Connecting Teachers to the World

“When I was a little girl, I repeatedly heard the story of my aunt who went to the United States. She earned a Master’s Degree, got married to a PhD who had the green card, and thus realized the so-called American dream and lived happily ever after. And I always remember: As a little girl who knew nothing about life [in regards to] true happiness and personal choices, I told everybody in the family that one day, I would be her.”

–Chen An, a young Chinese woman talking about her experience as a modern woman in China and the United States, October 2009

Listen to Chen’s full story or read the transcript online.

Chen An’s reflections on her childhood in China and her dreams for the future is one of the unique first-person accounts included in a new online curriculum collection for K-12 teachers. “Primary Source World,” as the collection is titled, is a growing set of free teaching guides designed around original source material from around the globe.

Primary Source, a Watertown-based nonprofit that educates K-12 teachers about world history and global issues, created the site as a special feature of our extensive online resources after we noticed that the majority of world history-focused collections of primary sources were geared to the college curriculum. Over the past two years, we have also introduced online courses on international topics in an effort to reach a greater number of teachers than those served by our in-person courses in the Boston area.

Chen An’s story is part of one of three primary-source-centered studies in a larger unit exploring the changing roles of women in Chinese society. As in each of the Primary Source World units, a modular design encourages teachers to use this source material in a way that fits their own classrooms. When we first embarked upon this project, we learned that educators are less likely to download and use a self-contained curriculum. Many prefer to pick and choose particular teaching resources or ideas that complement or enhance their pre-existing plans. Perhaps an English teacher might use Chen’s story as an example of a contemporary personal narrative, while a world history teacher might want to lead students through additional examinations of the Yin Yu Tang House and Chinese propaganda posters from the Cultural Revolution era.

Given the immense amount of resources available to teachers, we wanted to create high-quality materials that took advantage of the online format. To learn about Latin America during the Cold War, students can listen to a song from the Cuban Revolution or read an excerpt from the anti-communist Kennan Memorandum. Younger students can watch a Malian drummer demonstrate the use of talking drums and zoom in on a photo of a wooden Lukasa memory board to explore how the Luba people of Central Africa have preserved cultural traditions and historical knowledge.

Primary Source World also highlights topics and perspectives that are not traditionally included in K-12 teaching. For example, a look at interactions between Native Americans and European settlers has students consider the influence of the Catholic Church on Pueblo culture in an examination of ceramic bowls created before and after the Mission Era. And an entire unit on women in the modern Middle East includes an example of an Iranian female rapper whose song and music video, Do Not Muddy the Water, stood as a protest to the June 2009 presidential election.

Teachers have responded enthusiastically to Primary Source World, and it has quickly become one of the most popular pages on our site. In the month of March alone, we received more than 2,000 visits to the resource collection.

We’re excited to see global perspectives being brought into more classrooms in Massachusetts and states across the country, and we’re proud to support that work through our online initiatives and our Boston-area classes. Primary Source is especially grateful to Mass Humanities for their long-term partnership and support, which has enabled us to provide learning opportunities and resources to teachers on a broad range of domestic and global topics.

Please join us on Facebook and Twitter to stay abreast of our new resources, global education news, and public events.

Author: Julie Newport

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