger version. Kaib enlisted five friends to help create 60 half-size figures from wood, wire and plaster. Prisoners paid for the construction. When World War II ended the camp was disbanded and the scene was left to the city of Algona. It was first available for public viewing Christmas 1945.  Since the 1950s the scene has been housed in a special building.  The nativity scene is maintained by the Algona United Methodist Church and available for viewing each holiday season. Visitors have included former POWs and family members.

German POWs were able to pursue other artistic endeavors while living at Camp Algona. There was a camp orchestra, band, and German language newspaper and art classes.  A small crèche, carvings, woodwork and paintings are displayed at the Camp Algona Museum. Exhibits depict POW camp experiences, POW contributions to the farm economy, and their interactions with community members who feared the POWS until they realized “they look just like us.”  Exhibits also highlight camp military and civilian workers, contributions of Kossuth County women to the war effort, and Americans held in Axis POW camps. Four military guards stationed at Camp Algona were former prisoners in these camps. Prisoners received medical treatment and only a very few died while at the camp; a Lutheran pastor provided Sunday worship services in English and German.

Camp Algona was the base camp for over 10,000 German Prisoners of War from 1943-1946. Branch camps were in Iowa and neighboring states. One branch camp, the Whitewater POW Camp, was at a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp  in Winona County (Southeast Minnesota.)  Camp Algona’s buildings were torn down and the wood was reused after the war ended. The camp site is now the location of a National Guard Armory and a city airport.

After visiting the museum we spoke with a local citizen who grew up a farm near the camp.  She got to know prisoners who worked on the family farm or attended church with her family. These friendships were not uncommon and many former POWS visited Algona after the War.  Visiting the  Camp Algona Museum was on my “do” list for far too long; it was well worth the wait and visit. Two photos of museum displays and and resources are below.


The Camp Algona Nativity Scene (PDF)
POW Nativity Scene, narrated video with script, First United Methodist Church
Camp Algona Museum (website with links to the Nativity Scene)
Whitewater’s German POW Camp; Learning more about POWs in the U.S. (with  resource list)

Learn how to find and use primary sources in your classroom!


Once or twice a month I work as a gallery greeter at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. First time visitors invariably make a bee-line to George Washington Crossing the Delaware by  Emmanuel Leutze,, one of the two surviving versions of the iconic painting. Last week a group of college students were absolutely giddy about being able to view. They looked, talked, asked questions and came back for a second look after touring the rest of the gallery.  I love historical art and seeing conversations like those take place.    What other paintings can

Are paintings primary sources? Can one painting stimulate inquiry and exploration? Can it be the centerpiece of a lesson or interdisciplinary learning? How can maps be paired with paintings?  In the November/December New Media Center column  I shared some ideas that illustrate the power of a painting, used alone or paired with another resource to provide a great learning activity.  For the Love of Historical Art!  




Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


%d bloggers like this: