Magazine article Internet@Schools

Not Just for History: Primary Sources in the Science and Health Classroom

Magazine article Internet@Schools

Not Just for History: Primary Sources in the Science and Health Classroom

Article excerpt

I HAD foot surgery! But don't worry. This isn't about my foot; it's about how the X-rays got me thinking about shoe fluoroscopes. I suppose the last time I saw my bones, I was a child peering into a department store store's fluoroscope, a special X-ray machine for feet. This led to an interesting conversation with the doctor and nurse. Fluoroscopes were used in shoe stores so parents and sales people could view a child's feet. The image was a rather eerie green and black. Although fluoroscopes were banned from stores in the 1970s, modern fluoroscopes are still used in medicine and highly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I wanted to learn more. Searches led me to digital primary sources at the Library of Congress, where I found a Works Progress Administration worker's memories of having tuberculosis and being flouroscoped. A Smithsonian magazine blog post with drawings and a video called the fluoroscope "a pseudoscientific machine that became a token of mid-century deception ... While thrill-seeking children lined up to stick their feet in the machine, fluoroscopes everywhere were leaking radiation at a rate far exceeding the maximum allowable daily dose set out in national standards." A short video, Shoe Store Fluoroscope, uses primary source photos and more drawings to explain the machines' popularity and hazards.


Primary sources are not just for history-they can enhance learning, questioning, and creative thinking in the science or health classroom. Imagine the lively classroom discussion that could occur if students viewed photos of a fluoroscope or other medical object and tried to figure out its purpose. My quest to learn more about the fluoroscope led me to images at the National Museum of Health and Medicine and its very accessible collection. Health or science teachers could post photos of a health curriculum-related topic such smallpox, polio, dental equipment and procedures, or battlefield surgery for students to see as they enter the room.

This column features a few ideas for using primary sources in the science and health curriculum and suggestions for finding primary sources in sites we typically associate with history: LC, American Memory, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.


* Science teachers often require students to maintain notes and journals. One teacher used Leonardo da Vinci's drawings and journals to help students understand the importance of scientific observation and note taking. The teacher was excited to see how those primary sources could enhance a chemistry or physics classroom. Physics students could study blueprints and drawings of structures such as bridges and buildings in a physics classroom.

* Elementary and middle school students could examine primary source photos of simple machines to identify and review their knowledge of this basic scientific concept. Primary source images of landforms and geological fascinations ranging from mountains, volcanoes, rivers, oceans, and islands to rain, snow, geysers, and glaciers, etc., could enhance the earth science classroom. Teachers could preselect photos or direct students to locate their own in digital collections.

* A technical education instructor was excited when she discovered historic photos of X-ray equipment, historic newspaper articles about X-rays used in court trials and posters warning about the dangers of X-rays and radiation. One of the pictures is of a doctor taking a radiographic image. The equipment and patient protection are outdated. Learners can analyze the photo and reflect on the changes that have been made with regard to the equipment and protections standards we use today. It would be a great way to start a group discussion and surely would be more interesting than the historic background in the textbook.

* Historic letters, interviews, and documents can enhance learning about diseases and remedies. …

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