The Primary Source Librarian

Dedicated to Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources

Adding Hispanics to 4th Grade State History

Two days ago I attended a grant planning meeting for “The Hispanic Experience in Colorado” – a collaboration among Teaching with Primary Sources-Colorado, The Center for Colorado & the West, and History Colorado. We developed an agenda for a one-day face-to-face workshop, to be followed by six weeks of online collaboration. We are expecting about forty 4th grade teachers to attend.

Why 4th grade teachers? Because they teach Colorado History.

Why “The Hispanic Experience in Colorado?” Because in spite of a major Hispanic presence in the state since long before people of European ancestry moved West, Hispanic history has rarely been taught. Typically in 4th grade Colorado State History, kids learn about Mesa Verde, Native Americans, pioneer ranchers, mining, and…get this…dinosaurs!

Because our Colorado History Museum has been closed during the demolition of the old building and the construction of a new History Colorado Center, the History Colorado staff has been working from temporary quarters. Much of their work has focused on developing exhibits for the new museum. According to History Colorado’s “Moving Memories 2009/2010 Annual Report“:

“Staff lived up to History Colorado’s new exhibit development model—“audience first”—by launching four audience research projects. Staff and volunteers engaged with more than 400 patrons of museums, libraries, and coffee shops to examine their knowledge, interest level, and perspectives about History Colorado’s exhibit and program concepts.

Based on that research, staff developed a History Colorado Center exhibit plan that will invite audiences to experience Colorado history thematically—by meeting people throughout the state and the places they have built; discovering the landscape that has shaped us and that we have shaped; and exploring the dreams, visions, and folklore that Colorado has always inspired in the people who have come here.”

I learned in our planning meeting that History Colorado soon noticed a distinct lack of primary sources from the Hispanic communities they sought to include. As a result, they sent out a researcher to gather photographs and other artifacts from Hispanic communities throughout the state. They also added metadata so the resources can be easily shared online. I was delighted with the photographs that I viewed during the meeting, and I’m convinced that this effort will fill in a major gap in our visual knowledge of Hispanic culture, labor, and civil rights in Colorado.

As the staff develops exhibits, they will also develop Web-based curricula and educational outreach programming. Hence the grant mentioned above.

Sadly, museums across the country are suffering from the high-stakes testing squeeze put on social studies curriculum. Our 4th graders are lucky to receive 25 minutes per week of social studies instruction. This situation creates some difficult logistical challenges, such as:

  • If we start with the new Colorado history standards, will teachers be overwhelmed?
  • If we start with the typical social studies topics covered in 4th grade, will teachers resist unfamiliar Hispanic content?
  • How do we insert Hispanic materials and content into 25 minutes a week?

We wrangled through some of these difficulties, and we’ll soon see how effective our plan is. We’ll be doing the first workshop next week (Feb. 17th).

Wish us luck!

“Bunch of genuine old-time cowboys and bronco busters at Denver, Colorado” – 1905

Prairie Settlement Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters

American Memory, Library of Congress


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