Kendra Gragg, Hugo Nunez
“I touched maps from the Civil War. I saw maps that George Washington held. I read the words ‘We the People’ from the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. For me, it was thrilling to look at pieces of history in person!”
History came alive for social studies teacher Kendra Gragg last July when she participated in the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Institute in Washington, D.C. She now uses what she learned to make history exciting for her own students at Costaño Elementary School/49ers Academy in East Palo Alto through the use of primary source documents — or raw materials of history.
While they can’t touch and see actual historical documents, she shows students how to access online digitalized versions that provide deeper understanding of long-ago events. For example, the concept “All men are created equal” was hotly debated before becoming the one of the most important phrases of the Declaration of Independence. Students can see the process, as well as the drafts and the final product.
The Library of Congress holds seven institutes each summer for K-12 educators from across the country. Participants meet with the library’s education specialists and subject-matter experts during the five-day program, and explore some of the millions of digitized historical artifacts and documents available on the library’s website.
For the Ravenswood Teachers Association member, the opportunity to “geek out” in such places as the Jefferson Library and the Library of Congress Reading Room was priceless.
Students become sleuths
My students deduce from documents, old maps and other primary sources what really happened, instead of just reading in textbooks somebody else’s versions of what happened. Rather than having me tell them what the public was feeling during the Revolution, for example, they can study newspaper articles from that time period and analyze public reaction for themselves.
Primary source documents make history real
Students make observations and reflections, allowing them to study history from a multidimensional perspective. From political cartoons they can understand the mindset of what people were thinking and feeling during those times. They can make a connection to things that are happening now.
Hopefully students will…
Realize that history is not just dry facts and assumptions they hear in a lecture. It’s not about memorizing dates and names. U.S. history is exciting and inspiring. Just think, you had people trying to build a new nation and break away from an old nation. The debates and thought processes of those involved were amazing.
Powerful teaching tools are free
Most primary source documents can be downloaded from the Library of Congress for free.
When I came home…
I felt so inspired. It was the best professional development opportunity I’ve attended. I urge all teachers to look at the Library of Congress’s resources and teacher seminars by visiting the website at www.loc.gov.