2016 News

College of Education Faculty Members Receive Grant Highlighting Puerto Rican History and Culture

College of Education Professors Michael and Ilene Berson

College of Education professors Michael and Ilene Berson have received a grant from the Library of Congress' Teaching with Primary Sources Eastern Regional Program. 

TAMPA, Fla. (August 17, 2016) — Two University of South Florida (USF) College of Education professors have received a grant from the Library of Congress' Teaching with Primary Sources Eastern Regional Program to help support the use of primary sources by teachers in classrooms in both Puerto Rico and the state of Florida.

Dr. Ilene R. Berson, a professor of early childhood education, and Dr. Michael J. Berson, a professor of social science education, will partner with the Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras (UPR-RP). Their project is titled "Teaching with Culturally Specific Primary Sources in Puerto Rico and Florida to Build Social Capital among Preservice Teachers."

The mission of the TPS program is to build awareness of the Library of Congress' educational initiatives; provide content that promotes the effective educational use of the Library's resources and offer access to and promote sustained use of the Library's educational resources. The TPS Regional program supports educational and cultural institutions throughout the United States in implementing primary source-based professional development programs for K-16 teachers and librarians by connecting them to free Library of Congress educational materials and learning opportunities.

Through an inter-university collaboration between the USF College of Education and UPR-RP, participants will explore the use of primary sources to challenge mainstream assumptions and views of Puerto Rico and to support application of the content and pedagogic approaches into early childhood and elementary classrooms. Preservice teachers will build skills in identifying primary sources that are developmentally appropriate for young learners, support development of critical literacy strategies, and serve as vehicles to explore cultural and historical concepts associated with Puerto Rico.

Throughout the project UPR-RP and USF will serve as cultural consultants to promote intercultural understanding and ensure that the professional development in both contexts includes diverse knowledge bases, experiences, and perspectives.

Primary sources are authentic ways of learning and authentic ways of teaching, Michael Berson said, and they can be integrated into the classroom setting even at the early childhood and elementary school level.

"Rather than focusing on learning strategies that emphasize the management and recall of historical data and social studies content, our preservice teachers learn to employ the tools of historians and explore this archival evidence, using other sources to collaborate, enrich and extend young students' thinking about events, places and people," Michael Berson said.

Drs. Michael and Ilene Berson have been working with the Library of Congress' Teaching with Primary Sources Program — the Library of Congress's premier educational outreach program for teachers — since 2012, to focus on the infusion of primary sources into the early childhood and elementary curriculum. Their research has found that young children have the capacity to construct meaning from historical photos, and that historical images provide a valuable resource for young children to use their real world experiences and prior knowledge to make inferences about life long ago.

With this grant, Drs. Michael and Ilene Berson hope to make primary source materials more readily accessible in the classroom, and to expand the knowledge-base of the College of Education's pre-service teachers to give them an understanding about the rich culture and history of Puerto Rico and its complex relationship with the United States.

"We want (students) to have an understanding about (Puerto Rico) as a territory, what it means for their existence and what their proud historical and cultural traditions are," Ilene Berson said. "Especially because we have so many students in our schools within our local area whose families have come from Puerto Rico to Florida."

Their grant-supported project will take place over the course of 18 months in collaboration with Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras.

About the USF College of Education:

The University of South Florida College of Education is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (formerly NCATE), and is fully approved by the Florida Department of Education. The USF College of Education is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 100 programs in the nation, as well as in the top 20 for online graduate programs. The USF College of Education has over 51,000 alumni who are making a difference in the lives of children each day.