Teaching With Primary Sources Lesson: 1918 Influenza Epidemic

In previous posts (here and here), I’ve described the work high school teachers from the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts did in a professional development cycle funded and guided by the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region affiliate.  This blog post is one of five describing specific lessons created by teacher teams and explored through demonstration lessons using this protocol.

This lesson, using the 1918 influenza epidemic as a starting point from which to understand dimensions of the 1920s, was taught to two US History classes in demonstration lessons at Columbia River High School on February 10, 2012.  Students gathered in the school computer lab to explore the document set, organized into a Prezi.  Based on observations of the first class, the group revised the question tool for the second class.  The format, inquiry model, and reflection tool seemed to serve the students well.

Artifacts from the lesson are posted here:

My favorite moment of observation came when the student I was watching opened the Prezi and saw a photo of a room overflowing with patients on cots.  He grabbed his teacher and asked where the photo came from. The teacher explained that because the influenza was a major event of the day, many photos were taken and remain available. The student looked at the teacher incredulously: You mean these photos are real? Sure, said his teacher. The student’s jaw dropped: Even the baseball game we saw yesterday?

The exchange made clear how difficult it is to whittle away at our students’ misconceptions: Despite the fact that the student had been exposed to primary sources for months, it took until this moment for it to finally sink in that these were real artifacts allowing time travel to an unfamiliar past. I felt lucky to have witnessed the breakthrough!

The lesson study team was composed of David Douglas, Luke Glassett, Tara Rethwill, and Lindsey Siler.  They join me in encouraging you to use the comments section below to discuss the lesson.

What do you see here in the lesson and the student work?

How did you adapt it for use in your classroom?

How did your students respond?

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