Magazine article Teacher Librarian

The Military Life of Joshua H. Bates: A Camp Lewis Soldier-Analyzing Primary Sources through Inquiry Learning, a History Mystery Lesson

Magazine article Teacher Librarian

The Military Life of Joshua H. Bates: A Camp Lewis Soldier-Analyzing Primary Sources through Inquiry Learning, a History Mystery Lesson

Article excerpt


Around six years ago, Washington State's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction mandated that social studies classes, health, physical education-well, everything not tested in the state standardized tests, would be tested through classroom-based assessments (CBAs) that would be augmented by sample instructional units, state standards and rubrics, professional development presentations, and a plethora of conference addresses. The guidelines for social studies stressed instruction in cause-and-effect research, problem-solution synthesis, and digging deeper in research for writing essays germane to the course. School librarians, particularly leaders of the Washington Library Media Association (WLMA), were instrumental in structuring the instructional examples, providing information about primary sources, and leading teachers' use of information problem-solving strategies to maximize students' research efforts.

Hand in hand with these developments, publishers assembled online and print materials rich in historical primary sources, which many of us purchased for our libraries or learning commons. The depth, length, and complexity of the materials were imposing, with vocabulary complexity foreign to today's norm of 140-character tweets. Even primary source materials online were generally overlooked. Fulfilling the new state requirements appeared daunting, indeed. The excellent materials that WLMA leaders had created emphasized local issues and the history of the greater Seattle area and were not germane to the usual content of United States history, or for high school level students. How were classes that were content-driven to employ these CBA requirements so that they were palatable for our students?


A cousin visited with a box of letters, photographs, and certificates, realia belonging to our uncle, Joshua Henry Bates (1896-1918). Coupled with materials that my mother saved, we had a document-scanning frenzy of genealogical nirvana proportions. As other cousins discovered what we were doing, a journal Joshua started at age twenty-one materialized. A cabinet he built was unveiled. Missing portraits reappeared. I wished that my students could be so excited about history.

And why not?

At the same time as the scanning frenzy, I was awarded an LSTA grant for improving my school library's collection to help teachers and students fulfill the CBA requirements. By this time, even more primary sources were published in online databases, and even more reference books of primary source documents were being compiled. Nonfiction writers for young adults began creating single-subject nonfiction with primary sources included, and with more references to them in bibliographies and webographies.

With access to nonfiction like Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, "The President Has Been Shot!" The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson, The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb, and Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone, the corner was turned in the use of primary sources by authors.

With one crass decision, and a titch of nepotism, 1 developed a learning experience in which our U.S. history students would learn about Joshua Henry Bates by digging deeper into the concise, genuine, American primary sources that my family had preserved and that I assembled. He was a young adult. He had a girlfriend. He loved going to dances. He was a soldier. There was enough fodder to pique their curiosity.

Was there enough to pique instructor interest?

To assist the teachers with the information problem-solving process, public youth librarian Jan Hanson and I offered a daylong workshop introducing and discussing the state problem-solving strategy and the CBA state materials, along with booktalking primary source books and databases of both the Robert A. …

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