Sunday, February 29, 2004

Using Primary Sources in the Primary Grades.

Using Primary Sources in the Primary Grades. This good essay shows how primamry source material can be used successfully in primary grades.

From the site:

What do a stamped Christmas postcard dated 1910, a Confederate one hundred dollar bill, soda pop bottles from Egypt, ice tongs, a rug beater, and a woven prayer rug from the Middle East with a picture of the Kaaba at Mecca all have in common? These and many other artifacts can become primary sources, the very real "stuff" of the social studies that can so effectively engage the young learner in active learning. The use of primary sources in the classroom is a way for students to develop the intellectual curiosity that leads to further research and increased awareness of the world around them.


The definition of "primary sources" varies. Danzer and Newman (1996, 22) examine this conceptual problem by discussing several definitions recognized by historians. They tend to agree with Henry Johnson's expansive concept that "primary sources include all the traces left by the human past -- present ideals, present social customs and institutions, language, literature, material products of human industry, physical man himself, and the physical remains of men."

Johnson's broad definition of primary sources leads to great flexibility for classroom use, especially for beginning readers of the primary grades. The HISTORY-SOCIAL SCIENCE FRAMEWORK FOR CALIFORNIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS, KINDERGARTEN THROUGH GRADE TWELVE (1997, 147) explains that "documents make up most, but not all, of the primary source materials used by historians." Historians may use documents but teachers of early grades will frequently use realia or "ephemera" (Danzer and Newman 1996, 24) of the material culture.

Danzer and Newman (1991, 24) identify types of primary sources, including (1) print documents; (2) electronic media; (3) arts -- graphic and fine; (4) folklore, folkways, and mythology; and (5) physical environment and material culture (built environment and artifacts). These five categories may aid teachers in identifying primary sources. Danzer and Newman, however, caution teachers to recognize that some primary sources materials may fit into more than one of the categories.

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