Hitting the Right Notes
One of the things I love about teaching, and especially about being a librarian, is that I am able to learn something new every day. Sometimes it’s from a website, a fellow teacher, a webinar, or a conference—but my favorite lessons are the ones I learn from my students. This year, I learned just how much children connect to music.
It started when I discovered videos by Emily Arrow about books from authors who would be attending a local book festival. Her songs—based on the books Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett and Be a Friend by Salina Yoon—were instant favorites among students. They loved the stories, but would come to the library requesting the song. Shortly after, I discovered a whole collection of books from Cantata Learning. It made perfect sense to add many of these titles to our book collection right away. I turned to my fellow teachers to help choose books supporting science, social studies, math, and even some folk songs for music class. The teachers love using the books to reinforce the curriculum, and the students love learning the songs. I enjoy watching student learn through song and carry what they learned from the book with them as they continue to sing wherever they go. That is the power of music! —Karyn Lewis, Pre-K–5 Librarian, Meadow Wood Elementary, Houston
Answering the Big “Why?”
In 2016, the biggest lesson I learned is that having explicit and intentional conversations with students about their own education helps build relationships and puts meaning behind the assignments they’re doing. I’ve always used the term “constructing knowledge” when talking with my students about learning and the experiences they will eventually have beyond high school. This explanation reframed their understanding about the “why” behind completing a specific assignment, doing research, or taking an assessment. I was surprised to find out that many of the educators I worked with had rarely used this term with their students—despite the teachers themselves being proponents of constructivism.
Education should be about students constructing knowledge to build their own personal view of the world, yet we rarely let them know that. This year, many of our students engaged in videoconferences through Generation Global, a platform designed to connect peers across the world and promote meaningful dialogue. This practice shows them that people across the globe, who they may see as “the other,” aren’t so different from themselves. Constructing knowledge is about exploring new thoughts and opinions. What better way to do that than connect with peers from other nations and ask questions?
So next time students ask the simple question, “What do I need to know?” teachers should frame the experience of education as an exercise in constructivism. Doing so empowers students to be active learners and dynamic thinkers, not just consumers of information. —Craig Perrier, High School Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax, VA
Breaking out of the Box
The greatest challenge I face is getting students to “think outside the box” when it comes to their learning. Learners are always looking to teachers for solutions instead of taking charge of their own learning. They expect each content area to stay in a nice, tidy box that is tied in a bow. I’ve learned that one solution to this obstacle is interdisciplinary lessons. Cross-curricular learning pushes students’ boundaries and forces them to become thinkers who must look at all content areas as tools in their intellectual toolbox. They must find the tool that works best for each of them as individuals.
I have been using Kids Discover Online to build cross-curricular lessons for my students. Kids Discover provides learners with valuable and relevant resources to construct and piece together the information to answer the questions that they are exploring. Building a classroom centered on this philosophy affords me the opportunity to create a seamless curriculum where students see that in the real world, math, science, language arts, social studies, and other subjects blend together without boundaries. It creates a flexible framework for learning that enables students to focus on critical thinking through big ideas, collaboration through teamwork, and creativity through problem-solving.
When we empower students to learn in this manner, they are more likely to solve problems using all the tools in their intellectual toolbox. They evolve into problem-solvers who work with a flexible framework in which all skill sets are used to tackle problems and brainstorm solutions. Instead of being boxed in by preconceived notions that one content area will provide the best solutions, they grow beyond the walls of the classroom and become the innovators of our future. —Amy Cramer, Teacher, South Park Elementary School (PA)