By SUSAN VECCIA
During the last two weeks of July, visitors to the National Digital Library Learning Center would have found themselves surrounded by a sea of busy educators. Who were they, and what were they doing?
They were the Library of Congress American Memory Fellows for the year 2000. They came from elementary, middle and high schools in 23 states for a week in Washington to learn about primary sources and how to incorporate them into their teaching. Focusing mainly on the American Memory historical collections, these teachers and school media specialists had a whirlwind tour of the Library of Congress -- both physically and virtually.
Now in its fourth year, the American Memory Fellows Program provides a yearlong professional development opportunity for teams of teachers, librarians and media specialists. Though much of the work takes place in their own schools, the cornerstone of this program is the summer institute, which is held in Washington. For the first time, the entire program was offered at the Library of Congress in the newly refurbished National Digital Library Learning Center. This year, the "Class of 2000" was split into two weeklong sessions. The first session was for grades 4-8 educators; the second session was for 9-12 educators.
An important part of the unique American Memory Fellows experience at the Library is the opportunity to meet with curators from the special-collections divisions. This year, the visits to the Prints and Photographs, Geography and Map, and Rare Book and Special Collections divisions allowed the fellows to see some of the rare American historical materials held within these divisions and to learn about reference procedures for each division and how some of these materials are digitized and incorporated into American Memory collections. Fellows were both awestruck and inspired by the depth and breadth of the Library's resources.
One American Memory Fellow remarked that as he looked at some of the maps, he was so excited that his hands were shaking. Another noted that "seeing some of the treasures of the Library of Congress ... in person is one of the strongest memories I will have of the institute."
Another Fellow commented on the variety of materials held in the Library. "Although I knew that the Library of Congress had resources available to me through the Internet, I really had no sense of what the materials were or how they can be used until we met the curators and they showed off pieces [from] their collections." Some of the Fellows made return trips to the divisions during their free time, locating materials to supplement their classroom activities and the lessons plans they were creating during their time in Washington.
Throughout the week, teachers and school media specialists worked in teams of two to design an original lesson plan, student activity or unit that uses materials from the American Memory collections. Supported by Library of Congress staff as well as "coaches" and "facilitators" who had been participants in program in previous years, these educators honed their technical and analytical skills to enable them to use primary sources more effectively. During the school year that follows, the Fellows will refine and test their lessons with students and colleagues. This spring these "road-tested" lessons will be returned to the Library for publication on the Learning Page.
As the week progressed, the Fellows participated in workshops on online searching, analyzing primary sources, designing curriculum with primary sources and a wide range of other topics. These hands-on activities provided educators with different strategies and methods for using primary sources and an opportunity to experience this process as their students might. Workshops were participatory and collaborative, requiring Fellows to work with a wide variety of individuals, materials and collections.
Recognizing that training is a process that must be supported, the work of the institute is extended through online collaboration and discussion groups that continue throughout the year. "Graduating" Fellows are expected to help train others, both in their school communities and throughout the nation at workshops, conferences and other professional gatherings. As the enthusiasm mounted throughout the week, the task of outreach seemed a natural extension to many.
Noting that institute staff "put the out in educational outreach," one Fellow commented that this will be her "guiding principle once ... it is time to disseminate the work of the Library of Congress to teachers who have not been as privileged as we to come here."
The educators participating in the Institute left with many new ideas and new motivation for teaching:
"This has been the richest educational experience in my 16 years of teaching. I know that, long after this week is over, what I accomplished and learned this week will enrich my teaching and the lives of my students," said one participant.
The 25 two-person teams selected for the year 2000 American Memory Fellows Program came from 23 states -- as far as Hawaii and as close as Fairfax, Va. They represent both public and private schools, large and small, in metropolitan, suburban and rural communities. The 25 teams selected were chosen from a pool of more than 140 team applications. For their efforts in exploring the roles that digital libraries can play in improving humanities teaching and learning, American Memory Fellows can earn three graduate credits from the University of Virginia, through the Curry School of Education's Center for Technology and Teacher Education.
The American Memory Fellows Program seeks to develop a nationwide community of practicing educators who will help others understand the nature of primary source materials and how they can both enrich the curriculum and draw students -- even sometimes reluctant learners -- into the learning process. The program now numbers 200 educators from 43 states, including the District of Columbia. This fellowship of practice is tied together through an online listserv where "each one teaches one" through sharing experiences about teaching and learning with primary sources.
Ms. Veccia is head of user services for the National Digital Library Program.