Posts Tagged ‘Primary Sources’

Briscoe Primary Sources Tied to the 7th Grade Texas History and U.S. History TEKS

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Authors: Rachel Hernandez-Eckert, Education Specialist, Social Studies and Catherine Bell, Intern, The Archives of American Gardens, Washington, D.C.

I had the teacher “warm fuzzies” a few months back.  You know, that really proud feeling you get when one of your students has an amazing moment of learning or accomplishment.  You feel really proud to think that you had a little something to do with that.  My moment came when I visited the UT iSchool Open House in May to see UT graduate student, Catherine Bell, present her Capstone Poster Session.  I have been working as an adviser to Catherine since fall 2013 for her project with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.  She was looking for guidance on how to make primary sources accessible for classroom teachers using the Briscoe’s resources.  In a nutshell here’s what she did:

1. She studied the Social Studies TEKS. (Hooray for the non-teacher who actually studied our standards!)

2. With the help of the Briscoe staff, she looked for primary source resources at the Briscoe that could be possibly tied with the standards for 7th Grade Texas History and the high school U.S. History course.

3. She worked with the Briscoe staff to digitally link these resources to the standards.

Although this is an oversimplification of the work that was done, it took her a long while to do all this.  Now, these resources are available to you.

Read about her journey and obtain resource access below —

I am Catherine Bell and I have recently graduated with a Master of Science in Information Studies (MSIS) from the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information. If you are thinking, “master of what?” or “what is an information school?” let me briefly explain. The School of Information, or iSchool as we lovingly call it, is where future librarians and archivists learn the best ways to present information to anyone and everyone. The iSchool really strives to make the world a better place, starting with knowledge and information management. With my degree, I am officially an “information professional.”

Now, what do I have to do with social studies or Region 13? As part of my graduate experience, I completed a Capstone project instead of writing a thesis.  A Capstone is a practical experience lasting one semester during which an iSchool student develops something for an organization of their choosing.  I worked with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History to help them find a way to promote primary resources and also connect with teachers, an audience that is often forgotten by many archives. The planning for this project occurred around the time Region 13 Social Studies Specialist, Rachel Hernandez, reached out to the Briscoe Center to see what they could offer local teachers. I began working with Amy Bowman (a photo archivist) and Margaret Schlankey (head of reference services) to envision a resource which would be useful for both the Briscoe Center and Texas teachers. They connected me with Rachel who was able to bring in the education aspect of the project that I was lacking. I have no teaching experience, and wanted to make sure any resource created would be practical and easy to use for teachers.

My project consisted of familiarizing myself with the TEKS, using the Briscoe’s Digital Media Repository to search their collections, and consulting with educators throughout the development of the websites created. The Briscoe has a great tool, which is accessible to anyone with the internet, called the Digital Media Repository (DMR) and is a database of their digitized materials. Now this does not include absolutely everything the Briscoe has but it is still a huge database.  The DMR can be found here, and you can use basic search terms to look for archival materials. My project worked to take out some of the foot work for anyone unfamiliar with materials housed at the Briscoe and simultaneously created a link to the TEKS for teachers. After some deep thinking of how to best present these connections, we chose to take the exact language found in the TEKS and create hyperlinks to DMR search results. So, for instance, the 7th grade geography standard for maps contains a hyperlink to the DMR search results of “Texas maps.”

This was done for 7th Texas History and U.S. history since 1877.  The website can be found here along with a description of how to use the resource.  Click on each respective course link to get the drop down list of standards.  

Another aspect of my project was to present and promote this resource in various ways. Each time I share this resource with educators and even fellow archivists, people get excited. There is an excitement for sharing primary resources, an excitement for creating similar projects at other archives, and the realization that this is a local resource. The staff at the Briscoe is excited to have another amazing resource to promote their collections, and is always eager to answer any questions that come their way.  As extensive as we tried to make this resource, it only showcases a fraction of the materials that can be found at the Briscoe.  I encourage each of you to not only share this resource with your fellow teachers, but to check out the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History as well.

Searching for Rigor

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Rigor.  This word may be a topic of conversation that many of you are avoiding right now.  This may be related to the curricular chaos you have experienced this year with the increased numbers of historical figures and more standards in a compacted instructional pacing.   With the coming of the STAAR assessment in May, you may be more concerned with getting through the tremendous amount of information with the students rather than challenging them to think critically.  In the book Best Practice: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools (1998), authors Daniels, Hyde, and Zemelman believe, “Complete ‘coverage’ in social studies inevitably results in superficial and unengaging teaching, like painting a room—covering plenty of square feet but only one-thousandth of an inch thick.”  Moreover, they state, “Students of social studies need regular opportunities to investigate topics in depth” (p. 139).  A common mistake is to equate in-depth for copious amounts of time, but this doesn’t have to be the case.  A well-planned Socratic questioning session with students may do more for them than taking PowerPoint notes for half of the class period.  As you search for rigor, you really have to look from within and evaluate what you are doing on a daily basis.  This search should start first by reflecting upon where rigor can be found in the standards.

Although this standard certainly looks like a Science student expectation, it is found in all K-12 Social Studies courses: Use a problem-solving process to identify a problem, gather information, list and consider options, consider advantages and disadvantages, choose and implement a solution, and evaluate the effectiveness of the solution.

So how exactly does it translate to the classroom when you have no new resources?  One recommendation is to be intentional.  Look for free resources that will help to stimulate problem-solving issues to pose to your students.  Just a few weeks ago I caught a 10 minute segment on PBS NEWSHOUR that led to me the website for the Center for Investigative Reporting. They are undergoing a yearlong examination of the global food supply and the world’s growing population in the series, Food for 9 Billion. World Geography students can use the audio and video segments to investigate the countries being showcased and use the website to further examine and compare world food statistics.  This is a great opportunity for them to discuss the problems that will arise with global population growth.  Are there solutions to these problems?  If so, what could be effective solutions?  This kind of problem-solving allows students to evaluate the issues on their own and make decisions based on what they read, hear, and view.  To really spark interest, try connecting the in-class discussion with Hans Rosling’s 5-minute population exploration, The Joy of Stats: 200 Countries, 200 Years.

Here’s another student expectation that is ubiquitous in K-12 Social Studies, but worded differently throughout the various grades: Explain the difference between primary and secondary sources and examine those sources to analyze frame of reference, historical context, and point of view.

This may be one of the easiest to integrate for rigor, but is often replaced by the textbook.  The argument may be, “Hey, the textbook is a secondary source.”  Yes, it is, but the textbook is one of many resources that should be used in the classroom.  Here’s an example of a primary and secondary source pairing that could enrich student learning in the World History classroom.

Examining Primary Sources


Ibn Battuta’s 1348 account of the Black Death

I went to Horns and found that the plague had already struck there; about 300 persons died on the day of my arrival. I went to Damascus and arrived on a Thursday; the people had been fasting for three days…. The number of deaths among them had risen to 2400 a day…. Then we went to Gaza and found most of it deserted because of the number that had died…. The qadi told me that only a quarter of the 80 notaries there were left and that the number of deaths had risen to 1100 a day…. Then I went to Cairo and was told that during the plague the number of deaths rose to 21,000 a day. I found that all the shaykhs I had known were dead. May God Most High have mercy upon them!

1350 account of the plague in Scotland 

In 1350, there was a great pestilence and mortality of men in the kingdom of Scotland, and this pestilence also raged for many years before and after in various parts of the world. So great a plague has never been heard of from the beginning of the world to the present day, or been recorded in books. For this plague vented its spite so thoroughly that fully a third of the human race was killed. At God’s command, moreover, the damage was done by an extraordinary and novel form of death. Those who fell sick of a kind of gross swelling of the flesh lasted for barely two days. This sickness befell people everywhere, but especially the middling and lower classes, rarely the great. It generated such horror that children did not dare to visit their dying parents, nor parents their children, but fled for fear of contagion as if from leprosy or a serpent.

                                                                          John of Fordun (d.1384), Scotichronicon

The students should be reading, viewing, and examining various sources as an on-going process. Leading students through primary and secondary source analysis can open up interest and pique curiosity to people’s lives long ago. In this case, the secondary source map can be used to make ties and provide a spatial understanding of the spread of the Black Death. You can also make an ephemeral correlation to issues and pandemics today. The Center for Disease Control has a brief plague page that has simplified information on the transition and distribution of plague in our modern world.

The last student expectation on rigor exploration has different verbiage at various grades, but is still present throughout Social Studies: Create written and visual material such as journal entries, reports, graphic organizers, outlines, and bibliographies based on research.

For this standard, the rigor is in what the students are producing and creating. You should provide opportunities for students to research, evaluate, and reflect on the information they have learned. A concrete example is this leader report card with Napoleon Bonaparte as a model example. The assignment would be to have students evaluate Bonaparte’s leadership and impact based on the reforms made under his authority. The student research would be focused on the French leader’s time in power and overall impact.

Now that you have seen a few examples of rigor in the Social Studies process skills, consider the following quote from a recently published article from Education Service Center Region 20 entitled, “How do you Identify Rigor in the Classroom?”  The authors state, “Rigor is evidenced through the observation of a number of essential components of rigor: content acquisition, critical thinking, relevance, integration, application of concepts, long term retention, and student ownership of learning.”  As a teacher, none of this can happen if you are not actively seeking new ways of reaching your students by pairing both content and rigor.  Yes, this takes time, intentional planning, and firmly rooting yourself in your content standards, but the rigor-reward will be great.

 *If you are looking for primary sources related workshops, ESC Region XIII will be hosting two workshops this spring – Teaching with Primary Sources and Document Based Questions for the Social Studies Classroom.  Go to Region XIII e-campus for more information.  (Workshop ID: SP122647, SP1223152)

a humorous look at what rigor is (not) in the Social Studies classroom, check out the following link



Bullis, D. MacDonald, N. (2000). The longest hajj: The journeys of Ibn Battuta, Part 3: From traveler to memoirist – China, Mali, and Home. Saudi Aramco World, 51, No. 4, Retrieved January 29, 2012 from

Damian, L., Dykes, S., Martinez, J., Zwart, L. Final report card: Napoleon Bonaparte. Presented to R. Hernandez, HCHS.

First incidence of black death in Europe and Asia, 1333-1369.  Retrieved January 29, 2012 from

Hyde, A., Daniels, H., Zemelman, S. (1998). Best practice: New standards for teaching and learning in America’s schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Jenkins, R., Goldhorn, J., Webb, M. How do you identify rigor in the classroom?  Retrieved February 2, 2012 from

Ibeji, M. (2011). Black death. BBC: British History. Retrieved February 2, 2012 from