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Chambers chosen for Library of Congress training with primary sources

Culpeper Times Staff Writer
rfinefrock@timespapers.com

While the future students of Emily Chambers were enjoying the last weeks of their summer vacation, Chambers was a student herself in Washington, D.C.

Chambers, a sixth grade English teacher at Culpeper Middle School, participated in the Primary Sources Summer Teaching Institute of the Library of Congress Aug. 6-10.

“The Library of Congress has an educational outreach office and it is trying to make materials accessible to teachers,” Chambers said. “There were five one-week programs and I did the last week. My session dealt with using primary sources as teaching tools.”

Although the program is free, teachers have to apply and be selected. This year there was a pool of more than 300 applicants. Chambers is in her third year at CMS.

“They have incredible resources, over 32 million digitized items,” said Chambers. “They show you how to access their resources – they want you to be able to use them in your classroom. I had to complete the project I started there when I came home and then report back after using it in class.”

Chambers said she met teachers from California, Florida and other states and also took part in tours of the main reading room and other rooms in “The Nation's Library,” as the LOC is nicknamed.

“There were 17 people in my group,” Chamber said. “It was incredibly challenging and motivating to work with so many people who love what they do. And the LOC staff was very helpful. They were a wonderful encouragement. All teachers should do this – they have programs in art, history and other subjects, too.”

Chambers said she found out about the program through an e-mail notice.

“I love history – I almost became a history teacher,” Chambers said. “And I especially love the intersection between history and literature, making the connection between non-fiction and fiction.”

Chambers said her project was based around the work of Dorothea Lange, a photojournalist and documentarian who did work for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression.

“I got to see original prints from her collection of photographs of families in Depression-era Oklahoma,” Chambers said. I used some of the photos to talk about first impressions versus second impressions.

“I had my students interview each other the second week of school when most of them didn't know each other very well. Then later on I had them interview each other again when they knew each other better and asked if their impressions had changed. I pointed out that an interview is a primary source – you were there.”

Then, said Chambers, she brought out the reproductions of the Lange photographs of a Depression-era family in Oklahoma.

“I didn't tell them anything about the photographs,” she said. “I told them to observe, reflect and question. There were four groups and each group had a different photograph. They had to come up with a caption.
“Then I mixed up the groups and shared similarities and differences and asked them what was going on in the photos. Finally I shared all of the photos together for this big 'aha'' moment. I still hadn't shared the background of the photos at that point. The next day I told them the story.”

Chambers said she wanted her students to see that as they are reading a novel, they have to rely on more than first impressions.

“The photos Lange took were just one moment in this family's life,” said Chambers. “They left the next day after she took the photos and a lot of the relief that was sent to them didn't reach them. They eventually saw the photos in a newspaper and the mother was upset because Dorothea Lange had told her they would never be published.
“But when she was 79, the mother got cancer and her son went to a local newspaper and told (the editor) about the photos. They got thousands of dollars donated to help her.”

Chambers is urging everyone to get a library card for the Library of Congress. All you need is a driver's license or a passport.

“The Library of Congress has so many resources and they are willing to share them with anyone,” Chambers said. “Their big thing is 'we are your library.' I am excited to bring back to the school and my classroom what I have learned.”

The Library of Congress is accessible online at: loc.gov
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