The Primary Source Librarian

Dedicated to Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources

When Learning Connects

I’ve been thinking lately about how often our students experience the joy that comes with connected learning. Nothing delights me more than those moments when I can connect whatever sources I’m reading, listening to, or viewing with each other and with my world. Here’s a recent example:

So what connects these seemingly disparate pieces of my learning at the moment? Let my illustrate just a few ways I’ve made connections:

  • Louis Zamperini, hero of Unbroken, was the kind of student who would have driven most teachers crazy. He was a real pill, even what one might have called a juvenile delinquent.

    Louis Zamperini, America in WWII,

    BUT…he was also a perfect model for “critical thinking and problem solving” – you know, the kind of student we are trying to create! In the chapter I’ve just finished, Louis ties two parachutes to his severely crippled and bullet-ridden bomber to deploy in case there’s not enough hydraulic fluid left to brake before the end of a too-short runway on a tiny Pacific atoll. No matter what came out of the Industrial Revolution, creative problem solvers like Louis Zamperini will always push the limits of technology. Our students are still doing that today, long after the Industrial Revolution.

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, 1893

  • In For the Soul of France, politics and industry are intimately linked. A long section on the life of Gustave Eiffel made me appreciate his élan and his brilliance far beyond his “Eiffel Tower” achievement. You must read this book to discover how everything connects: politics, the Catholic church, the growth of cities, republicanism, monarchism, anti-semitism, industry, the military leadership, and even Eiffel.
  • The Chicago book is the complete Industrial Revolution package. Nearly everything I’ve read so far connects with the ideas in all the other sources I’ve mentioned. Canals, railroads, the growth of cities, labor relations, tycoons, sanitation, transportation, Chicago as emporium to the West, competition, environmental impacts, immigrant workers, child labor, minority groups,war,  factories, inventions, energy, power, capitalism…I don’t know where to begin.
  • All of these sources have informed my current work with Teaching with Primary Sources at Metro State (TPS). For example, I contributed a list of historical search terms for use with the Library of Congress collections based on my reading. One of the most important points to make with kids when they’re searching for primary sources is that they’re not working with Google. Databases of primary sources are quite unforgiving. You must match search ideas to the terminology of the time period. That’s why I offered the list below to the TPS folks who were doing much of the searching:

canals, plank roads, sewers, docks, wharfs, bridges, railroads, reaper, smoke, smoke stacks, manufacturing, factories, mechanical, iron, laborers, iron finishers, lumber, steel, power, trade, economic development, bricks, agricultural implements, steam boilers, steam power, ship building, capital, (un)skilled workers, (un)skilled laborers, commerce, hoisting machine, ovens, “Automaton Bakery,” hopper, stockholders, enterprise, production, drainage, pollution, tunnels, workers, labor, labor unrest, unions, strikes, child labor, factories, tenements, immigrant workers, cities, saloons, merchants, trade, meatpacking, steelmaking, mining

So I’m making all sorts of connections, and I’m having a ball.

Am I just an oddity, or can our students experience this same kind of joy at making connections?

Is this something we can teach?

How can we help students CONNECT pieces of learning to each other and to their own experience?

What tools and strategies can help us help them CONNECT?

What do you do in your teaching to enable your students to CONNECT during their daily inquiries?

When Learning Connects

Detail of Alexander Graham Bell’s Telephone Sketch

Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress 1862-1939

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