Random Thoughts: Change, Primary Sources & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘Students

This post was first posted as a guest post on  A Media Specialists Guide to the Internet, Julie 17, 2013 Julie Greller’s award-winning blog.

A. Lincoln watch fobI think it’s an incense bottle.   Could this be an old coin?

Teachers attending a workshop are asked to select a photograph of a digital artifact to examine and share with the group. Within seconds they are sharing what they see or wondering what the item is.   A group of teachers and media specialists in an online class shared photos and maps of their hometown; a teacher from Wisconsin  wrote:  these 37 miles of river have been part of my life for the past 50 years.  The Fox River runs through my hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin.  [The river] is massive and drew many settlers to this area due to its ability to support a variety of industries.  The river specifically attracted many paper mills to build on its banks.  My grandfather worked at Fox River Paper Mill as a pipe fitter. Ten years ago I lived in the old mill, which had been converted to apartments.  . . .I would often wonder if I was walking in the same spot my grandfather walked or looked upon the river out the same window he once had so many years before I was even born. 

A Louisiana history teacher used photos and documents to introduce a topic the first day of school. She shared her excitement: I allowed my first period class today to start the {activity} I had assigned for homework.  They got so into it!  Between mocking Burnside’s facial hair, talking about the names, talking about the autographs – they really – without knowing it – started to get excited about primary documents!

Students and teachers in all three of these groups instinctively shifted into photo analysis, reflection, and discussion when they viewed the photos.  Photos, maps broadsides, posters, drawings and other visuals are powerful tools to stimulate our senses and thinking.  Photo analysis activities can be used to introduce a topic, as a discussion icebreaker, a writing prompt, or research catalyst.

The incense bottle is actually a watch fob; the coin is a button.  Both are part of Lincoln’s Pockets, a Library of Congress Teachers’ Page professional development activity.  Participants examine artifacts found in Lincoln’s pockets the night of his assassination and discuss how primary sources engage and motivate students.  The Teachers Page has a multitude of classroom-ready materials to help busy teachers and media specialists get started using photo analysis and primary sources in the classroom quickly.  Primary Source Sets, another Teachers Page feature are designed for busy teachers who want to use primary sources but are short on time for searching and selecting resources.  Over 30 sets provide  “ready to use” PDFs and MP3 files of primary sources on topics commonly taught in schools. Sets include Japanese Internment, the Dustbowl, the Harlem Renaissance, Baseball Across a Divided Society, Assimilation through Education (Indian Boarding Schools), Civil War Music, the Spanish American War, and Symbols of the United States. Teachers’ guides for each set provide background information, teaching ideas, links to related classroom materials, and other Library of Congress resources.  Reproducible primary source analysis tools are part of with each set.  The observe, reflect, question, and investigate further model is used in a generic analysis tool. Students can use it with a primary source in any format.  Teacher’s analysis guides for a diverse primary source formats (interviews, text, manuscripts, sheet music etc.) have question prompts and suggested teaching activities. A self-paced online professional development module “analyzing photos and prints” has a built-in analysis tool which can be completed online and printed out.

I keep discovering that too few people know about these wonderful tools and resources. The quickly approaching start of the school year is a wonderful time for media specialists to share these wonderful tools with teachers or use them during their own instruction!  It won’t take long before you see photo analysis and engaged discussion!


Teachers quoted: Susan Buss, Appleton, Wisconsin; Robin Vogt, New Orleans, Louisiana

Library of Congress Teachers Page, Professional Development Plan Builder, “Lincoln’s Pockets “ http://www.loc.gov/teachers/professionaldevelopment/tpsdirect/pdplanbuilder/

Library of Congress Teachers Page, Take Online Module http://www.loc.gov/teachers/professionaldevelopment/selfdirected/

Library of Congress Teachers Page Teachers Page Classroom Materials   http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/

Library of Congress Teachers Guides and Analysis Tools http://www.loc.gov/teachers/usingprimarysources/guides.html

Library of Congress Teachers Page Blog: Primary Source Sets  http://blogs.loc.gov/teachers/2013/08/blog-round-up-primary-source-sets/


Screen Shot of the original Oregon TrailMay 2016 update: Minnesota Made Oregon Trail is Inducted into Video Game Hall of Fame

Original post: Not the trail that Lewis and Clark traveled, but the memorable computer game.  Ask a group of adults about their first memories of computers; often they mention Oregon Trail.

Some recall the original Apple II green and black version; others a CD-ROM (WOW) or networked version.  My current online students brought up Oregon Trail in a conversation about change.

I remember back in 2nd grade. My teacher taught me how to dial the telephone, place the handset into the modem cradle, and log into the Teletype so that my classmates could play Oregon Trail. What a thrill!

I remember Oregon Trail!  Nothing like big and little floppy disks on the Apple 2 GS computers.  Between that and Word Munchers, my how I loved my computer lab.

 You were never successful the first few times you played the game because it took so many trial/error tests of determining which profession gave your the most money versus keeping your family alive (in the end, the doctor was my preferred job).  You needed to weigh all the variables of packing, fixing, hunting, weather, buying.  It was such an involved game . . .  I remember the cringe of the disk loading . . .

I also remember the amazing 16 bit graphics and lifelike drawings of animals we hunted!!! 

I remember OT in the third grade as a computer game you got to play when your typing exercise was completed!

OT was often a time-filler. As a middle school media specialist I was concerned about students who only wanted to shoot and kill.  Too often an excellent program with high potential was only used when teachers provided an end of unit award.  Yet, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the kids were learning more than we realized.  One former kid, now a teacher said:

I think teachers liked it so much because it forced us to use our problem solving skills. Through repetition, you learned how to be successful. The idea of problem solving can be related to how we approach new technologies. . . .  With time and practice, we learn how to navigate the technology just like we navigated through Oregon Trail.

 What made it so engaging was that it was interactive. This gob of a machine, clunky and noisy, was telling me a story, asking me questions, and responding to my answers. . . The process was dynamic, and like the best learning experiences, it played to my sense of curiosity and wonder. 

We know more now about how kids learn and the value of games. Let them play! It would be fun to integrate programs like Oregon Trail in an instructional unit and to inspire further exploration using primary sources like maps and diaries.

Classic and 40th anniversary editions are available. There are even Wii & Nintendo versions.       Read Wikipedia’s interesting article and historic overview.

How CAN I use primary resources along with a game?

Teaching Digital Media Literacy in the Content Areas: Using Primary Sources 

Help! I am a teacher and would like my students to look in newspapers for what  happened on their birthday. Does anyone know where we can go so they can actually see the newspaper, like microfiche?

Contemporary newspaper archives and digitized copies of newspapers published before the Internet make the popular “Today in History” or “What Happened on my Birthday?” activities fun and easy.

The Historic American Newspaper Collection from the Library of Congress is one of my favorites. The landing page has 100 Years Ago Today links with zoomable images of front pages.  There are millions of pages of newspapers from 1836-1922 representing cities and rural areas in 25 states and the District of Columbia. A topic list includes topics widely covered in the press at the time the paper was published. Use advanced search to put in a specific month, day or year and options for searching selected newspapers by state, selected ethnicities and languages.  There is also a directory of newspapers from 1690 – present. These newspapers are fun, exciting and educational.  

It’s interesting to see daily displays of newspapers from throughout the World on the sidewalk outside the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Digital visitors can view images from almost 900 newspapers online. Daily front pages from previous dates are not available, but there is a newspaper archive where newspaper front pages are grouped by 21st century events of historical significance.

Digital projects by museums, universities, and state organization provide easy access to local and regional newspapers. I’ve had fun searching The Winona Newspaper Project  for articles about family members.   I even found my own birth announcement!

Digital Newspapers




How can I  use primary resources like these in the media center and classroom?

Teaching Digital Media Literacy in the Content Areas: Using Primary Sources 
See what former students have to say.

This class changed my teaching forever. It was powerful!

Congratulations to science teacher Stacey Balbach who will be speaking about Primary Sources Science at the
National Science Teachers Convention in March 2012.  Way to go!

When she was a student in Teaching With Primary Sources, a Wisconsin science teacher discovered primary sources are not just for history or serious  researchers. Primary sources can enhance student learning throughout all content areas and for for students of all ages. She used Leonardo DaVinci’s   journals and notes help students understand the importance of scientific observation and note-taking.  The science teacher discovered that  Primary sources are exciting  from the point of a chemist or physicist.  ” With the new accessibility of the sources really the opportunities for teachers are endless.  The sky is the limit.  Really you can build any type of multifaceted project that you want ”

A health/science teacher used maps depicting the spread if diseases as the United States expanded westward to the study of today’s infectious diseases. She connected the health curriculum to literature by reading Peg Kehret’s  Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio to her students.

A middle level teacher was excited to learn how she could use primary sources to help teach resource validity and overall literacy.  Instruction became more student-centered, there was a high level of student engagement, and students developed a deeper meaning of the subject matter because of increased accessibility to primary sources. She concluded, by learning how to locate and use primary sources I was reminded of what my responsibility is as an educator:  to increase student achievement and understanding.  By failing to incorporate primary sources, I fail my students.

The next Teaching Digital Media Literacy in the Content Areas: Using Primary Sources course begins soon.
See what former other students have to say.
Register Online: http://www.uwstout.edu/soe/profdev/register.cfm

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! the prisoner's hope. Sheet music. America Singing, Nineteenth Century Song Sheets

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!  Musicians from Wisconsin’s First Brigade Band   brought 150 year-old Civil War brass instruments, a drum, stories, and songs to the Winona County History Center and made the Civil War come alive at an August program.  We heard the sounds and stories of brass instruments representing over 200 in a collection at  a Watertown, Wisconsin museum.  A coffin case lined with butternut denim was used to store one instrument; another was saved from theft when a Union soldier wrapped it in his bedroll as he was taken prisoner.  The musicians sang songs such as  “America,” “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp ” and  “Hamilton’s Badger Boys,” a song whose appearance coincided with the Battle of Bull Run.

President Lincoln greeted the audience;  a local Civil War expert read letters from Winona residents including Charley Goddard who served in Minnesota’s Company K and fought at the Battle of Gettysburg  (Goddard is the central character in Gary Paulsen’s young adult novel A Soldier’s Heart.)  The program ended with the arrival of pork and bean cake and hardtack.

Charles Goddard, Winona. Minnesota Company K.

Music from two Library of Congress collections,  Civil War Band Music  and Nineteenth Century Song Sheets can help you help your students connect with the Civil War.  Learn  how to find and use music, letters, photos, maps and stories to develop engaging, critical thinking activities!

Teaching with Primary Sources, an online class for teachers of all content areas and students of all ages
begins the end of September.
Register Online: http://www.uwstout.edu/soe/profdev/register.cfm
Comments from past students

“2/3 of teachers believe digital resources help them differentiate learning for individual students.”  Teachers also like short video segments and believe videos stimulate discussion video comment stimulate  discussion.   <Eschool News March 2011 >

The Library of Congress American Memory Collections have  videos ranging from the Coca Cola Advertising Collection to Early Edison films and Presidents.  Did you know some “historic films were staged?  Some  films about the 19-06 San Francisco Earthquake will challenge your students critical viewing and thinking skills.
Is Seeing Believing?

There are exciting possibilities for using  these films in economics, humanities, mass communications,  science and history curriculum. Learn more about using free digital resources in  Teaching with Primary Sources, an online class for teachers of all content areas and students ages.  The course is an elective in the Master of Science in Education program.
Register Online: http://www.uwstout.edu/soe/profdev/register.cfm
Comments from past students

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War and today’s news media stories about Fort Sumter have left my head spinning.

There are an abundance of primary source  Civil War documents, photographs, maps, political  cartoons, and ephemera readily available to us in digital format. But how do we find it?   Digitalization makes these resources come alive and accessible to everyone.  Digital  Civil War resources range from photographs and diaries on county historical society web sites to countless museums and  libraries including the Library of Congress.   Primary sources  aren’t that hard to find, but how do we use them to enhance student learning through inquiry and critical thinking.

Even teachers experienced with using primary sources find the vastness of digital collection overwhelming.  One teacher is concerned about the amount of time a research project using primary sources will take.    But, using primary sources does not have to take a tremendous amount of time; finding the right resources doesn’t take long if you know where to look.  Start  small.  Focus  on a narrow topic or even on a single resource.  

The teacher who descried herself as “overwhelmed” introduced me to The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection, a collection recently added to the  Library of Congress.     This unique collection was donated to the Library by the  Lillenquest family of Virginia.  Two  teens, previously the teacher’s  students,  became interested in the photos when they began purchasing them at auctions.  What a story!

The collection is available for viewing at the Library of Congress and online.

Learn how you can starting small and  create engaging, thoughtful student activities.
Online course: Teaching with Primary Sources,
Comments from Past Students
Register Online: http://www.uwstout.edu/soe/profdev/register.cfm

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