About Lori H Rice

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade since 1996. She has a passion for creativity, learning, questioning and the whole child. Her classroom is a place of acceptance and celebrating differences.

pstop“Primary source documents”…reading this phrase in the Common Core Standards I felt a bit of fear creep into my mind.  I teach fourth grade.  We are just mastering how to read maps and keys and legends.  Primary source documents?  How on earth would I incorporate those into our classroom and make it meaningful?  Students at this level are interested in stories and people.  Stories and people…I continued thinking, isn’t that what primary source documents are?  History?  People?  Stories?  I began searching the web and found a brilliant resource to use.  In this article I will walk you through the process of creating activities for your classroom.

The National Archives has ideas and lessons for educators online.  I started exploring here with my idea to use primary source documents and the stories and people from history for my fourth grade class.  We had read fictional chapter books and the themes had varied from individuality to racism to government power.  In fourth grade we were also covering the United States, and I thought of maps.  How have maps changed?  How has the US changed?  What do these changes mean?  The teacher wheels were rolling.

Next, I found a resource that I could not stop exploring: Docs Teach online.  This is not part of National Archives, but it is a link from their site as they feel it is a worthwhile tool for educators.  I could not agree more.  This site allows you to tie in primary source documents, technology, and higher level thinking!  I had stumbled onto a goldmine!

Here is a narrative of my experience creating my activity.  The opening website provides you with choices from exploring documents, to teacher created activities, and the fun began when I clicked on “build your own interactive activities”.  There I found sequence, focusing on details, making connections (I know, I know, overused but try it out with genuine pieces of our history), mapping, interpreting data, evaluating with evidence, and synthesizing by using smaller parts to form a whole were all choices for the backbone of the activity.  It was exciting to see the higher level thinking skills linked in with primary source documents in an interactive technology kids would feel comfortable with.

Start simple, I thought.  I began with sequence.  I excitedly clicked the bright green “Create an Activity+” button.  I was next prompted to find documents.  I began browsing and soon determined reading the intricate handwriting of our forefathers would soon fill my reading table with whining, complaining, “What does this say?” questions.  Plan B.  I switched my focus to pictures and then to maps.  The light bulb went off and I decided to pull maps from our nation’s development.  At the top I found a search tab and was able to get a fingernail list of maps.  Clicking on the little + sign beside each map added that document to my activity. “Back to Activity” on the top right got me back to my activity with the documents in a timeline on the bottom.  We have been talking about government and the fifty United States; why not look at how this land developed?

So thinking about sequencing, this seems fairly straight forward.  Students would drag the maps into sequence on the timeline.  Then what? I had to do the work too.  I organized the maps in sequence by dragging them into the workspace above.  It was easy to hit the x to delete or click on the black and gray bars above the document to rearrange them, pull them above or below another map, and get them into sequential order.  When I had them in place I clicked on “3” at the top to continue.  As I always tell my kids, save, save , save.  I did that before moving on.

The next frame was the directions.  The introduction box allows for some direction or background knowledge to be shared by the creator.  The conclusion was the perfect place for questions.  I also decided to put the questions in the introduction to give students focus as they were placing the maps in sequence. This was the perfect place for higher level questioning to ask students about evaluation and have them explain their reasoning.  As you know, save, save, save and then I was able to continue editing and move to “4”.

The last page is the nuts and bolts.  You give the activity a title and fill in a synopsis as well as any teacher notes.  Hit “Publish” on the bottom right and your activity is ready for student use.  On the top left you will find a direct link you can provide for students to go directly to your activity.  The fun thing about this site is the sharing of activities so you can also search and find already created things to use as well.

I gave my fourth graders iPads (this can also be done on computers), explained we would be looking at maps today, and let them loose.  They loved looking at the old documents, and their thinking astounded me.  They were able to organize the maps using the extra information provided in the description section of the maps.  After sequencing the maps they then answered the questions with deep levels of thinking.  If you would like to give my activity a try or use it with your students: here is the link.

It is always exciting to find easy to use tools that support learning, thinking, and curriculum in the classroom.  I hope this article helps you navigate through creating your own activity.  If you have something you create, send a shout out and share the link in our comments.  Working together always helps us and makes us stronger.

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