The evolution of students from consumers to creators of content continues as a major trend in education, according to the 2015 Horizon Report K-12 Edition. New technology is at the heart of this transition, and libraries are helping lead the way.
The annual report, released June 29 by the nonprofit New Media Consortium, examines the trends and technologies that will shape primary and secondary education over the next five years. It references libraries as being at the forefront of maker spaces, which are among 18 major trends that include the rise of STEAM education: the intersection and importance of science, technology, arts, engineering, and math.
The Horizon Report broke down challenges to school technology adoption into three categories: “solvable,” “difficult,” and “wicked,” representing a range of difficulty to implement over the next five years. The “solvable” problems reflect what many libraries are already doing, like focusing more on blended learning and STEAM. The “wicked” problems were far more dramatic: shifting toward deeper learning approaches and rethinking the role of school itself.
Students as Content Creators—in the Library
But even the most difficult challenges aren’t impossible—they’re already being met in the U.S. Andy Plemmons, a media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary School in Clarke County, GA, worked with classroom teachers to design a unit that pushed students to bring their research into the real world. For a unit on famous African Americans, Plemmons invented the Barrow Peace Prize, inspired by the annual Nobel Prize. Using the FlipGrid app, students filmed themselves reading persuasive essays (see clip below), which were shared with their peers at other schools who voted for the winner. One second grader designed the actual prize on Tinkercard, which Plemmons 3-D printed in the library’s Maker space.
“Some of the big goals that I have in our library is about kids having space to dream and tinker and create and share,” says Plemmons. “So I’m really big about the library not just being a place to come and consume information but a place to create.”
Plemmons says this kind of work will only grow in prominence as lessons become increasingly interdisciplinary and project-based. “Every year there’s more tools that are available, and every year it’s easier to do more work beyond school walls,” he says. “Each year we try to take these projects that we’re doing and layer a little more onto them.”
Denise Sumida, a librarian at Pearl Harbor (HI) Elementary School , first became interested in her profession as a child. She’d spend her summers helping out her mother, a high school librarian herself. “Much has changed since she was an active librarian but the role of the librarian is relatively the same: To provide help and access to resources for our school communities,” says Sumida.
A lot of that work involves making sure students have equitable access to technology, with the goal of Pearl Harbor Elementary to become a one-to-one school, meaning each child has his or her own device. (While many schools have started adopting BYOD (bring your own device) policies, Sumida says her student population is too young for that to work.)
Google’s suite of online tools has become a huge part of Sumida’s work. It lets her students work on projects together, but also empowers her to better collaborate with local schools on joint projects, like a game of Jeopardy about books nominated for the Nēnē Award, a prize selected by Hawai’ian children.
An “In-CLass” Flip
Technology can also play a role in helping librarians dive right into the meat of their lesson. Because Lakisha Brinson, a librarian at Robert E. Lillard Elementary in Nashville, TN, only has about 25 minutes a week with each class of students, she says it’s more important to get her students working and exploring rather than sitting together for one big lesson. So Brinson films those lessons herself and asks teachers to share the short Web videos with their class before visiting the library. This is her twist on the flipped classroom model—Brinson calls it an “in-class” flip—that maximizes the amount of time students are able to spend on project-based learning.
“We’ve really made a shift in library instruction toward being more student-driven and librarians are very much becoming leaders in a school,” she says.
These new approaches require teachers to change how they think about the library, which is no longer just a place where students check out a book or research some facts. Instead, librarians are playing an increasing role in developing new, tech-driven lessons and projects. And that means they need to get teachers invested in these new ideas as well.
“I think one of my main responsibilities is to get my teachers on board. If I can get them, they can hook their students,” Brinson says. “That’s one thing that I think librarians are becoming more of: change agents for teachers.”
Looking forward four or five years—to the time when today’s kindergarteners, for example, will be finishing elementary school—the Horizon report saw an increase in the number of maker spaces and the rise of digital badges, which let students demonstrate that they’ve learned a skill on their own much in the way older learners are beginning to be able to do with online courses.
But even if all the technology isn’t there yet, librarians can still do much of this kind of work right now. “We may not be able to have the 3-D printers right away, but even having things like screws and magnets will be a start,” Brinson says.
And ultimately, technology can help students not just become better learners, but also understand how the discrete disciplines they’re learning are actually far more interconnected out in the real world.
“We’re going to see more and more of kids being tasked with being problem solvers rather than this divided curriculum, where things like reading and math and science are all separate,” says Plemmons. “We’ll move into a place where they’re all connected.”
A student makes the case for Olympian Jesse Owens, winner of the inaugural Barrow Peace Prize.