Engaging Teachers and Students with the Asian American Education Project’s Primary Sources and Multimedia Lesson Plans

By Ray Pun

During July 2023, I served as an instructor for a master’s seminar focused on educational research methods within the field of education. My group of six graduate students were credentialed teachers in the state of California at various levels from first grade teacher to high school intervention specialist. In this seminar, we went over various educational research methods and theories. During this intensive six-day workshop running from 8:30–5 pm on Zoom, I hosted guest speakers to share their educational research or pedagogical projects. One guest facilitator was Leny Cordero: an instructor and facilitator from the Asian American Education Project.

Screen grab of the homepage for the Asian American Education Project. The homepage includes information about new content lessons as well as a menu bar to navigate the site.

The Asian American Education Project Homepage

Since 2021, the Asian American Education Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has created and maintained a repository of free learning resources and lesson plans in partnership with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Stanford University SPICE, and PBS LearningMedia, to share the history of Asian Americans. The project strives to support ethnic studies educational programs as well as to support social studies and literature education. During our session, we explored the resource for about 45 minutes and held a question and discussion time with Leny Cordero and Pat Kwoh, the respective Co-founder and Co-Executive Director.

As a librarian, I wanted to highlight how this resource can be used to inform my students’ thinking and learning regarding their own curricula. This resource also offered an opportunity to rethink pedagogical practices through multimedia content that is filled with primary source materials. There is a decided lack of multimedia teaching resources on Asian American experiences, and this resource serves as a bridge to connect digital learning for students in the classroom or to follow up at home. Since it’s a free resource, it’s also likely that students’ families would be able to see and learn about Asian American experiences and history from this resource. I am not a special collections librarian or archivist at the moment, but I also know how invaluable digital archives and repositories can be for K–12 teachers who are always looking for new materials to include in their lesson plans. My students appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this project and repository based on the feedback I received.

“There is a decided lack of multimedia teaching resources on Asian American experiences, and this resource serves as a bridge to connect digital learning for students in the classroom or to follow up at home.”

In this digital repository, lesson plans can be searched in different ways: they are categorized for specific groups from kindergarten to grade 13+. You can also search by subjects such as English, Social Studies, World History, or U.S. History. The time periods run from pre-1930 through 2019, and there are searchable topics like immigration, gender equality, civil rights, race, and solidarity.

Lesson Plan, “Sikhs in the Borderlands”

Each of the 75 lessons contains an overview of the topic, learning objectives, topic/background essay, vocabulary, discussion questions, and activities. There is often a video accompanying the lesson plan as well. For example, lesson plan 4.1, “Filipino-American Farm Workers Fight for Their Rights,” contains a short video showing footage on this topic. Oral history testimonials, images, documents, or texts are also sometimes accompanied in the lesson plan depending on the topic.

One very interesting lesson that I explored on my own was lesson 1.1.3, “Actress Anna May Wong.” A short informational video is included in the lesson to describe Wong and her background as an actress. Photos with her signature also accompanied this lesson plan. This lesson plan is geared for K–4 students and has them watch the video, read an essay about Wong, and understand vocabulary words such as discrimination, representation, stereotype, and legacy. Wong was a global celebrity but was shut out from Hollywood’s A-list leading roles in romance and drama films in the 1920s due to anti-miscegenation laws. Students and those accessing the lesson quickly learn more about who she was, her struggles, and her accomplishments and legacy in film history and pop culture. The activities in particular require students to dig deeper into details about Wong’s life and consider what questions they would ask her if she were alive today. 

Teachers and librarians may consider using this digital repository of lesson plans by exploring the website and viewing the lesson plan together on a given topic. Some of the activities may include document analysis regarding what they have seen. If the lesson does not include such content, you may want to customize a document from the National Archives while students are searching through digital collections. One benefit of the content is its adaptability. The discussion questions are also often useful for engagement—asking questions such as What do you see? Who took this photo? What was happening at the time in history this photo was taken? If you are a special collections librarian, you may have primary source materials to show that may complement the topic of the lesson plan, too.  

Despite its benefits, the resource is not without complications. One issue concerns access: you’ll need to have a steady internet connection. If suddenly your internet goes out, for instance, or if you have limited bandwidth, then it might be challenging to show videos from the website. The Asian American Education Project does however offer online training to efficiently access and use this digital repository.

If you are looking for additional lesson plans on Asian American experiences, another useful resource is the Reference Library from The 1990 Institute: “a nonprofit with a mission to champion fair and equal treatment for Asian Americans and a constructive U.S.-China relationship through leadership, education, and collaboration.” The Reference Library contains lesson plans, videos and other resources that promote the history of the U.S-China relations, and Asian American experiences. While not as extensive as the Asian American Education Project, the 1990 Institute does offer lesson plans focusing on cultural topics on China such as rural education, demography, and censorship.

“Accessing this database also offers a great way to explain how articles may contain metadata, and the importance of keyword searching.”

Another recently published resource that complements these repositories is the AsianWeek Database Project: a repository that according to its website spotlights “America’s first and largest English language print and on-line publication serving Asian Americans. […] The news organization played an important role nationally and in the San Francisco Bay Area as the ‘Voice of Asian America’. AsianWeek published from 1979 to 2009.” Users can search and browse published issues and for images and texts in this database. You can search by author, date, tags or by typing keywords. Accessing this database also offers a great way to explain how articles may contain metadata, and the importance of keyword searching. For example, if you searched for “Michelle Yeoh,” you would get several articles from that period covering the Academy-Award winning actress. This primary source database can offer a glimpse of Asian American experiences and what these communities experienced within a 30 year-period.

These resources are meant to educate, inform, and highlight Asian Americans and their struggles and contributions to America, dismantling the perpetual foreigner myth—a project that has become particularly important as we continue to see the wave of anti-Asian sentiments following the COVID-19 pandemic as well as increasing xenophobia and tension surrounding U.S.-China relations. These resources can be adapted all year around and not only to be shared during the month of May which is the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Raymond Pun (he/him) is the academic and research librarian at the Alder Graduate School of Education, a teacher residency program in California, where he manages library services and teaches research seminars. Along with Melissa Cardenas-Dow and Kenya S. Flash, Pun co-edited Ethnic Studies in Academic and Research Libraries published by ACRL in 2021.