- Librarians as engineers? Not a great leap when you consider that librarians help students to build bridges from information to insights, making connections that add meaning to the research process. Making connections is a powerful thinking strategy that engages students in active and meaningful learning. In a recent publication by The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, “Supporting Social, Emotional, and Academic Development: Research Implications for Educators,” the authors state that “students need new concepts to link in some way to things they already know, or they will not have the mental maps that their brains need to process the material;” building connections that reflect students’ interests or goals deepens the learning (Allensworth et al 10-11).
Tapping into several Visible Thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero, I worked closely with Sara Schultz, the fifth grade Geography teacher, to immerse students in the process of making connections. Following are a few examples:
Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate
Generate: Students mentally pictured the type of signs they might see in National Parks and brainstormed the reason for the signs.
“Do Not Feed the Bears”
personal danger from close contact with bears and
making bears dependent on food (losing ability to fend for themselves)
“Stay on the Trail”
might get lost, or dangerous/slippery/unstable land or
might damage native plants, ground cover
For a dramatic example of deterioration of a National park, students also viewed an interactive graphic of Salt Lake Water Woes (earthobservatory.nasa.gov) and brainstormed cause for the drastic depletion of water.
Sort: Students pointed out which of the reasons were Human Factors that might harm the National Park, such as making bears dependent on human food or damaging native plants or water use and irrigation for agriculture depleting the Great Salt Lake.
Several articles from the New York Times modeled for students how to connect cause to several effects, such as this article about Burmese Pythons in the Florida Everglades:
As students researched, they organized information on Concept maps. In the example below, Gracie made connections between “Native Species — Bark Beetle — Killing Trees — Easier to Burn Down” and then draws a line to connect concept of Fire to concept of Native Species. This student also added yellow exclamation symbols to those concepts she felt were important or needed further investigation, such as “Grizzly Bears recently removed from endangered lists now being shot in Wyoming.”
Circle of Viewpoints
This thinking routine was useful in showing connections between conflicting viewpoints: 1) brainstorm a list of perspectives; 2) assume a perspective; and 3) generate questions or concerns from that viewpoint. Students viewed several New York Times articles about Bears Ears National Monument and assumed conflicting perspectives over land use:
Trump (open lands for development, such as mining, farming)
Patagonia (wilderness outfitter company– wants to protect recreational use of land)
Native Americans (who wish to protect lands as sacred sites)
This process of modeling strategies and guiding students to make connections has been exciting. I challenge librarians to put on your hard hat, pick up a Visible Thinking tool, and experiment with building your own bridge to knowledge.