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December Community Game Changer
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The Teaching with Primary Sources program brings history to life for Colorado kids
By Doug McPherson

Peggy O’Neill-Jones puts it this way: “Any time you get the opportunity to help teachers become better at their craft and affect student learning, you’re touching the future, and not many people get to do that.”

The sentence sums up a program called Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS), a Library of Congress initiative housed at Metropolitan State University of Denver. And it’s helping to transform teaching in Colorado and throughout the West.

O’Neill-Jones directs TPS, now in its 11th year.

“The fact that it’s been around that long says a lot—that’s a long time for a program that’s funded by a federal grant,” she says.

When the program started in 2004, it served just Colorado teachers. “It was so well received that in 2008 the Library of Congress asked us to take it to 14 additional states in the West from North Dakota to Alaska to Hawaii,” says O’Neill-Jones, a professor of technical communications at MSU Denver. “Now we’re having a major impact on a regional level.”

O’Neill-Jones shares the math: “One teacher typically reaches 150 students a year. We’re reaching literally thousands of teachers today.”

So what exactly is TPS? As the name implies, the program puts primary sources (the Library of Congress has about 30 million such sources) into teachers’ hands to breathe life into social studies.

An example: A drawing of the telephone, but not just any drawing—actual art from the inventor, Alexander Graham Bell.

“It gives students a better sense of the person, who he was and how he thought about an invention that changed the world,” O’Neill-Jones says. “Primary sources ignite higher-order thinking. It’s not just about dates and events. Actual artifacts give a historical narrative. Examining the past like this helps students understand the present and be citizens of today.”

TPS also offers professional development seminars and an online social network so teachers can share ideas.

Educators are on board. Michelle Pearson, a social studies teacher and Colorado teacher of the year in 2011, has used TPS since 2004.

“It’s been a key part of my classrooms,” Pearson says. “Primary sources let us add context and engage students so they can compare and contrast the present with the past. Its value is immense and unmatched.”

Testimonials like that inspire O’Neill-Jones. “This is why I keep going, because we help teachers, we transform their teaching, and that transforms students.”

Content Provided By Metropolitan State University of Denver

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