The new middle school library classes would stand alone and not be tied to grade-level content. I was on my own to create a curriculum so I expanded my personal learning network by reading books and blogs, joining Facebook school library groups, and following library, education and technology leaders on Twitter. I compiled important topics that should be addressed, and noted interesting lessons and activities I could incorporate.
I rebuilt the library website to be a virtual extension of myself. This is my dashboard when I teach middle and high school students how to access all the resources available through the library. I teach middle school students how to use the library catalog and basic databases. For the high school, I created guides for the major research projects, organized the many databases into content areas access points, linked programs such as Noodletools along with guides for creating MLA and Chicago style citations, and outlined how to find print and digital materials in our library, the local public library and libraries across the state.
As I outlined a middle school curriculum, I realized that I was uniquely situated as the only teacher in the building who would have contact with all seven grades of students. I wanted to focus on preparing middle school students for high school research, but my primary focus would be to develop a personal connection with those students and to establish myself as a resource.
To engage middle school students, I have tried to incorporate issues and topics that relate to them. In addition to promoting self-directed reading and teaching how to use the library catalog to find books, I focus on building real-world research and technology skills. The 6th grade students use a Google spreadsheet to plan a shopping budget. Then 7th graders use Google Docs, Sheets, Maps and Slides to plan out a whole vacation trip for a fictional family. We discuss digital citizenship and cybersecurity issues. My hook is telling students that I know they know to be safe online and on their phones, but I need them to check in with grandparents and others to make sure the adults are being safe and know about digital footprints, phishing scams and using social media wisely. We are also fortunate to have a School Resource Officer and comfort dog located in the library, so they often visit the classes to discuss issues around online safety.
We talk about copyright, fair use and creative commons and incorporate topics such as Weird Al Yankovic, YouTube, t-shirt designs, and Fortnite dances into the discussions. We focus on media and information literacy. I show them how to place information into infozones to determine the primary purpose why information is being shared, why using multiple sources to verify information is so important, and how to use reverse image searching and fact checking websites. We discuss Wikipedia, YouTube content, digital images, and YouTube and Instagram influencers. We examine the concept of privacy in the age of technology. I create Quizlet Live, Kahoot, EdPuzzle and Quizizz assessment activities. I build Google Classrooms for each enrichment session and have students turn in projects. I do this to give them practice accessing class materials and turning in assignments for their other classes.
One of my favorite resources is BreakoutEDU. I explain to students that these kits are reverse escape rooms - instead of breaking out of a room, I am asking them to break into a box. I place students into three teams. Each team is given the same set of instructions and must work together to break codes and solve puzzles. Some codes require a UV flashlight to find hints written in invisible ink, other clues are pieces that need to be manipulated to be solved, and some puzzles use a red lens to find key information. These activities promote collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking in a very active and engaging manner.
I hope my middle school curriculum will be complete by the end of this year, so that I can focus on other high school and middle school curriculum needs. I plan to create an A Christmas Carol BreakoutEDU activity to use with 8th grade ELA classes to explore the book, author and English history. The high school history department is implementing new research-based electives, so I need time to meet with teachers and find resources that will support students. The BreakoutEDU boxes were originally purchased to be used with high school classes, so I have been working with teachers to utilize them to teach research skills and curriculum content.
One of my library colleagues recently mentioned that it takes four to five years to successfully develop a new program. That statement finally quelled a lot of the anxiety I have had during this difficult process. Becoming the only library media specialist in a combined middle-high school library has definitely been a challenge. The two schools run different schedules, which impacts shared spaces like the library, and has led to instances when I teach overlapping middle and high school classes. In addition to designing my own lessons and activities, I am responsible for managing all aspects of the library, from monitoring spaces, ordering and processing books, selecting and purchasing databases, collaborating with teachers, and solving Chromebook or GSuite or other technology issues for seven grades of students. But I love that students tell other students to see me when they need help with all types of issues - from research projects to technology issues. The biggest impact of working alone has been trying to find time to support all of the students, staff, teachers and administrators who seek my assistance or want to utilize library resources. I hope all middle and high school students find that the library is a welcoming place where good information is important and help can be found. I believe the fact that I am so busy indicates they already know.