NEW PORT RICHEY — The card catalogues stretched for what seemed like miles. Rows and rows of metal filing cabinets, the likes of which many school-age children today have never seen before, were filled with 22 million cards typed in English, in Arabic, in Chinese.
It was a teacher’s dream, an opportunity few are privy to. But Carrie Page, a social studies teacher at Pasco eSchool in New Port Richey, was one of more than 500 applicants chosen to spend nearly a week deep in the archives of the Library of Congress for its Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teacher Institute.
Page applied for the program in February and after two months of anticipation was elated to learn she had been one of 140 teachers nationwide selected. The trip was not funded by the library and no stipend was given by the school district for airfare, lodging or food but Page was determined to participate.
“It was something I really wanted to do,” Page said. “It was meaningful to me. Any time education is meaningful like that, I don’t mind spending the extra money on something I feel is really valuable. I felt very privileged to be accepted.”
On July 29 through Aug. 2, participants worked with library’s education specialists and subject-matter experts to learn effective practices for using primary sources in the classroom, while exploring some of the millions of digitized historical artifacts and documents available on the library’s website, which are available to educators, students and families for free.
Educators attending the teacher institutes develop primary source-based teaching strategies that they can take back to their school districts, apply in the classroom and pass along to colleagues. Teaching with primary sources is a powerful way to help students ask engaged, probing questions, develop critical-thinking skills, and construct knowledge. Tools and strategies for teaching with primary sources can be found on the library’s website at www.loc.gov/teachers.
“Primary resources, or primary documents, are documents that are original,” Page said. “They’re authentic and students are able to analyze those documents and make them relevant to whatever course they’re studying, not just social studies Primary documents help students determine authenticity of what they’re learning and help them ask questions and be critical thinkers.”
To start, Page and her group of 30 colleagues from various states and K-12 grade levels were trained on how to identify specific types of primary documents. These can include court documents, photos, recorded speeches, radio interviews, television broadcasts, music recordings and original maps.
Then they participated in sessions geared towards showing them how to use these documents as tools in the classroom. Each teacher was asked to design and implement a lesson for their classroom using what they learned.
Page’s lesson focuses on Florida history and the state’s role in slavery. The lesson will focus on Pensacola abolitionist Jonathan Walker, known as “the man with the branded hand,” who was convicted in 1844 by a Florida jury for helping slaves to freedom. The U.S. government branded his hand with the initials “SS,” for “Slave Stealer.”
To help develop the lesson, Page thumbed through resources like trial documents and drawings of Walker’s branded hand.
When they weren’t steeped in instruction or lesson planning, the educators were given private tours of the library’s card catalogue, which hasn’t had a non-digital entry since 1980, and to the geography and map room, where one teacher was so moved by a map drawn by the 16-year-old son George Washington, she cried.
“We got to do phenomenal things,” Page said. “I can’t tell you what a worthwhile experience it was.”
Page spends summers, normally quiet because most students aren’t enrolled in classes, participating in professional development courses and workshops beyond the minimum requirements to renew her teaching certificate.
In addition to the Library of Congress program, Page also spent time this summer at a workshop in Winter Park with the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency created in 1965 that “serves and strengthens our republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans.”
Page has been teaching for Pasco eSchool full-time for three years. She previously was the gifted resources teacher for six West Pasco high schools. She also taught at Gulf Middle School. She considers herself a lifelong learner and being a teacher is just an extension of that.
“I love learning,” Page said. “I’m always learning. I don’t think learning ever stops just because you have a diploma or certificate in your hand. I learn by teaching. I learn with students. I just enjoy what I can learn from students, too.”