During the fall semester, I was enrolled in a graduate course called Global Learning: Teach the World in Your Classroom. If you’ve ever read about our experience with the Global Read Aloud or my love of She’s the First, you know this is a huge passion of mine. This is the second in a series of four blog posts, in which I’ll be bringing what I learned from the course to you.
Imagine learning about the Mayflower by reading a textbook. Now, imagine looking through a captain’s log, a map, a list of passengers, and more in order to piece together parts of the Mayflower story. Which learning experience seems more meaningful and memorable to you?
Having internet access in our classrooms means that we have the opportunity to use primary sources that have not been previously accessible for our students. Instead of consuming facts about history, students can step into the shoes of historians in order to think critically and draw conclusions. In this way, we ask students to investigate evidence and use it to learn about critical periods in the history of our nation and our world.
How Online Artifacts Have Changed My Teaching
After creating a lesson plan through my Global Learning course, I taught a lesson in which my students visited a museum in our own classroom. As they walked to exhibits centering around different parts of the Mayflower journey, they looked at all sorts of primary sources: maps, photos from still-standing sites, drawings, a captain’s log, and more. They read captions for each item, but were asked to interpret the meaning of the items on their own in order to explain the motivations of the pilgrims and the journey of the Mayflower.
This focus on primary sources absolutely captivated my students. They couldn’t believe that they could read the words or look at the artwork of people who lived hundreds of years ago in order to answer questions about history.
Artifacts have played many different roles in our classroom. At the beginning of this unit, I printed photos of Wampanoag artifacts from the National Museum of the American Indian and hung them around the room. Without knowing this background information, students had to visit the photos of each object and write down where and when they thought the item was from. Students had to think critically, and also rethink many of their assumptions about the types of clothing, items, and tools used by different groups of people.
When primary sources are photographs with facial expressions, audio recordings with vocal tones, or written language with an authentic voice, they allow my students to connect to the emotions of the time period or event. This taps into students’ empathy skills, and by imagining the emotions of people from the time period, students are able to make meaning of the event’s significance. We need to trust our students to do the hard work of being historians so that they can learn from the history of the past and the history that is being created in the present.
Resources for Online Artifacts
- The DocsTeach website from the National Archives makes online artifacts and primary sources accessible for teachers. The investigation tools included on the site help teachers target learning experiences for their students. DocsTeach lives up to its name by allowing primary documents to teach us more than we thought possible.
- AwesomeStories compiles primary source documents in order to tell stories about events in history. This was a fantastic resource when I was looking for primary sources to go along with my Mayflower unit!
Have you used online artifacts to enhance learning in your classroom? Tell us how in the comments below!