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Teacher institutes show K-12 educators how to harness the power of historical collections


How do you capture the attention of social studies teachers on summer break? If they are like the 15 teachers who attended the first South Carolina Civil Rights Teacher Institute in July, it isn’t difficult. The material enthralls on its own.

During the Civil Rights Teacher Institute, teachers
were introduced to USC collections materials.
A 1963 ticket to a Malcolm X speaking event
(a facsimile is shown here) is part of the collection.

“The very first day, we were invited to see a new collection as it was being unpacked,” said Brandon Harrison, a government and economics teacher at Richland Northeast High School in Columbia. “One of the first items was an original draft of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize speech — with his handwritten changes — and I held it in my hands! I didn’t believe what I was seeing.”

This is exactly the kind of wonder and excitement Bobby Donaldson wants to spark.

“We want to expand teachers’ knowledge of civil rights in South Carolina, introduce them to our digital collections and help them create lesson plans,” said Donaldson, a USC history professor and Director of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research, which sponsored the weeklong institute with grant funding from the National Park Service.

Also part of the collection:
Moving Image Research Collections
WIS-TV news footage of
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in Kingstree
in 1966 on the importance of voting. "On its
own, it’s a stunning clip. As you watch it, you'll
see walking next to Dr. King is James McCain,
a South Carolina educator, public servant, and
civil rights champion. We have his papers, and
have access to them," Donaldson said.

Participants immersed themselves in S.C. civil rights history and heard from core faculty, visiting scholars and activists involved in the civil rights movement. They also received a teacher’s guide filled with primary and secondary documents drawn from the library’s civil rights collections. After the institute, participants created a set of learning activities that were compiled into a sourcebook for teaching S.C. civil rights history. Later, the materials will be made available to teachers across the state.

“I’m going to incorporate so much from this institute,” said Harrison, who was moved by many of the collection items he saw. “This fall I’m teaching African-American history for the first time. I had a tentative lesson plan for that class, but I’ve decided to start from scratch using what I learned this week.”

During the same week, another 15 of the state’s K-12 social studies educators learned how to find and use digitized materials in their classrooms.

Collaboration and peer feedback were key elements of "Partnering to Create Document
Based Questions with Digital Collections.” The institute was held in Thomas Cooper
Library’s Classroom 118, a new interactive instruction and collaborative space.

“We want to add to each teacher’s toolkit by showing them how they can use freely accessible, online source materials from the libraries’ collections and other online repositories,” said Kate Boyd, Digital Initiatives Librarian.

“Each teacher’s goal for the week is to create a Document-Based Question (DBQ) using online source materials. They aren’t lesson plans: DBQs guide students in finding and using primary resources. DBQs foster critical thinking and bring the kids to another level of understanding.”

Once teachers learned how to create and frame their DBQ, they then strengthened it using input from the other teachers. Once complete, the DBQs were posted online and made available to teachers across the state.

This institute, “Partnering to Create Document Based Questions with Digital Collections,” was made possible through a grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission. The Libraries’ Digital Collections department worked with the S.C. Department of Education Social Studies Associates to convene the institute.

“Thanks to the institute, I discovered the Hart Family Papers in the South Caroliniana Library’s collection,” said Billy Cox, who teaches eighth-grade South Carolina history at Rosemary Middle School in Andrews. “The Oliver Hart diary is a phenomenal resource for this type of inquiry project. I spent hours of my own time this week studying the diary, and my students will benefit from that.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of University Libraries.