In each issue, we introduce a teacher who has participated in Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) professional development and successfully uses primary sources from the Library of Congress to support effective instructional practices.
This issue's Teacher Spotlight features Lisa Brose, an elementary school teacher at Lopez Elementary School in Fort Collins, Colorado. The TPS program at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, nominated Lisa for her effective classroom use of primary sources to integrate technology. During her 16-year career, Lisa has taught Art, Title One Reading and Math (grades K-6), and general classes (grades 2-5). In this interview, Lisa discusses teaching strategies and her favorite Library of Congress online resources.
How did you first learn about the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program?
I first learned about TPS when looking for resources on communication during the Civil War. I saw a local workshop advertised on the TPS Web site, but it was right before I moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado so I could not attend.
What motivated you to participate in the TPS workshops in your local area?
After moving, I discovered the TPS program at the University of Northern Colorado and signed up for a workshop. The Library of Congress has amazing online collections, but I needed help navigating the Web site.
Tell us about the first time you tried using primary sources in the classroom.
The first time I tried using my classroom's new interactive whiteboard to analyze digitized primary sources, the technology was temperamental and we all ended up more frustrated at what wasn't working than tracing Columbus's sailing routes on a historical map. I became more comfortable teaching with primary sources with or without technology after my TPS workshop experience. Primary sources came alive in my classroom. My students are more engaged when primary sources are used in a lesson. They generate theories in response to questions, such as why a particular object was important to the people who used it, and do research to support their ideas.
How have you used technology to bring primary sources into the classroom to enhance learning for students?
Only accountants used computers when I was a new teacher; my great joy was my overhead projector that let me face my students instead of writing on a blackboard with my back to them. Now I'm able to teach and learn with my students using resources from all over the world if computers with internet access are available. And the resolution capabilities of digitized primary sources offer more teaching opportunities than ever before. For example, the ability to zoom in and check details allows students to analyze historical documents and photographs as if they were actually handling them.
My students embrace combining technology and primary sources. I can print images and provide them to groups working at tables, but the class still wants the images projected while we are working for clarity and detail. Using presentation software or online tools to share information with classmates is as natural to my students as using a pencil to draw a diagram or picture. The media motivates today's students and yet they don't even think about technology since they have never been without it. The range of collections made freely available online through the Library of Congress makes it easier than ever for me to motivate and guide my students to look deeper and find out how and why people may have done what they did in the past. I want my students to experience history with empathy and to understand the possible implications of an event at a particular point in time. Primary sources make this happen.
What are your favorite resources available on the Library of Congress Web site? Why?
My favorites thus far are Abraham Lincoln's writings. When I stumbled upon correspondence to the President regarding Robert E. Lee's entry into Pennsylvania (within days of the start of the Battle of Gettysburg), complete with troop and artillery numbers, near our former home of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, it gave me chills. Literally. It felt like I was being sucked back in time.
What advice do you have for teachers who have never tried teaching with primary sources?
Just do it! The resources are endless and so are the possibilities. Try searching the American Memory collection or use an artifact or map from a Library exhibition. Start small with one activity and enlist your technology specialist's help if you have difficulty.
Teaching with primary sources involves students in reading, writing, decision-making, and critical thinking. Even experienced teachers can benefit from the TPS program since its methods incorporate 21st century thinking skills and differentiation of lesson components. Your students will thank you and you will enjoy teaching motivated, curious students.