Studying primary sources allows us to discover information about the past. A primary source might be anything from correspondence to photographs to newspapers and diaries. Primary sources are extremely useful not just for projects, but provide us a way to understand the history more deeply and personally from those that came before us.
When visitors come into the Maryland Room, they use primary sources to help with their research projects. Researchers pour over material, thinking critically about what the material is and what answers it can provide. Critical thinking and inquiry are crucial tools when conducting a research project that involves archival material and primary sources.
These sophisticated research skills are being introduced to children earlier than ever. Case Maker is one of the tools educators can use to help middle school students begin to develop their critical thinking skills.
Case Maker allows students to engage with an inquiry-based interactive tool as they learn to navigate primary source research. Instead of a teacher interpreting primary sources for students and requiring them to memorize facts, students are instructed to “be their own detective” and to directly investigate these sources themselves.
Students may have some prior knowledge about the subject they are researching but are encouraged to conduct their own analysis by using these three steps:
- Observe – What are they looking at? A photograph? A letter? A video?
- Reflect – What do they already know about this topic? Why does their previous knowledge bring to the source?
- Question – Who made the source? Who was it aimed for? Where, when and why was it created?
These questions do not have to be followed in this order, each is crucial in helping students develop their own analysis on a primary source. Case Maker reinforces the notion that, in order to complete a research project, one must begin with questions and expand their ideas by using primary sources. Following this period of inquiry, student can engage in other forms of research and take further steps to understand their topic.
One of the core principles of Case Maker is that there are no right or wrong answers. Students simply present what they explored and what answered their questions or curiosities on the topic they researched. This process helps students empathize and understand the material through their own critical thinking and inquiries of information they discover. Students are encouraged to demonstrate an understanding of what they found and not simply reiterate or memorize facts.
The use of primary sources for research is common in many of the UMD Libraries. We even have our own research guide on Research Using Primary Sources. Our librarians, Ashleigh Coren and Laura Cleary, were thrilled and honored to be invited to contribute to the training videos for the educators considering the use of Case Maker in their classrooms.
Learn more about ThinkPort and their education tools, created by Maryland Public Television
Post by Elena Macias and Laura Cleary
Instruction and Outreach for Special Collections and University Archives