This year, I completely tossed my Library Orientation PowerPoint out the window and didn’t look back. Did the students hear every little piece of information about our library system like it’s .50 per color copy if non-academic? No. But, did they really hear it before…
Intrigued by the idea of gamifying a lesson, pushing collaboration as our standards emphasize, and adding inquiry to this year’s library orientation, which is really the only sacred space that I have to create and teach a lesson of my design, I set off forward into creativity.
As a child, I loved buying those big book of puzzles and games to take on long car rides. It was only natural for me to gravitate toward my library’s newly purchased BreakoutEDU boxes. The basic idea behind these boxes is to mirror the problem solving creativity one might find in a Break Out room, with or without a direct tie to curriculum. Inside a box, there is a hidden object. The only way to retrieve the content is to find the combinations to the variety of locks keeping it shut. While it’s convenient to have everything in one spot with the box, all the puzzles and community inspiration can be found online for free. As for the thingamabobs and dinglehoppers, as Scuttle would call the locks, they can be self-made or found through a variety of sources.
Process of Revamping
I compared my old materials and understandings to what I thought were necessary for my students to understand or do this year. Our 9th grade teachers consistently change a little bit so I also consulted with the new team to discover their goals for a library orientation visit. What resulted were my need to knows: CPHS genrefies fiction books, hours of library, types of resources found in the space, CPSD partners with Pierce County Library, call numbers locate a book.
I decided that I would create an information packet that would encompass a short 5-minute speech and include: CPHS library information, CPHS library map, Pierce County Library card letter, Pierce County Library tools overview. Then, I would give them only 15 minutes as a class to solve the 5 locks that I had made hiding the prize inside the box: IOU for ice cream treats for the class. On their tables, were clues scattered. Please click here to see the different puzzles that I created.
Group Dynamics and Collaboration
When I started the timer, all groups in every single class started trying to solve their puzzles. There were a variety of methods and variety of behaviors and demeanors as they started or encountered their first point of confusion. But, honestly, my biggest worry didn’t come true. There was no class that simply all gave up because it was hard. Not every class got every lock. But, that wasn’t really the point. The point was that students were collaborating, learning the power of speaking up in a group, learning how everyone at a group has something to contribute, and interacting with information about the library in multiple ways multiple times.
In fact, one of my favorite moments from this lesson was when I saw a moment of collaboration between a group solving a word search. For almost the entire time, a student had their head down and appeared detached from the group work. The clock begins to tick down at the minute mark, and this group’s lock was the only one not solved. You could sense the mounting pressure; they were so close. Literally, they had done step one and two of the puzzle and just needed a five letter word for step three that would unlock the letter/word lock. The student’s head raised up from the table, they glanced at the paper and quietly said “alien”. The whole group looked at them with a look of “oh yeah” in their eyes. Two team members raced to the box and entered the word “alien” into the lock, the clock ticking 25, 24, 23, 22… As the clock struck 2 seconds, they broke into the box, revealing the prize.
Top 3 Insights
- It’s hard, but you have to not offer too much assistance. The goal is not solution. The goal is interaction with ideas and collaboration. I worked with a variety of teachers as no one teacher at my school teaches 9th grade English. I didn’t get a long time to meet with them before the activity. Some were more hands-on in solving than I would be, and it showed. An activity like this makes it hard for us to take our helpful hat off and be okay with student struggle. The key is knowing when student struggle is good and for growth and when student struggle is just confusion or non-productive frustration.
- My students don’t know what a Call Number is. Almost every group that had the clue about Call Number had to look up the phrase in a dictionary to find out what it meant. This is of course part of the process, using your tools. But, a library system is set up around quick and independent ways to locate resources. How to help students navigate our system when our catalog provides a call number will be a hurdle this year and probably always was.
- We need to build more time for our students to make mistakes and to simply try. The grid coordinate clue elicited the most mistaken attempts, and with each group, I had to remind them that mistakes were okay and should be expected. I had to ask them if they wanted new blank paper. No one asked me first. The same rang true of the Call Number group. I had to explicitly tell them that they could look something up in their phone or our dictionaries or online. I think our students too often think that if they don’t know something it’s a bad thing. Rather than thinking that if they don’t know something, it’s a sign that there’s something new to learn.
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