Hudson MS teacher learns from the past in Washington, D.C., program

by Tim Troglen | reporter Published:

Hudson -- How many teachers can say they've been in the same room as a map drawn up by a young surveyor named George Washington, gazed at the actual amendment used to abolish slavery or looked at a journal kept by American poet Walt Whitman?

Jennifer Lawler, a Hudson Middle School language arts teacher, can.

Lawler was witness to a parade of historic documents, books and artifacts during her week-long participation in the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teacher Institute at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

"Primary sources are the raw materials of history," Meg Steele, a spokesperson for the library said. "Teachers learn and apply strategies to use them to engage students, build critical thinking skills and build new understandings about content. Students are able to make their own interpretations about a source's meaning and credibility."

Millions of primary sources are available for anyone to access, learn from and teach with, Steele said. Sources include maps, photographs, political cartoons, manuscripts, audio and film.

"The teachers page at www.loc.gov/teachers is a good place to get started," Steele said.

Lawler learned about the program, which ran from July 29 to Aug. 2, via the library's Twitter feed.

"It was like Beiber Fever for teacher geeks," she laughingly said of the program. Lawler was selected from a pool of more than 500 applicants, according to a press release from the library.

Lawler called the experience "game changing cool because it was so awesome."

"Every day we would get to work with the actual librarians from different departments," Lawler said.

Two of the primary sources which most impressed Lawler were the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, still with a crease in it from shortly after it was signed, and a haversack used by Whitman to carry fruits and other supplies to soldiers wounded during the Civil War.

"We study Walt Whitman and how his life affected his art," Lawler said.

Whitman's brother was wounded during the war, Lawler said. The injury caused Whitman to take a personal interest in the well-being of others hurt during the conflict.

"It really brings it [history] to a different level," Lawler said.

Students working with primary sources become engaged learners while building critical-thinking skills and constructing new knowledge, according to Lawler.

Other rare items she saw were a telegraph sent to President Abraham Lincoln and hand prints of famed American flyer Amelia Earhart.

As part of the program, teachers were required to complete a project, utilizing available materials, Lawler said.

"We had employees helping us three out of the five days with any research we had," Lawler said. "My project was on Samuel Clemens,"

Lawler's project showed the correlation between Clemen's upbringing and adventures in Missouri and his character and stories of Tom Sawyer.

During the upcoming semester, teachers must use the lessons planned during the program, Lawler said.

"We will have an online meeting in December where we will reflect and refine the lesson with the expertise of our summer group," Lawler said.

Lawler was thankful to district administration staff for their support as well as Marie Sabol, district media coordinator and Christina Wooley, district curriculum coordinator, for writing recommendations for Lawler.

"There were teachers from California, Washington, D.C. and everywhere in-between, who made the trip, on their own dime," Lawler said of the program which was free, but travel and lodging expenses were incurred by the teachers. "Each teacher carved out a week from their summer and shared it with strangers because each one is looking to engage more students, more deeply, throughout the years."

Lawler said the "professionals want to share the resources and strategies with colleagues so students see the relevance of our history and use it to shape our future."

"It reminded me of working with the dedicated teachers in this district every day," Lawler added.

The Library of Congress, the nation's oldest federal cultural institution, is the world's preeminent reservoir of knowledge, according to the library. The Library serves the public, scholars, Members of Congress and their staffs.

For more information on the library's resources visit www.loc.gov.

Email: ttroglen@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9435

Facebook: TimTroglenRPC

Twitter: @Trog_RPC

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