Stories for the Classroom

One of my very first full-time teaching positions was in New York City, in a high school with a high proportion of first and second generation immigrant students.  Some of our favorite class activities were sharing the stories and food of our respective cultures, the things that made us unique and brought us together, so I was excited to check out the Immigration History Research Center’s online Stories for the Classroom project that collects immigrants’ oral histories from around the state, a project with the aim to “share with the world a broader view of what it means to be Minnesotan.”

The website houses audio and video histories from immigrants young and old, from around the world.  Users can search by theme (“Adjusting to Life in the United States,” “Migrating for Love”), by origin or destination, and by featured exhibits and collections.  Commonly requested themes have been curated specifically for educators, and clicking the links to listen and watch the stories leads you to links to other relevant stories as well.

Home page of Immigrant Stories
Home page of Immigrant Stories

I was really interested to see how this website managed so much content, as our proposed project for the Vergara Art Collection includes many of the same elements: oral histories with transcripts, curriculum for teachers, all in an attempt to serve educators, researchers, and the public alike.  Most of the stories that I listened to were easy to understand, although many of the visual elements were simply pictures with the voice-over story.  Having many different immigrant stories to compare and contrast feels like a great way for students to both learn something new as well as to think about what they may have in common with these stories (and what the stories have in common with each other).  The curriculum is divided into level-appropriate units, not a one-size-fits-all online dump of resources, and offers students and new immigrants the opportunity to learn the technology to record their own stories, a powerful lesson both in personal validation of their stories, but also, again, connecting to others’.

Access to IHRC's curriculum
IHRC’s curriculum

However, the website feels a bit counterintuitive in terms of design; there are a myriad of different ways to access the content, but the design doesn’t lead the user through it in a manageable way, something to keep in mind as our group is putting the finishing touches on our own project.  And while the curriculum seemed to provide a significant amount of detail and scaffolding, the 15-week commitment to the unit is also significant, and I would like to hear more about how individual teachers modified the unit to fit in with their classroom timelines and goals.

Overall, though, I think the project provides a powerful record of the immigrant journey and experience and functions both as a digital archive to connect people to past experiences, as well as a commanding reminder for the present and future that our varied experiences and stories are what make our communities great.

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