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Lesson 7


Read the following about Learning to Love Basic Archival Research

Lesson 7 - Learning to Love Basic Archival Research


Assignment:  Come up with another way to teach the subject "Searching the National Archives online is not like searching anywhere else on the web"  and post it on the Discussion Board.


Note:  We tried out the exercise several times, but would welcome suggestions for making the exercise itself clearer.  If you find errors or lack of clarity, please let me know at carol.buswell@nara.gov .  

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  • Ok, I mostly made a worksheet that compares what students normally do to research with what we've learned about researching the archives.  My challenge was trying to make a working link to any of the materials which have been used in searching this class.  If I had a bit more time, I would probably rework some of that material to be more interactive (which usually works really well with teenagers), but I'm two lessons behind, so I've gotta move.  I've linked the worksheet as a pdf on this message


  • A lot of the ideas I read on the discussion forum are very interesting.   I am thinking that I might start the students out by trying to get them to understand "how" they classify items.  The whole process of archiving really does model the human mind in many ways, and we all grew up with one system , the Dewey Decimal system, and students are pretty familiar now with Boolean searches.

    My first thought for an introductory activity might be to keep them in groups, but give each group random objects, and have them practice different ways to organize, categorize, and/or archive them.  You could have some real fun with this, and almost every group will come up with something different.

    Just a thought an creating an introductory activity at this point, I need to contemplate how to make this into a different method of teaching...more to come.

  • I have mixed feelings on the jigsaw method of teaching, most of which have been addressed by others already.  I love the idea of peer-teaching, and jigsaw certainly encourages that to occur, but it does tend to limit the breadth of knowledge gained by each individual of the class.  I think I could use the basic idea of Carol's lesson as a introduction to how the Archives are organized.  It would allow the class to begin using the different search methods on NARA's website, and hopefully give them some idea how to begin using the Archives for a more in-depth project done either in partners or individually.  The only major drawback I see is that it seems like each step of the group work has to be done sequentially.  If I read that correctly Group 2 is waiting on Group 1 to give them the list of record groups before they can begin working on finding the series.  Group 3 is then waiting on Groups 1 and 2, and so on.  This would be problematic for my students.  They are able to sit patiently for short periods of time before they decide to devise their own activities for the day (none of which are academically constructive).  If I give another interim assignment to fill time while they wait, I feel like I'm wasting class time.  If the teacher could create the previous step for each group (i.e. a pre-screened record group list for the series group), then each group would be able to work on their step independently from the others.  They could still regroup and work as a new team to complete another search on a new topic.  This should allow for each student to teach his/her groupmates how to complete the step on which he/she is an expert. 

    After students have completed this activity to gain some insight into how the Archives are organized, and what information is available, I would have them complete a research project of some nature (either a presentation, an essay, or a video) using the Archives as one possible location for sources.  I often provide students with heavily structured guidance in finding sources, so I could see myself requiring 3 of 5 sources must come from the Archives, while the other two can be found using either the library, or the Web.  I am assigning my 10th grade U.S. History class a research project for the end of the year.  Our textbook has limited content for the later half of the 20th Century, so I am assigning each of them an era/topic from the mid-1940s to the present.  I will be modifying my assignment to include the Archives as a required resource.

  • I would like to try a BINGO game.  Students would be shown to the Guide to the Federal Records.  If the teacher called out B 3 then the students would go to the square of B3 and look up the clue found in B3 in the Guide to the Federal Records.  They would then write down the Record Group Number for that clue in the square.  The Bingo cards would all be variations of the same information.  The first person to Bingo would win.  This would give students a fun way to begin exploring.  After some skill with the Guide, then a similar game could be played that utilized clues on a specific research topic being done in class.  I have included a sample BINGO card.  I put the record groups in parentheses for a key.  The students cards would not have the Record Group on them.













    1  Coast Guard (RG26)

    4 San Francisco Fire 1906   (RG26)

    7 Records of the US   Geological Survey (RG50)

    10 War Department Collection   of Revolutionary War Records (RG93)

    13 Russian American Company   (RG261)

    2 District Courts of Alaska   (RG21)

    5 Records of Public Health   Service (90)

    8 National Archives   Collection of Foreign Records Seized (RG242)

    11 Records of the Bureau of   Indian Affairs (RG75)

    14 Alaska




    3 Yukon River Exploration   (RG26)

    6 Records of the Food and   Drug Administration (RG88)

    9 Records of the United   States Naval Academy (RG405)

    12 US Constitution (RG11)

    15 National Aeronautics

     and Space Administration (RG255)

  • I too like Carol's basic framework for teaching Archival research skills, but like Bev, have qualms about using this jigsaw method for a skill set that is both complex and might not be touched on again in the semester.  (As an introductory method with planned follow-up, I think it would work out great.)  So if I were running it in one or more sections of 9th grade Alaska Studies, here’s how I would modify that framework:


    • Preselect a topic area of inquiry where digital records and NARA-Anchorage records are abundant and public interest/controversy exists…
    • Introduce this assignment as an exercise in information detective work (information hunting analogy may work better with some students). The goal is for each team to find one or more archival record useful in a whole class topic exploration project on that subject.  (I.e. the products here become a major part of the raw materials for another analysis project…)
    • Divide classes into teams of two.  Each team works on all of Carol’s basic framework steps together, helping each other. So each member learns about all the steps and how they interact with each other.
    • Final grade for this project will be based 1/3 on the value of archive records found for the ensuing topic exploration project, and 2/3 on the thoroughness and insightfulness of the Inquiry Log that they will be asked to keep for this investigation.
    • This Inquiry Log will be the place where each team member keeps a metacognitive record of their team’s search processes including search terms used, screen snapshots of search results obtained, questions and observations derived from successive searches and reasoning for next search steps…  This Inquiry Log would be created as a GoogleDoc and shared by both team members and the instructor.

    I think that in this way a class could begin practicing all the steps in archival research, glean some interesting records useful for an ensuing analysis project, and practice meta-cognitive reflection skills.  These logs, once reviewed by the teacher could provide enormous insight for follow up activities for continued development of this skill set…

  • I thought the exercises were very clear. I would add an element to include "How to Improve Search Results," such as the quotes, capitalization tips and better use of the plus and minus signs. It really made a difference in my results when I used the tips.

    For example, in this exercise, I played around with researching Uranium mining in Utah, specifically in the Moab area where I have done some mountain biking and where a now-popular recreational route, the White Rim Trail, was built as an access road for mining exploration. When starting my search, I learned I should uses "Bureau of Mines" including the quotes, instead of bureau of mines (without the quotes or caps). Skipping capitalization has become a bad habit for me when I’m on the internet since Google allows me to be lazy about it; I imagine students will encounter this as I did.  I digress. My goal was to yield relevant results and this helped accomplish the goal.

    I would also add an element to have students use their computer search engine to search the same terms. In first searching NARA for information on uranium mining, I was limiting my search to Bureau of Mines. When I put my search terms into Google I got the million-plus hits, which seems like it wouldn't be helpful because it's so much info. But it made me look at other agencies I should be searching, such as BLM, USGS, Department of Energy, EPA, Defense, and others. All these agencies appeared in the first two pages of results.

    Knowing what I now do, I’d encourage students to brainstorm together to figure out which agencies might have documents and photos for them. It might be interesting to use this kind of lesson when discussing the US Cabinet and how agencies work together, or, by contrast, how their different missions might lead to challenges in an administration.

  • When I first started thinking about ways to engage students in the National Archives, I thought of the augmented reality app I learned about at this year's ASTE conference. The app, Aurasma, lets people with mobile device cameras (and the downloaded app) focus their camera on an image. Once Aurasma reads the image, new images or "auras" appear. A primary source image could have a video clip aura of a student explaining the image, or another image, or a document. Magazines are using it to give their subscribers extra content. I haven't created anything with Aurasma yet, but it really looks like it could be a fun way engage older students who use mobile devices.

  • My lesson idea is a "learning by doing" model. Students will need to learn to use the archives while answering essential questions asked at the amazingly awesome Documented Rights Exhibit lesson plans page and interacting using collaborative web tools. 

    Here is the idea so far . . .

    Using Collaborative Tools for the Documented Rights Exhibit Lessons

    The lesson idea, which I’d like to develop for my final project, will use the lesson resources and objectives found at the National Archives at the Documented Rights Exhibit combined with some additional resources and objectives related to researching the National Archives.

    I’d like students to interact with the exhibit, other students, and the teacher by using Collaborative Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis or blogs. Instead of a presentation tool such as Power Point, I’ll create interactive pages.

    The Documented Rights Exhibit lesson plans provide excellent essential questions for social studies content, and will learn about the archives by participating in research – learning by doing. In order to facilitate the project, I will include instructional pages that address different learning objectives for searching the archives.

    Because I teach younger students, 6th grade, it usually works best to give short “how to” lessons frequently, so each lesson covers a small but immediately needed skill. My goal is to have a web space that looks like a presentation, weaves content with research skills, and allows for students to collaborate with each other and with the teacher.

    Here are the learning objectives from the Documented Rights Exhibit. (At the end, I added another essential question regarding the archives.)


    The following lesson plan is designed as an educational component of the Documented Rights Online Exhibit. It is designed to be a unit plan that requires students to research, analyze, and create a finished product using documents from the exhibit.

    Essential Questions:

    What are our inalienable rights as humans?

    Topic Specific Essential Questions – Documented Rights

    How have people struggled to have their rights recognized?

    How has the federal government responded to these struggles?

    Enduring Understanding:

    A variety of different individuals and social groups have used different legal methods to have their unalienable rights recognized by the Federal government. The success of protecting these rights has depended on a variety of outside factors.

    Added Essential Questions – Researching the National Archives

    How are the National Archives organized?

  • I would do the assignment exactly as laid out.  Here are the modifications I would make.  Students would be divided into 6 groups of four.

    I would use this as a final exam with the groups presenting on finals day.  As part of the assignment I would have them write and communicating as to each members effort in the group process.

    I would break the subject down like this.

    Group 1 World War II

    Group 2 The Korean War

    Group 3 The Cold War

    Group 4 The Civil Rights Movement

    Group 5 Watergate

    Group 6 9/11 & War on Terrorism

    Students would make powerpoint to present, podcast or make a youtube video as a final presentation.  All would also take turns talking about their subject.

    Grading the assignment would be worth 100 points as a final.

    If a student did not help or contribute their points would be divided up among the other group members as extra credit.  I usually am on top of this dynamic and do some intervention.  Grading like that has eliminated the frustration in prior group projects I've given out.  (This is always the drawback and dynamic of group work, even in the adult world)

    Perhaps the most valuable thing students would learn from this is that the research is obviously coming from a more important resource than wikipedia.

  • I am not sure about this but I would try and make up a worksheet of suggested topics and have them try searching various methods to see what they could find.  Such as search "Military in Alaska" and have them try

    1.  Google

    2.  Alaska Digital Pipeline          http://sled.alaska.edu/databases/

    3.  Alaska Digital Archives         http://vilda.alaska.edu

    4.  National Archives                 http://www.archives.gov

    5.  Archival Research Catalog    http://www.archives.gov/research/arc/

    6.  YouTube National Archive videos

    and then compare the results to what type of websites (Google), documents, etc. in the others.  Then discuss what site might provide the best primary documents, photos, or videos.  

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