Teaching, they say, is a long game – all that work, and then the payoff that eventually comes happens in college or when they’re at their first job. You have to be satisfied knowing you yourself may never actually see the results of your labor. Classroom teachers are sometimes afforded the chance to see lessons they have taught played out during exam time, or to see the light bulb go on when solving for X finally makes sense, but to a large degree teaching is a leap of faith that the seeds you sow now are going to germinate and eventually bear fruit.
This week, I harvested a basketful! As you may know, here at Out-of-Door we are on two campuses very far removed from one another. Our youngsters, PK-5, are on the beautiful island of Siesta Key, and our 6-12 graders are in the shiny new ’burbs of Lakewood Ranch, a full 17 miles inland. To ensure continuity across the program, we meet as a full faculty at least twice a year, and individual departments may meet more frequently than that to smooth out the curriculum and create a rational approach to scaffolding the learning.
At one such meeting a couple of years ago, I found myself in conversation with Sarah Bryan, the fourth and fifth grade history teacher. She was about to launch a project with her fifth grade classes about the Revolutionary War, and she wanted to instill some age-appropriate research and documentation skills in her students. I told her about the wonder that is NoodleTools and she lit up. I further told her that our site license is actually for grades 5-12, so if she wanted her students to use it, they were welcome to do so. But how to effectuate the training? She had never used it herself, and neither had the staff in the Lower School library. Dr. Kelly Rose, our media specialist, and her trusty sidekick, tech teacher Glynis Miller, have been very diligent in teaching the kids that they must find appropriate resources for their projects and cite them correctly. So that groundwork had been laid for me long ago. Asking these two busy colleagues to take on another task when their days are so crushingly full already seemed like punishment, and I absolutely wasn’t going to let Sarah sail that sea alone. And – librarians are waiting with bated breath for this – in no way was I going to pass up this golden opportunity to sing the gospel of correctly formatted Works Cited pages.
So I arranged to take some time out of my upper school schedule, and I went and taught it to fifth grade myself. I got Sarah’s rosters in advance, so I set up all the individual folders for the whole grade, plus a sense of what the project entailed. I put my laptop in my polka dot messenger bag and set off for the swaying palms of Siesta Key one day last December. The fifth graders caught onto NoodleTools right away, and all credit to Sarah – she kept them at it the whole year through. By checking my access logs I was able to see that users had logged in regularly for the rest of the school year. Totally worth the one-day investment for that fact alone, right?
But here’s the coolest part: those fifth graders became sixth graders. And that means that now they’re on my campus. Earlier this week the sixth grade science teacher asked if she could have a research lesson on some science materials in the databases, and could I teach them how to cite those too? Hahahaha, I said to myself. Watch this!
Other than a handful of newbies just joining Out-of-Door this year, every one of those one-time fifth graders from Mrs. Bryan’s class were experienced Noodlers, and after a brief refresher, they all logged right in and starting citing the sources they found from their science research.
This week (September! Mrs. Bryan is ramping up her game!) I went back to fifth grade with my polka-dot messenger bag and Noodled the Revolutionary War again, and next fall I expect exactly the same glorious result – a class full of experienced citers of sources, ready to take on the greater rigor of middle school right away. If that’s not satisfying, I don’t know what is.