Modern. Beneficial. Fun. Engaging. Immersed learning. Student led. Teamwork. Leaders. Creators. Inviting. What do all these words have in common? They are all terms I’ve heard used to describe the atmosphere and activities in our recently revamped Library Learning Commons.

Along with the addition of sleek and colorful university-style furniture and an Interactive Smart Screen Projector, last summer’s renovation included a variety of cutting-edge equipment to empower our new, rad Makerspace.

New Picturesque Library Layout Paves the Way for Dynamic Patron Usage

During the 2016-17 school year, nearly 14,000 individual patrons and over 450 classes visited our Learning Commons, a year-end increase of 65 percent for individual usage and 15 percent for class usage.

Whether it’s the enrichment of lessons using makerspace tools like our MakerBot 3D Printers and Merge Virtual Reality Goggles; or the use of our new appealing, multi-purpose spaces for reading, research and student-driven endeavors like the NEHS Writing Center and Student Expert Workshops (such as Puppy Care and Hair Braiding), our renovated and ever-evolving library serves as central place of innovation, enjoyment and deeper learning for students and teachers.

Learning Commons.

“I used the space this year for a comfortable place for students to spread out and do research,” commented an English and Gifted Resource teacher. “The students like the new layout because it doesn’t look like a typical library anymore. They are happy with the comfortable furniture, open spaces and freedom to move around. They also like the new technology because it allows them to take their learning to the next level.”

3D Printers Enhance Learning and Add Career Readiness by Cultivating Teamwork and Creativity

Thanks to a recent renovation and a Verizon Grant applied for and received by our district’s Science and STEM Coordinator, our Makerspace now houses six MakerBot 3D Printers. Along with being open to students daily, many teachers raised levels of enjoyment, leadership and learning by incorporating 3D printing into lessons.

“They had a great time,” a government teacher noted after a project that challenged her students to print objects related to historic bills they had studied or amended.

“The project was new and fun,” a junior student added as she held her Pentagon model. “My group felt that the military and our soldiers were a very important part of our nation. We not only gained an appreciation and understanding of what happens in the Pentagon, but using the 3D printers also added a visual, tangible aspect to the experience.”

3D Pentagon Print.

Working with the librarians and our MakerBot student experts, a veteran science teacher chose to “take a leap” from his normal Earth Science activities and implement an Asteroid Creation Project using a special CAD program.

Asteroid Creation with Learning Commons.

One junior had many positive things to say about his experience. “I hope to study botany and incorporate technology like 3D printers into my career,” he commented, “so along with shaping and printing my own asteroid, I really enjoyed doing pre-research on how things like water, fire and bacteria found on real asteroids impact their landscapes.”

A sophomore classmate, who justified her creation of icy terrain by stating her asteroid was “on the edge of our Solar System near Pluto,” agreed that this was one of the most enjoyable projects she’d ever done.

(Next page: Deeper learning success with library green screens, innovative curriculum)

Green Screen Technology Promotes Leadership, Communication and Problem-Solving

During a project involving the modern re-creation of classic scary short stories, the creative minds of Video Media Technology students were unleashed.

“The experience was very fun and we learned a lot about creating movies with special effects,” a junior added. “It helped us solve production problems, work as a group and gave me a glimpse of how to make a movie like they do in the real world.”

A senior co-producer also enjoyed the experience. “I especially liked the freedom the green screens provided to move around the school and transport our audience to different locations.”

Following this Halloween endeavor, our green screen usage expanded to the point where nearly every day small groups could be found creating mini masterpieces such as mock election campaign videos and weather reports and fashion shows in German and Spanish.

One English class even had a Shakespearean puppet show, while another created film reviews of movie adaptations from classic British Literature.

LEGO Mindstorms and Silhouette Cutters Elicit Smiles and Help Develop Coding and Digital Design Skills

A math teacher who brought her Algebra Functions classes in for a coding activity was pleased that she decided to incorporate our LEGO robots into her lesson plans. “After some basic instruction on coding,” she added, “my students began teaching themselves and their classmates new ways to expand the functions of their Mindstorms. Everyone was practicing math applications, but it was the learning and expanding-as-we-go element that I really think benefited them.”

Our school’s Lieutenant Colonel and Master Sergeant also utilized the Mindstorms with their JROTC cadets. “Learning how to control the robots with Bluetooth programs on the iPads was a new and challenging way to practice communication,” stated a senior executive officer.

Nearly every day, students could also be found experimenting with, and teaching one another about, our six Silhouette Digital Cutters, which added an artistic edge by allowing patrons to create customized vinyl stickers, foldable cards and t-shirt iron-ons for our Grant-funded heat press.

“I used it every day during study hall for a while and really enjoyed it,” one sophomore mentioned. Like so many other students, the Silhouettes gave this patron the chance to express himself. “I think the Makerspace was a great addition,” he added. “It gives students a chance to put their creativity to work with resources that most don’t have access to at home.”

About the Author:

Paul Smartschan, MSED, is a teacher librarian at Powhatan High School. He earned his bachelor’s in Communication Studies from Virginia Tech, his master’s in secondary education from Old Dominion University, and his master’s in school librarianship from Longwood University. His Library’s twitter feed can be followed @phslibt.