University of South Florida

College of Education

Tampa | St. Petersburg | Sarasota-Manatee


Michael and Ilene Berson

USF College of Education Professors awarded Library of Congress Grant Continuation

The Library of Congress has awarded USF College of Education professors continuation funding to expand the training and research activities that strengthen the skills of early childhood teachers to support preschoolers’ exploratory learning and play-based inquiry using community-based historical photographs. The project, titled “Scaffolding Historical Inquiry for Preschoolers: School & Home Active Play-based Explorations (SHIP-SHAPE), builds on the current work of Dr. Ilene Berson, Professor of Early Childhood, and Dr. Michael Berson, Professor of Social Science Education. 

Research has shown engagement with collections and exhibitions of community-based cultural institutions provides opportunities for preschool children, educators and their families to explore history through stories, music, sounds, games and hands-on experiences. The project team has built a partnership between the College of Education, the Tampa Bay History Center, the Florida Office of Early Learning and local early learning coalitions. This grant from the Library of Congress was initially awarded in Sept. 2021.

In the second year of funding, the project team has created a Tampa Bay ABCs that reflects community-based historical resources that are developmentally appropriate for preschool. In addition, preschool teachers will be provided professional development training to guide their use of project-based inquiry experiences that incorporate literature and hands-on experiences. Topics will include transportation, lighthouses and weather.  

Dr. Ilene Berson shared, “By working with the community-based cultural institutions, preschool teachers are finding that historical learning can start early when the teaching methods are based on children’s participation, play and activity, and when the content is made relevant to the children.”

Dr. Michael Berson commented, “Photographs, artwork and other historical artifacts are powerful objects to stimulate interest and excitement in young children as they closely observe details, reflect on the creator’s intent and imagine life in another time and place.”

The Bersons analyze the documentation from teachers’ implementation of the materials into their instruction, revealing powerful and engaging connections. Over the next year, the project team will be designing curriculum activities and preparing to host another Learning Circle for VPK teachers in the spring of 2023. 

About the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at; and register creative works of authorship at

About the Teaching with Primary Sources Partner Program

Since 2006, the Library has awarded Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) grants to build a nationwide network of organizations that deliver educational programming and create teaching materials and tools based on the Library’s digitized primary sources and other online resources. Each year members of this network, called the TPS Consortium, support tens of thousands of learners to build knowledge, engagement and critical thinking skills with items from the Library’s collections.

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About the USF College of Education:

As the home for more than 2,200 students and 130 faculty members across three campuses, the University of South Florida College of Education offers state-of-the-art teacher training and collegial graduate studies designed to empower educational leaders. Our college is nationally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and our educator preparation programs are fully approved by the Florida Department of Education.