Westfield State awarded Teaching with Primary Sources funding to benefit K–5 social studies pupils

The U.S. Library of Congress has awarded Westfield State University a $20,000 grant from the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Eastern Regions Program. The funding will benefit an online program co-developed by a Westfield State educator that places inquiry at the center of elementary school social studies teaching and learning.

The online program—“History’s Mysteries K–5 Curriculum Using Primary Sources to Solve Historical Inquiries”—is the product of a collaboration between Westfield State education instructor and teacher-in-residence Laurie Risler and Easthampton High School social studies teacher Kelley Brown. Both share a passion for helping educators create engaging, thoughtful lessons that get pupils excited about history and civics. The TPS grant will fund the program’s curriculum development and the production of online professional development modules for educators.

“We are appreciative of the support from the Library of Congress,” said Robert Kersting, Ph.D., Westfield State’s interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The importance of learning about and from our past using primary sources cannot be overstated. The development of curriculum for grades K–5, and professional development for teachers that has a virtual delivery method, will be a valuable resource for educators.”

In the History’s Mysteries curriculum, students act as historians by investigating primary sources from the Library of Congress to solve historical mysteries using critical-thinking skills. The lessons evolve throughout the curriculum.

Risler shared an example: “The topic of immigration moved to second grade in the new framework. The mysteries in that unit move from a discussion of why animals migrate to a discussion of the push-and-pull factors in immigration. Next, pupils will explore the topic of refugees before moving to the last inquiry about the Great Migration.”

Introduced in 2006, the TPS grant program’s purpose is “to build a nationwide network of organizations that deliver professional development, write curriculum, and create apps and interactives based on the Library of Congress’ digitized primary sources.”

“Our goal is to support elementary school classroom educators, who are often asked to teach multiple subjects,” explained Risler. “We strive to provide high-quality social studies lessons that are easy to implement, and want pupils to learn history using the skills and tools of historians.”

Initially conceived in 2018 for in-person instruction, Risler noticed her students’ interest in researching and solving historical questions. Risler and Brown made changes to the curriculum last spring to adapt to virtual learning.

“I’m so grateful to be partnering with Westfield State University and particularly Laurie Risler, who is so committed to supporting educators,” said Brown. “As a high school teacher, I have learned so much from the pedagogy of elementary educators and am excited to give back to the K–5 community by helping to create high-quality social studies inquiry lessons that focus on best practices in the discipline of history.”

The History’s Mysteries teaching cohort began with 70 pilot educators and has since grown to include more than 200 in Massachusetts, Georgia, North Carolina, California, and Illinois. Teachers can access the curriculum online, and credit its ease of use and readiness of lessons.

“The Library of Congress is an amazing resource,” said Risler. “I love the opportunity to introduce teachers to its collection of rich sources that are available at no cost. As a former classroom teacher, the Teaching with Primary Sources programs I attended and participated in transformed my teaching.”

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