on projects that get us started…

First and foremost, while this blog is about independent school librarianship, I’d be remiss if I did not begin by saying that I am keeping everyone who may be in the path of Hurricane Florence in my thoughts. May you, your loved ones, your neighbors, and your communities be safe through it all.

Advice coming from our neighbors on the Hawaiian islands affected by Hurricane Lane is to be sure to take pictures and/or video of both the exteriors and interiors of your homes (including flooring) that you may be able to use as support documentation to show the condition of your property and its contents before the storm should you need to file claims with insurance carriers.

This Month’s Post on High School Projects to Start the Year… 

For those of you following more typical school calendars and not doing hurricane prep, welcome back to school!

As I tap this blog post out on my laptop, here in the Central Pacific, we find ourselves in the midst of our fifth week of school. Yes, that’s right! While most of you were out lounging poolside, hiking the Appalachian Trail (Looking at you, Tara Vito!), or doing whatever it is that is your joy of summer, I got to have my first library classes with the class of 2031–you read that right… #NotaTypo; we had two hurricane days (no snow days in the Central Pacific, but we do have hurricane days from time to time); and we’ve had the chance to work with our frosh Mid-Pacific eXploratory classes on a world civilizations project.

The Project in a Nutshell…

Working in groups, students are creating role playing games based on exploration and research that they are doing on ancient civilizations–ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, Babylonia, the Shang Dynasty, the Indus River Valley, and the Aztec Empire. The development of each groups’ game is a step in their broader project-based learning on the essential question: How is water or the access to it a reflection of a fair and equitable society? 

Planning for Collaboration…

We are incredibly fortunate to work with a cadre of teachers who purposefully build collaborative teaching time into their projects and create opportunities for us to team with them as they work with their students. Rather than have students read chapters in textbooks or deliver content about ancient civilizations in a series of lectures, Mr. Cheever and Mr. Falk elected to have students collaboratively gather information about their assigned civilizations.

  • Our Desired Outcomes:
    • Social Studies: Students will understand the framework for GRAPES: Geography, Religion, Arts, Politics, Economics, and Social.
    • Information Instruction:
      • Any fact in notes has to be linked to a specific source
      • Students will be introduced to and use a variety of library sources

Library session goals

In collaboration with us in the library, Mr. Falk and Mr. Cheever included a requirement that students’ notes needed to include notes from at least 5 different library sources.

There are Times When Collaboration Feels Like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and You Crash and Burn, but Sometimes That’s Just How It Goes…

My partner librarian, Nicole, built a Libguide and our first section of Frosh came to the library to work on the project. I tried having students read Wikipedia pages for their civilizations with the intention of having students then generate keyword search terms. It was a horrendous failure and I crashed and burned REALLY BADLY. Fortunately, Mr. Falk had enough faith to bring his class back the next day and we re-launched our work with a little more structure and  a lot more success.

What This Looks Like in Our Library…

Students set up their collaborative note taking document. All 4 students in each group took notes in a single document, but each student was required to find 3 facts per GRAPES category and use 5 different library sources.

They looked a little more excited about the work at other points in time. I promise! LOL!

Teacher-created note taking template.

Students’ “notes in progress…”

Teacher and Librarian collaboration Points of discussion on note taking:

  • Notes in their own words or copy/paste?
    • Because this is an initial project and the synthesis step is to use these facts to inform the development of a game rather than a written work. Copy/paste is okay.
    • Notes in their own words and/or in quotations for direct quotes will be introduced in a project down the road when synthesis could more easily lead to citation issues.

Library Day #1: Research in Databases…

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Project database page

Teacher and Librarian Points of discussion on databases:

  • Britannica School and World Book were treated like other databases for this project. They are “offset” here because in future projects they will get phased out. “In high school, we no longer cite tertiary sources like Britannica, World Book, or Wikipedia in our academic work…”
  • We typically prefer to start with print books and ebooks before moving to research in databases. We couldn’t start our research in this order because we had two hurricane days and we couldn’t order our ebooks from Gale. When we got back to school, we were really busy and couldn’t get the order in. When Mr. Wee finally got around to placing the ebook order, he miscalculated the time difference between HST and EST and Gale was closed for Labor Day weekend. Basically, we didn’t have access to the eBooks we needed on the first day of the project and we didn’t have enough print resources for an entire class to use at the same time. #LastMinuteLibrarian #Fail

Library Day 2: eBooks and Books…

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Gale ebook sub-collection for the project

Click on the image above to view the un-pretty, but “good enough to get the job done” slideshow that I used with the class.

Getting Meta with the Research Process… 

While much of the work (as our projects often are) in our library lesson time was location & access and note taking heavy, we also always want to incorporate some “meta-discussion” on our research process and use of information so students begin building mental maps about the research process.

On day two, we took some time to discuss the metacognitive framework of the research process.

We charted what students had done (green) in the research process so far. We looked forward to the synthesis step that they’ll be doing as they begin the process of designing their games (blue). We added the arrows in red which Mr. Cheever pointed out is the “re” in research. As we do synthesis, we typically identify new information needs that must be addressed–learning and researching is a continually recursive process.

Developing Literacies is a LONG Game…

Research on Babylon uncovered An Eyewitness To Mighty Ancient Babylon by Herodotus. Mr. Cheever paused their work to have a short discussion with the class on how, as learners in a connected world, we MAKE MEANING and come to OUR OWN understanding of our world from the information we find. “We don’t have video, photos, and we can’t interview an ancient Babylonian ourselves so how do we know what is ‘true’?”


Primary sources

A recent Quartz article, “A Philosopher of Truth Says We’re not Living in a “Post-truth” World After All,” discusses how, in our connected world, the struggle we have in helping our students arrive at “truth with a capital T.” The article’s conclusion, if I’m reading it correctly, is that we have to learn to be comfortable with “understandings” of the world that are based, not on a big T truth, but rather on many small truths that we triangulate and contextualize to come to a thoughtful “understanding.”

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Our library program’s aspirational learner profile

As Mr. Cheever had his discussion with his class, I thought back to the “learner profile” to which our library program aspires, and I thought, “In terms of information literacy instruction, THIS MOMENT RIGHT NOW, is the point of all that collaboration, resource management, note taking template building, Libguide creation, scheduling, and all the rest of the frustrating things we endure to make programming happen! THIS MOMENT RIGHT NOW IS WHAT THAT IS ALL FOR, AND WHAT WE WANT TO HAPPEN!

Are our 14-year old frosh independently “information literate” as a result of this one project and that one discussion? Of course not because building an information literate human being is a long game and we won’t get there with a single step, but it’s a start that made me smile as I walked to my car at the end of the day, for sure!

At the end of what has been an exhausting first month of school, I must say that one thing for which I feel so incredibly grateful is that I get to work with teachers that let us play this long game with them!

Happy new school year, all!

2 thoughts on “on projects that get us started…

  1. Thank you so much for linking to examples of your own work and that of your students. It’s nice to be able to know how other librarians’ projects are organized, but it’s extra special to actually be able to see the resources that you are using and why!

  2. Hi Dave,
    I’m revisiting this post as I begin this new year. Thank you for such a generous contribution! I’ll be mining it for my first couple of months, especially to stimulate collaboration with some of our new teachers.
    Wishing you and yours all the best,

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