Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Primary Sources? What is that?

A map of Philadelphia and parts adjacent from the Library of Congress
At the start of this month, I attended the Tech Integration Group at Essdack where we covered Primary Sources in Social Studies.  Several teachers asked me to share out what I learned and any resources.

Before I delve into what I learned, I want to get everyone on the same page with a definition of primary sources.  A primary source is an original document or physical object written or created during the time period being studied.  Primary sources include speeches, journals/diaries, news film footage, letters, interviews, official records, clothing, pottery, art, music, novels, etc.  More specific examples of primary sources include:

  • The Constitution of the United States
  • Diary of Anne Frank
  • Photos of 9/11 - the day of and immediately following
  • News footage of the Kennedy Assassination
  • Audio of the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King
Historians also refer to secondary sources, which provide an interpretation and/or analysis of a primary source.  This includes textbooks, criticisms, encyclopedias and commentaries.  Magazine articles can become a confusing source, but the best way to decide if it is a primary or secondary source is to ask if it is an interpretation or review of the event (secondary source) or a first-hand account from a participant or observer of the event as it unfolded (primary source).

Primary Source Sites:

At the TIG session, Glenn Weibe presented several activities for using primary sources in social studies.  One activity involved two maps taken from Google Earth of the same area, but different time periods.  We didn't know anything else about the maps and were asked why the difference between the two photos.  However, we first had to determine which photo came first and how did we know that.  After several decoding attempts related to the two photos, we were told what happened which then tied into the actual historical event and a novel study.  Another activity had us in groups and each group was given a quote.  Based on the quote we had to move to one side of the room if we thought the person was racist and the other side if we didn't think they were racist.  Of course we did't learn until later in the activity that the groups had different quotes and the quotes were all said by the same person.  The activities themselves really made us think and process the source we were examining.  With the new common core, the ability to analyze and synthesize information becomes more important than names and dates.  While a general knowledge of what happened when is essential, the ability to evaluate and analyze why events happened is crucial.  Primary sources become a key tool in making students work to determine their response.  Glenn shared the links to his presentation and resources, although I noticed today that his presentation has changed some since our meeting.

Here is the original presentation:

Here is the new presentation:

Additional resources from Glenn Weibe:
Using Primary Sources in the Social Studies Classroom
Social Studies Central
History Tech Blog
Weekly Tip

If you haven't looked at the primary sources on the Library of Congress website, you are missing out on a plethora of teacher guides and tools for teaching with primary sources.  They also have specific primary source sets centered on topics like:
Oakland, Calif., Feb. 1942 from the Library of Congress

The site also has Teacher's Guides and Analysis Tools providing a template and suggested questions for having students analyze various types of primary sources.

As a former English teacher, I used primary sources to help the students understand the time period prior to reading a novel, short story or poem.  It helped the students visualize and analyze the piece we were studying.

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