STEM: Opportunities and Challenges

robotsA foot in the door, a seat at the table-either way you describe it, school librarians have to be proactive in cultivating instructional collaboration within STEM classrooms in their schools. This month, BACC bloggers and guest (Sue Kowalski) have highlighted successful ways to meld the mission of the school library program with a new emphasis on science through inquiry based, experiential learning and innovative thinking.  “Think-Create-Share-Growth” morphs into “Think, explore, design, build, create.”  As Karla Collins said, current buzzwords sometimes seem like new packaging for what we have always known to be good teaching that is best for students.   The STEM, STEAM, STREAM movement in education is the perfect entry point for partnering with our professional science teachers, and sharing their enthusiasm and curiosity about the wonder and mystery of the physical and natural world we live in.  Our learners are and will be the problem solvers of today and tomorrow. As educators in the science classroom and in the library, we can work together to provide opportunities, challenges, and resources to set them on that path to the future.

In The Collection Development Program in Schools, Marcia Mardis examines the commonalities between the mutually reinforcing roles of STEM teachers and school librarians, based on National Science Teaching Standards (2006) and Empowering Learners (2009).  The potential for cooperation and collaboration is not always appreciated or understood for several reasons, and we have to recognize the barriers that prevent successful science teacher-school librarian collaborations.  Mardis elaborates on previous research that identifies those barriers, and some issues may seem familiar as we address our own school learning spaces and our own comfort zone with science topics.   Barriers include the perception by science teachers that the library resources for science topics are old and limited, and that librarians do not seem fluent in science and mathematics topics.  School librarians point to a lack of access to STEM professional development opportunities with science educators, or to be welcomed as members of curriculum committees, or to be unable to collaborate beyond the library due to staffing restraints and schedules.  Another barrier is that resources for STEM education in professional reading for school librarians are limited. (227)

Overcoming STEM Collaboration Barriers:

Begin with a self assessment-

Comfort with science topics:

  • Am I curious about the physical and natural world, and engineering and mathematics,  or do I feel unprepared as a STEM expert?
  • Have I explored the science standards that drive the science curriculum in my school?  NGSS or other state standards?
  • How do I collaborate with science or math teachers in my school or district? What has been successful? What are the challenges or obstacles to collaboration?
  • Can I have knowledgeable conversations with science teachers about implementing the standards in their classrooms?
  • Have I taken any professional development science related courses, workshops, or attended conferences for or with science teachers?
  • How can I make improvement to my practice to include STEM learning?

Collection Development and Curation of Resources-Physical and Virtual:

  • Is the school library collection current and representative of the science curriculum?
  • Are the resources varied in reading levels and available in a multiple formats to meet the needs of diverse learners?
  • Are there databases or electronic resources that provide 24/7 access to information anywhere, anytime?
  • Is there a procedure for accessing information from other libraries or experts in the field?
  • Do learners have opportunities to ask for assistance with inquiry projects?

Library Learning Space:

  • Is the library learning space arranged to accommodate varied group and individual inquiry or innovative projects for STEM?
  • Is there an area designated for innovation and experimentation?
  • Are there materials, technology tools, and applications that allow for experimentation, innovative thinking, and creation?
  • How does the library media professional or staff provide guidance for learners within STEM curricular units or interests?

More Successful Examples of STEM Collaboration-from New England and beyond:

A foot in the door, a seat at the STEM table:

  • Science professional learning teams in Vermont include school librarians at the leadership level. In 2013 the Vermont State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards to guide science instruction in the state.  Science Assessment Coordinators for K-5 and 6-12 at the Vermont Agency of Education developed a multiyear plan to gradually incorporate the standards into curriculum and instruction.  Professional learning teams were recruited to plan for and facilitate professional development for science teaching and learning in the state. Members of the two teams represent classroom teachers, principals, science coaches, technology integrationists, university professors, curriculum directors, and school librarians.  During the past two years the teams have been meeting and unpacking the new standards, and learning about instructional strategies that enable inquiry based, active learning, that taps into scientific phenomena and innovative problem solving.  Members have brought new knowledge and ideas back to the local districts to encourage and support teachers in the field.  Denise Wentz, school librarian at Allen Brook School in Williston, Vermont, a member of the K-5 team, shared the progress of the group with members of the Vermont School Library Association in November, 2015.  Here is an  overview that she provided as an update so that school librarians can be participants in their own schools.         Librarians Role in the NGSS: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1qnLp7NL-Y2OnfiN8sgReTlBzy7fneBz_L_kddb4oi0Q/edit?usp=sharing

STEM Resources:

  • Meanwhile, Vermont school librarians, Linda McSweeney and Meg Allison curated a list of resources that supported the NGSS, and presented those resources at the Vermont Science Teachers Annual Conference, and also at the Dynamic Landscapes Conference in 2013.  Here is the website that they developed, and it remains very comprehensive. https://sites.google.com/site/vslascienceresources/

Other STEM Excitement:

 

Works Cited:

Mardis, Marcia. The Collection Program in Schools: Concepts and Practices, 6th edition. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2016.

Image: Judith Kaplan Collection

Looking Forward

years-textClosing out the month of December and the year, most folks take an opportunity to make a few New Year’s resolutions.  For teachers and teacher librarians, it’s a time to recharge ideas and plans for 2015 that refocus on “The Heart of the Matter: Why I Teach.” (Alber, 2014)

This month, as the BACC bloggers offered ways to find partners and resources to stretch scarce financial funds, we have tried to highlight successful examples of mutually beneficial projects/ideas that go beyond school walls, and engage a wider community of learners. We know that there are amazing things happening in our schools across the country, and we would like to hear about them.  Perhaps you might leave us a reply, or a link to other creative and innovative programs or projects that could be shared.

As an educator, whether you are planning for your students, or pursuing a partnership with community members, you have to be able to articulate your vision for learning, and show that you are committed to the long haul.  Throwing the spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks is fine for cooking, but innovative ideas need to be nurtured to make them sustainable.  Collaboration with a partner, team, or co-teacher helps to clarify the purpose and process for transforming teaching and learning.  Trial and error are also part of the process for teachers and students in the quest for meaningful learning. Never give up!

When I read Rebecca Alber’s inspiring post (linked above) on Edutopia, I was reminded that teachers are creative, ingenious, and resilient problem solvers who enjoy a challenge, as well as their students. In addition to her list, I would summarize a few items as entry points for innovative planning that bridge traditional and transformative teaching and learning-and make it fun. These are not new ideas, but ones that seem to be trending in schools and beyond.

Options for innovative planning in the classroom and the future:

  • Flipping curriculum content through inquiry and technology integration. Using technology tools and applications for collaboration and personalized, self directed learning, not just another medium for pencil and paper tasks. Assessment for performance and knowledge, not recall.
  • Global thinking and awareness. Digital literacy is front and center to understanding differences in cultures and communities. Empathy is a habit of mind that comes from exposure to alternative points of view.
  • Social justice and personal responsibility through authentic learning opportunities. Communities thrive where all citizens, even the youngest have connections to the environment, the history, and the values shared by all.  Doing is learning and builds pride and a sense of worth.
  • Reflection and goal setting for students and educators. Mindfulness for empowering and engaging learners of all ages. Respecting individual differences and dreams. Multiple pathways for learning.

As you peck away at your New Year’s list, which ones will you choose to try out next year?


References:

Alber, Rebecca. “The Heart of the Matter: Why I Teach.”  Edutopia, December 25, 2014. Weblog. <http://www.edutopia.org//blog/heart-matter-why-i-teach-rebecca-alber>

Image: Morguefile http://mrg.bz/OoxaYL

Sense of Wonder and Possibility

giant water bug

 

As another school year takes shape, with teachers organizing classrooms and lessons, I remember the anticipation for welcoming new and returning students to my library learning space.  I couldn’t wait to share new books and other resources with my fresh faced learners.  From the first day, I welcomed their questions, and made sure that they knew that the media center was their space for learning.  It belonged to them, not me!  I said, “Think of it as a candy store for your brain, a space for tinkering with new ideas, and exploring the world.  My job is to help you develop a passion for learning, whatever your interests.”

A few years ago, not long after the first week of school, my commitment to a sense of wonder and curiosity was put to the test by an eager third grader who rushed in at 8 AM with several of his friends.  He was carrying a plastic container and inside it was the largest, ugliest, most monstrous dead (fortunately for me anyway) insect I had ever seen.   The questions came at me fast and furious. “What is it? What does is eat? Is it poisonous?  What killed it? Why did I find it in a parking lot? Does it live around here, or how did it get here? “

Talk about your teachable moment!  This was the start of something big-a chance to capitalize on student centered motivation for learning.  The student and his friends were encouraged by the classroom teacher to spend some class time discovering the answers to their questions.  For the next few days, the small group met with me in the media center, and the inquiry took off.  The questions that they answered led to more questions and more inquiry.  We contacted entomologists, did internet searches, consulted field guides, and encyclopedias.  Their interest exceeded their reading levels, but that did not hold them back from learning.  It was amazing to observe their natural collaboration. They divided up tasks, reported back to each other, kept track of their findings, and then did a short presentation to their classmates.  All I did was to guide them a bit to resources and to facilitate questions that required some reflection about their learning.

If we promote the school library space as a learning environment, not just a room with four walls and print resources, we also have to promote inquiry.  The two go hand in hand.  Students need opportunities to follow their interests and passions, and professional teacher librarians are trained as information and literacy specialists who can accommodate both planned and just in time learning.  With increased emphasis on teaching to standards, many schools have less time in the daily schedule for individual inquiry projects, so here is an opportunity for those of us in the field.   Providing space, resources, and guidance for inquiry, teacher librarians can collaborate with colleagues to assure that students have the chance to activate their sense of wonder.

Recently, educational websites and bloggers have been focusing on excellent tips for teachers in a new school year.  There are many wonderful and powerful ideas that we can find through social media. I really appreciate that Kristin Fontichiaro is willing to share her presentations and professional development work through her blog, Active Learning.  She has given access to the slides and support materials on inquiry based learning (with Debbie Abliock) for a school district in Texas.  Even if you did not attend, you can get some ideas for adapting inquiry to your own curriculum, and it is a great resource. I am including the link here.  Be sure to check out her past posts, too!

 

Meanwhile, what do you see, think, and wonder about that big scary bug?

 

Resources:

Fontichiaro, Kristin.   Hello, Denton ISD!    Active Learning. (Aug. 20, 2014). Weblog.  http://www.fontichiaro.com/activelearning/2014/08/20/hello-denton-isd/

Image: giant water bug.jpg http://life.illinois.edu

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