[Editor’s Note: This story is Part 2 of our month-long series on “What it means to teach Gen Z.” Click here to read Part 1 on Gen Z and parents. Check back every Monday in April to read the next installment!]
Librarians and media specialists are in a unique position within schools, since they are very often the person responsible for introducing students to new technologies, and are also on the front lines when it comes to connecting students to meaningful sources for research.
Today’s students have never known a world without the smartphone or tablet, and many of them have been using these devices independently since infancy. The answers to their questions have never been more than a click of a button away. In this brave new world of technological innovation and free-flowing information, librarians are now tasked with teaching these digital natives how to navigate these waters with discernment, while still taking full advantage of the opportunities these tools afford them.
Kids are curious, and they soak up new information like a sponge. Gen Z has grown up with access to more technology than any previous generation, so they have a hard time waiting for information because they can so easily find it online. Even the youngest learners know that you can find out the answer to a question right now on the internet.
With increased access to technology comes unique challenges such as increased access to inappropriate content and fake news.
As an elementary school, we are very concerned about inappropriate content. Our district’s web filters do a great job of making sure students don’t have access to unsafe content at school, and we also teach safe searching so that even when students are outside of school they can find appropriate content.
Even before “fake news” became a buzzword, we taught our students about vetted content. At school, they have access to trustworthy databases and we teach them that these databases contain researched information that has been proven to be accurate, as opposed to what they might find with an open-ended internet search.
(Next page: Vetting tools for Gen Z, introducing new technology)
When I became a librarian in my district, I was introduced to the tool we use to combat fake news, PebbleGo. It’s the first platform students at my school use to learn how to properly research a topic. It is easy to navigate for our youngest students because of the amazing photographs and the voice that reads the topics. They really love the articles with videos and sounds. One minute you’ll hear monkey howls sounding through the library, and next you’ll hear kids gasping at the fearsome shark videos.
PebbleGo is also amazing for our ELL/ESL students because there is an option to have the articles read to them. The voice is fluent and real, not like a robot! We want our ELL/ESL students to hear great examples of fluent reading, so this is perfect for them. They also are not overwhelmed by the text because the articles are divided into sections to make them easier to digest and to help all students find the information they are looking for quickly.
As a librarian, I believe we need to start teaching research skills to today’s students as early as possible, and a vital first step is giving them the tools they need to find information they can trust and their teachers can trust.
When students find something they are interested in, they are very independent in searching out information about that topic. This is why it’s so important now for educators to teach students how to find relevant information. Kids can get their questions answered with a simple search on a phone, so we have to make sure we give them the skills to be critical of the information they find.
Just because you find it on the internet doesn’t mean it is automatically true, and we need to make sure kids know that.
Introducing New Technology
I am always on the lookout for new technologies that teachers can incorporate into their classrooms.
We were the first elementary school in our district to get a 3D printer, and so a 5th-grade teacher incorporated bridge design into math class, and at the end students were able to print their bridges.
Librarians are not only responsible for introducing new technologies to students, but also to teachers. The librarian is the gatekeeper who helps students open the door to the knowledge they want to acquire. When our students walk through the door of the library, we want them to feel like they can learn anything they can imagine.
Teaching Gen Z is an exciting opportunity. Students are no longer limited to making posters and PowerPoint presentations; they can use green screens and 3D printing. They are building their own worlds in Minecraft and coding their own games.
The technological future is a bright one, filled with opportunities and challenges, with schools at the forefront of fostering this creative energy. Our students today are tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, politicians, coders, and designers—and it’s very clear they are up for the challenge.