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Primary Source Speed Dating: Finding the document of your dreams

Kara Knight from Minnesota History Society and the Inquiry in the Upper Midwest has perhaps created one of the most intriguing conference session titles ever.

What’s not to like about Primary Source Speeding Dating? And her tagline is even better: Discover the Primary Source of your Dreams – Finding the Perfect Match.

Loving this!

I think we can all agree that finding and using primary sources as part of teaching and learning is a no-brainer. But the actual finding and using can be a pain in the butt. It takes time to find the right source and it takes time to figure out how best to use those sources. So during this #MCSS2018 session, we talked about ways to match classroom needs, brain research, and just the right primary source.

We ended the session with an activity Kara called Primary Source Speed Dating. It’s a bit like Socratic Circles. Inside circle has a task. Outside circle has a task. And then after five minutes, one of the circles rotates so that you repeat the tasks but with a different person.

We did the same thing during our Speed Dating. The teachers in the outside circle each had a different primary source – maps, musical scores, diaries, laws, photos, paintings. And each group was responsible for a specific task related to that source:

Inside Circle
Source the source – creator, point of view, date, audience?

Outside Circle
Analyze the source specific to your classroom needs – what student background knowledge is needed, what student skills are need to access it such as literacy and thinking skills, how does the source provide a window or mirror to your students, how does it meet your curriculum needs?

It seems like a great way for a group of social studies teachers to evaluate a large number of sources quickly and determining which ones are the best to use with kids. But even if you’re sitting all alone on a Sunday night with no social studies friends around to help – freaking out about which documents to use for tomorrow’s lesson – this sort of activity can be helpful. Basically it’s a simple form of a very intentional selection process. It really forces us to think about why we’re using this document instead of that map or that photograph.

And that’s a good thing. But . . .

Could we use this same sort of activity with kids?

Could you change the questions just a bit and use Primary Source Speed Dating to introduce a topic or unit? Maybe as an activity to expose student to different types of primary sources. Or as a review on how to use the SHEG Historical Thinking Chart. Perhaps ask kids to rank the different sources from most reliable to least reliable. Tie this activity to training kids on to evaluate online resources to combat fake news.

I know there are some of you who are already using the Speed Dating idea to help kids make sense of people and place. But I also like the idea of doing something similar with primary sources. Anybody doing this already? What has worked for you?

(Get Kara’s presentation online.)

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