Piloting the Mini-Lesson/Embedded Librarian Model in 6th Grade Science (at last!)

Sometimes in education it feels like projects take years to implement, rather than, say, months or weeks. As the type of person who experiences a particular sort of joy when checking things off of the ol’ to-do list, those types of nebulous, long-term, drawn-out initiatives can at times feel rather ungratifying. So I’m excited to share about a project that has been almost three years in the making, and has begun to unfold in a way that is, in fact, immensely gratifying.

When I started my job as the Middle School Librarian at Colorado Academy in 2013, there wasn’t much research curriculum to speak of in my division. I spent my first year getting to know my colleagues, students, library collection, and general curriculum, and by my second year was given the go-ahead by our Middle School Principal to start building buy-in with the faculty to create a research scope & sequence. This involved almost a year of meetings that I won’t bore you with here, and ultimately the Middle School faculty, with my guidance, chose to implement the Pathways to Knowledge model for research (http://eduscapes.com/infooriginal/pathways.html). It’s an older model created by Follett in partnership with Marjorie L. Pappas and Ann E. Tepe, but it fits our needs as a school in that it is non-linear and inquiry-based.

I spent another school year gathering information about existing curriculum, and determined that we should move forward by scaffolding research skills within projects that already exist. I also had the revelation, as I know from the AISL listserv many of you also have, that mini-lessons are often more effective than large-scale information dumps (that one-off “research lesson” where you try to cover ALL the skills in 45 minutes). So, I reached out to our 6th grade science team to see if I could “embed” myself in their classrooms for the duration of their Global Water Challenge project, which is a large-scale project where teams of 6th grade students are asked to research water issues in a particular country, prototype a solution to the most pressing water issue in that country, and ultimately create and perform a skit in which the prototype is presented in addition to an overview of the country’s water issues. Because the two 6th grade science teachers are wonderfully open to collaboration and because this is the first long-term research project middle schoolers take on, piloting the “mini-lesson” model with the Global Water Challenge seemed like a good fit.

I’ve been embedded in 6th grade science classrooms for a week now, and have loved how everything has unfolded so far. Below is my mini-lesson plan (each lesson lasts about 20 minutes total)–I’d love to hear from those of you who work with 6th graders (or middle schoolers in general) about whether you see anything that’s missing or that I could add!

Day 1
Appreciation & Enjoyment: The Water Princess Read-Aloud
Students gain an introduction to water scarcity issues in Burkina Faso and understand some of the basic issues associated with water scarcity in general
Student curiosity about water issues is piqued

Day 2
Presearch: First Day with Country Groups
Students practice presearch skills, including brainstorming, formulating initial questions, relating information to prior knowledge, narrowing or broadening a topic, and identifying keywords

Day 3
Search: Using CultureGrams to Explore the Difference Between Databases and Search Engines
Students use the CultureGrams database to find information about their country
Students discuss the difference between databases and search engines using the analogy “Databases are more like streaming a movie on Netflix, and search engines are more like trying to stream the full version of a movie using YouTube.”

Day 4
Search-Paraphrasing and Plagiarism
Students paraphrase lyrics from Adele’s “Hello” in an effort to understand how paraphrasing works
Students use NoodleTools to cite the CultureGrams article they located the day before

Day 5
Search-Online Resources: Wikipedia
Students understand that Wikipedia is merely a starting point for all research and never an end point
Students understand how to identify errors in Wikipedia articles
Students are able to use the footnotes at the end of a Wikipedia entry to find more resources
Students are able to cite a Wikipedia article

Day 6
Search-Effective Web Searches (Government Sites Using CIA World Factbook)
Students can explain the significance of a URL (.gov, .edu, .org)
Students can conduct a basic Google search
Students locate and take notes on the sections for their country on the CIA World Factbook for Total Renewable Water Resources, Freshwater Withdrawal, Climate, Terrain, Natural Hazards, Environment-Current Issues, Drinking Water Source, Sanitation Facility Access, Major Infectious Diseases

Day 7
Search- Effective Web Searches (NGO Sites)
Students are able to conduct a basic Google search to locate organizations that work with their countries on their water issue
Students are able to conduct a basic Google search to locate health organizations that deal with water-borne diseases, drought, etc.
Students are able to effectively use the CRAAP test to evaluate websites

Day 8
Search-Effective Web Searches (News Agencies)
Students are able to conduct a basic Google search to locate recent news articles about their country and water issue
Students are able to effectively use the CRAAP test to evaluate websites

Day 9
Search-Creative Commons Image Search
Students understand how to limit an image search to “Labeled for Reuse”
Students understand that they must cite images using a URL

Days 10-20
Small group research conferences with me to check in on progress

4 thoughts on “Piloting the Mini-Lesson/Embedded Librarian Model in 6th Grade Science (at last!)

  1. Allie, thank you tons for sharing your outline. I’ve never done a project this long as an embedded librarian, and you’re steering me in that direction. I really appreciate the encouragement and guidance!

  2. Hi Allie, I second Ellen’s thanks for the outline. It is really enlightening to get a deeper dive into how other librarians are framing their research instruction. In terms of scheduling, how long are is each period? After your 20 minute lesson how long do students have to work in a guided practice setting? How many sections of 6th graders do you have?

  3. Dave and Ellen, thanks to both of you for your kind feedback! In terms of the Global Water Challenge, 6th grade Science periods are each 45 minutes long, so the students get about 20-25 minutes of guided practice before or after each mini-lesson. There are four sections per day, and two of the sections meet during the same period, so I have less flexibility during that period in terms of going over time because I have to make it to both classes during the 45 minute period. We’ve made it work, though, and it’s been such a positive experience to see the students consistently to work on applicable skills. Dave, feel free to email me if you’d like more details: allie.bronston@coloradoacademy.org. Thanks again 🙂

  4. Allie,
    Thank you for sharing this info! I love how you are using each class period to hit a “popular” strategy and then move on to the next resource.

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