Using Primary Sources in the Classroom

By Eric Antuna on May 13, 2010

For some of us, the end of the year is imminent! After state testing you may have more time and need some relief from the pressures of going over test taking strategies and test prep packets. What do we do with ourselves? Start a project of course! Now is a perfect time to allow students time for inquiry and research into a subject that you may have touched upon earlier in the year. This also may feel like it's a good time for your students to learn more about the history or natural history of the the area in which you live.

San Bernardino County Museum

Luckily, I live about 45 minutes east of the San Bernardino County Museum located in Redlands, California. The museum offers a school loan program for teachers and community members for $50 per calendar year (it's a STEAL!). In return, they allow you to checkout a loan kit or a few specimens to take to your school and use in your classroom. The taxidermied specimens are excellent for teaching hands on, up close, within your reach science lesson! The students love seen the animals! On this trip I checked out the desert kit. In this particular kit, there are about 30 specimens, about 20 animal and 10 plant specimens, a resource book, and an easy-to-use implementation guide filled with grade level worksheets that you can use in your classroom the next day.  

The following sources are a great way to get students excited about what ever particular concept or theme you are studying with your class. I have found that students get so excited that they tell their parents about them and I get an impromptu conference and teach a minilesson to families also!

For my particular lessons I used this frame:

I read "Desert Life" by Rachel Mann to the class.

Desert Life

I showed the Brain Pop video on deserts to my class. Then I setup six centers around my classroom:
  1. mammals
  2. birds
  3. insects
  4. reptiles
  5. computers (to practice test prep online)
  6. math (with the museum-created math worksheet)

I used the worksheets that came with the kit to focus students' attention on particular features of the animals.

Photo 4    Photo 5

After, I sat the class down in a circle and had a class discussion about what they learned about the particular animals that they investigated. We had a great discussion and I found that student knowledge and concepts about the animals and their characteristics was very deep even in this short amount of time. 

Here are a few museums I found that offer loan programs to schools by doing a Google search:

West San Bernardino County: San Bernardino County Museum Loan Program

East New Jersey: Morris Museum Loan Program

If you have any ideas on how use primary sources in the classroom, please share them here! 

Thanks for reading!  Happy National Lab Day! (May 12)



This is terrific Eric! I am in the initial process of developing a loan program with fossils, activities, teacher guide etc. for the Alf Museum of Paleo in Claremont, and it would be great to get your (and other teachers) ideas and advice as to the needs, preferences, likes and dislikes that you may have about loan programs. I would be grateful for any and all input! Thanks!

Kathy, I would love to talk more!


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