School librarians helping to facilitate global connections

Colleen Graves of Lamar Middle School in Flower Mound, TX was named a School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Award finalist in September 2014. Be sure to also read the recent post by School Librarian of the Year finalist Andy Plemmons.

A couple of months ago, I was scanning my Twitter feed and came across International Dot Day. I become curious: What is Dot Day? Will my middle school students want to participate? A Google search led me to author/illustrator Peter Reynold’s website where I learned that Dot Day is based on a picture book titled The Dot. The Dot is about a little girl who thinks she cannot draw, but after her teacher frames her “dot art,” she decides that she can do better. The story’s message is simple but profound: “Make a mark and see where it takes you.”

Soon I found myself immersed in a Google Doc, swimming with the possibilities of global connections. I found other school librarians excited to connect their classes with my willing and enthusiastic art teacher. Because of all the different times zones involved, scheduling proved to be quite a challenge. I organized everything through social media like Twitter and Google Docs. We ended up connecting with 7 different schools, with classes ranging from kindergarteners all the way to juniors in high school. What an energizing way to start a school year!

Consequently, this experience got me thinking about the bigger picture and how the 21st century librarian can help teachers make global connections by connecting with authors, other classrooms, and even curricular experts or mentors. We call ourselves “Teacher Librarians” because we are TEACHERS first.

Matthew Winner, Maryland elementary school teacher librarian and author of the Busy Librarian blog, thinks connecting our kids to the global world is critical -- so important, in fact, that he and fellow teacher librarian Sherry Gick created a virtual experience for students called #GeniusCon. This virtual conference connects geniuses of every age, in every class worldwide, allowing teachers and librarians to get their students thinking and then share their genius with the world! “For me, there is nothing better than a kid knowing that there is someone out in the world, who they don't even know personally, yet is a captive audience for his or her ideas, thoughts, and curiosities,” maintains Winner. These online experiences allow his students to “interact with children of similar age, skill, or interest in order to build relationships, collaborate to solve problems, develop communication skills, and build empathy for other individuals.”

However, it isn’t always about connecting with other students. Michelle Colte, teacher librarian at Hale Kula Elementary School in Wahiawa, HI, is constantly reaching out to experts to connect with her students. When researching volcanoes, her fourth grade students were able to question volcanologist John Bailey and listen to a geologist from the USGS at the Hawaii Volcano National Park. Recently, her students even connected with author and illustrator Paul Stickland and a class in Argentina. Michelle said, “These hangouts, transform learning; allowing students to connect, collaborate, think critically and create with peers and experts in the fields.”  

In my own library at Lamar Middle School, my eighth grade English language arts students connected with author Claire Legrand last year to learn more about the writing process. Meanwhile, my Makerspace students Skyped with an online game developer to learn more about his profession. Looking ahead, teacher librarian Andy Plemmons of David C. Barrow Elementary School in Athens, GA and I are considering having our students teach one another some #makered activities. I’m also excited about a project that involves reaching out to a radio host for a PBL (Project Based Learning) centered around the essential question, “How does music shape your life?” Every year, our eighth grade students do a culminating music project. This year we are thinking about how we can turn this into a podcast radio show using NPR’s “All Songs Considered” to guide our learning.  

There are so many opportunities for 21st century librarians to connect! So how can you find some opportunities to connect your classroom?  

  • Ask your librarian for help! We love scheduling!
  • Utilize Twitter to connect with authors, classrooms and experts - just reach out and you’ll be surprised who responds!

And be sure to check out these websites and tools for the classroom:

(Thanks to Matthew Winner and Michelle Colte for adding to this list of opportunities!)