DSC_6172.jpgLibraryBlog1.jpgThis post was written by Johanna Schooley, librarian at GEMS World Academy Chicago. 

Gone are the days when the only educational connections/links that students made with the school library and its teacher-librarian involved listening to a story and choosing books to take home.

libraryblog2.jpgLibraries are no longer simply repositories for books, nor are their services confined to the space between four walls. Today's school library is an inviting “hub” of learning that can be stepped into either virtually or physically -- a space where students are able to connect, share, create and be guided to information to develop new knowledge and understanding.

Walk into the Library Learning Commons at GEMS World Academy Chicago, and you might find a group of 3-year-olds using Legos to create submarines, trains, legs and other modes of transport inspired by their current unit on Transportation; or students learning to access a new e-book platform with technology; or perhaps you'll find find second-graders actively learning about innovation by taking apart and analyzing the inner working of toys to understand the design process.  

Within this innovative space there are many different types of thinking, connecting, and analysis that are occurring. It is not sedentary or quiet.  There are exchanges of ideas, excitement about conclusions being drawn and the search for new information in order to deepen understanding.

Stories are still being told in our library, but this is done with a purpose. What is being shared and how it is shared is integrated into the International Baccalaureate curriculum in place at GEMS. Here are some examples of the curriculum-based activities that take place in the library:

  • Recently, our kindergartners lay on the floor in a circle with their eyes closed and listened to a story much in the same way that the ancient Greeks or Native Americans would have shared a story. This allowed for students to further their understanding on the history of stories and how they are told, which follows the IB Primary Years Program unit that they are currently exploring in the classroom.
  • Our junior kindergarten students walked into the library and became a part of a story “experience.” As a story about coloring was shared, the students, while standing, collectively interacted and responded on paper to the text with a variety of color mediums, thus allowing for students to touch, feel and create with different materials as the story unfolded. This extended and added not only to the inquiry and discovery that is currently happening in JK, but also to the work they do all year on social and emotional feelings, as much of what they were responding to was in relation to colors that represented specific emotions.
  • IMG_5259.jpgOur ninth-graders, as a part of their Design class, were given the challenge to install an interactive Lego wall within the library. The students had a certain number of Lego plates and a specific space where the wall was to go. The challenge was to construct and attach the Lego plates to the wall. To solve this design challenge, students had to collaborate and share knowledge in order to analyze the best solution to the problem. This did not come without snags or re-thinking their ideas, but by following the Design Cycle protocol as outlined in the IB Middle Years Program, they were able to successfully complete the challenge, which can be seen as students interact with the wall daily.

The learning stemming from the library and its teacher-librarian is no longer contained within the confines of the library itself, or during school hours. As explained by Pilar Quezzaire, the curriculum manager for cross-program development at the IB, the “notion that libraries are physical or conceptual gates that can be opened and closed is nostalgic and belongs in the past.”

With this in mind, GEMS has developed a virtual library using LibGuides, so students are able to access curated and age-appropriate sources 24/7, making the library and its guidance accessible to them on demand. Our teachers work together to ensure that students are able to critically analyze the information they discover online, and our LibGuides material will help students enhance their understanding and develop their own ideas and opinions about their inquiries.

It's exciting for me, a teacher-librarian, to work at an independent private school like GEMS, which is committed to the library being a vibrant learning hub.

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