A foot in the door, a seat at the table-either way you describe it, school librarians have to be proactive in cultivating instructional collaboration within STEM classrooms in their schools. This month, BACC bloggers and guest (Sue Kowalski) have highlighted successful ways to meld the mission of the school library program with a new emphasis on science through inquiry based, experiential learning and innovative thinking. “Think-Create-Share-Growth” morphs into “Think, explore, design, build, create.” As Karla Collins said, current buzzwords sometimes seem like new packaging for what we have always known to be good teaching that is best for students. The STEM, STEAM, STREAM movement in education is the perfect entry point for partnering with our professional science teachers, and sharing their enthusiasm and curiosity about the wonder and mystery of the physical and natural world we live in. Our learners are and will be the problem solvers of today and tomorrow. As educators in the science classroom and in the library, we can work together to provide opportunities, challenges, and resources to set them on that path to the future.
In The Collection Development Program in Schools, Marcia Mardis examines the commonalities between the mutually reinforcing roles of STEM teachers and school librarians, based on National Science Teaching Standards (2006) and Empowering Learners (2009). The potential for cooperation and collaboration is not always appreciated or understood for several reasons, and we have to recognize the barriers that prevent successful science teacher-school librarian collaborations. Mardis elaborates on previous research that identifies those barriers, and some issues may seem familiar as we address our own school learning spaces and our own comfort zone with science topics. Barriers include the perception by science teachers that the library resources for science topics are old and limited, and that librarians do not seem fluent in science and mathematics topics. School librarians point to a lack of access to STEM professional development opportunities with science educators, or to be welcomed as members of curriculum committees, or to be unable to collaborate beyond the library due to staffing restraints and schedules. Another barrier is that resources for STEM education in professional reading for school librarians are limited. (227)
Overcoming STEM Collaboration Barriers:
Begin with a self assessment-
Comfort with science topics:
- Am I curious about the physical and natural world, and engineering and mathematics, or do I feel unprepared as a STEM expert?
- Have I explored the science standards that drive the science curriculum in my school? NGSS or other state standards?
- How do I collaborate with science or math teachers in my school or district? What has been successful? What are the challenges or obstacles to collaboration?
- Can I have knowledgeable conversations with science teachers about implementing the standards in their classrooms?
- Have I taken any professional development science related courses, workshops, or attended conferences for or with science teachers?
- How can I make improvement to my practice to include STEM learning?
Collection Development and Curation of Resources-Physical and Virtual:
- Is the school library collection current and representative of the science curriculum?
- Are the resources varied in reading levels and available in a multiple formats to meet the needs of diverse learners?
- Are there databases or electronic resources that provide 24/7 access to information anywhere, anytime?
- Is there a procedure for accessing information from other libraries or experts in the field?
- Do learners have opportunities to ask for assistance with inquiry projects?
Library Learning Space:
- Is the library learning space arranged to accommodate varied group and individual inquiry or innovative projects for STEM?
- Is there an area designated for innovation and experimentation?
- Are there materials, technology tools, and applications that allow for experimentation, innovative thinking, and creation?
- How does the library media professional or staff provide guidance for learners within STEM curricular units or interests?
More Successful Examples of STEM Collaboration-from New England and beyond:
A foot in the door, a seat at the STEM table:
- Science professional learning teams in Vermont include school librarians at the leadership level. In 2013 the Vermont State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards to guide science instruction in the state. Science Assessment Coordinators for K-5 and 6-12 at the Vermont Agency of Education developed a multiyear plan to gradually incorporate the standards into curriculum and instruction. Professional learning teams were recruited to plan for and facilitate professional development for science teaching and learning in the state. Members of the two teams represent classroom teachers, principals, science coaches, technology integrationists, university professors, curriculum directors, and school librarians. During the past two years the teams have been meeting and unpacking the new standards, and learning about instructional strategies that enable inquiry based, active learning, that taps into scientific phenomena and innovative problem solving. Members have brought new knowledge and ideas back to the local districts to encourage and support teachers in the field. Denise Wentz, school librarian at Allen Brook School in Williston, Vermont, a member of the K-5 team, shared the progress of the group with members of the Vermont School Library Association in November, 2015. Here is an overview that she provided as an update so that school librarians can be participants in their own schools. Librarians Role in the NGSS: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1qnLp7NL-Y2OnfiN8sgReTlBzy7fneBz_L_kddb4oi0Q/edit?usp=sharing
- Meanwhile, Vermont school librarians, Linda McSweeney and Meg Allison curated a list of resources that supported the NGSS, and presented those resources at the Vermont Science Teachers Annual Conference, and also at the Dynamic Landscapes Conference in 2013. Here is the website that they developed, and it remains very comprehensive. https://sites.google.com/site/vslascienceresources/
Other STEM Excitement:
- Read about a coding project that connects students in three states-looks like fun and learning all in one. “Classrooms Connect Virtually to Code With Finch Robots,” by Donna Sullivan-MacDonald. School Library Journal, March 18, 2016. http://www.slj.com/2016/03/technology/classrooms-connect-virtually-to-code-with-finch-robots/
Mardis, Marcia. The Collection Program in Schools: Concepts and Practices, 6th edition. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2016.
Image: Judith Kaplan Collection