The "Aha" Series: 'Coooooooooooooool!' Stuff with the Lower Elementary Library and Technology Specialists

This week, we asked our Lower Elementary library and technology specialists to share some of their favorite stories that illustrate those moments of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks for a student and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

Shelley Sommer, Head Librarian

There are several requests that are made each day in the Inly Library:

I want a chapter book that is exciting…It is about a girl my age… She might be a princess or have a magical power…She has adventures.

I’m looking for a book that I read last year. It’s green.

I want a book about a dog that looks just like my dog.

I want the book that my friend checked out last month. I don’t know what it’s called.

I’m looking for a book about witches and monsters, but it can’t be scary.

Meeting each of these requests takes a good memory, a little luck, and a sense of humor. But, few things are as satisfying as making the perfect match between student and book. When a student says those magic words: “That’s it!” it’s wonderful and quite frankly, a bit of a relief.

I’m lucky to have aha moments every day. When I see a post-it note stuck to my computer from an older student telling me that a recommended book was perfect, it makes my day. I love helping teachers and parents find a good book to read aloud to a class. I love hearing the kindergarten students proudly announce that they are “moving up” a level in their learn-to-read books. Most of all, I love to see the spark that comes from connecting with a book. There are times when a book reaches a student at just the right time in their lives, and you can almost see their world getting bigger. It’s a privilege to share the journey with them.

Library Class

During the second half of the year, all third-year Lower Elementary students have an extra weekly Library class of their own to learn more advanced research skills. We begin by covering different types of reference books—including dictionaries, encyclopedias, and atlases—and later move on to the Dewey Decimal System. It’s interesting to see students’ progression throughout the semester.

Here’s a specific example: A third-year student came down to the Library to do research on agriculture in New Zealand. He started by asking for just that: a book on agriculture in New Zealand. I suggested he start with a general book on New Zealand, and he headed straight for the 900s section, knowing right where to look. A few minutes later he called out, “But there’s nothing on agriculture in the Table of Contents.” I asked him where else in the book he could look, someplace that would list topics alphabetically rather than by chapter. “The index?” he asked, flipping to the back of the book. “Agriculture—found it!” he said, and then searched for the right pages. I went on to assist another student and then heard him call out again: “But there’s only one good page here. I need to write a whole paper!”

“Where else can you look?” I asked. “Google?” he replied.

“Yes, but are there any other books to try first? How about in the Reference section?”

“The encyclopedia!” he said, heading for the World Book section.

“Sure, but is there another encyclopedia you could look in first? One that’s all about different countries?”

“You mean People and Places”?

“Yes! That’s the perfect place to look.”

He picked the right volume and flipped through the alphabetical headings until he found his country. “Look, there are like three whole pages, just on agriculture! Cool, there’s a picture of a kiwi tree.” He spent several minutes perusing the subtitles and text. Then he said, “But I also need to find out how many kiwis they shipped to America last year. It doesn’t say here.”

“Then where do you think you could find that information? You need something more specific and up-to-date.”

“Google?” he asked.

Yes. Aha! He got it! Step by step, he used the skills he’d learned in Library class to hunt down the information he needed for his research project. He went from broad to narrow, used a variety of reliable resources, and learned a lot—in terms of both process and content—along the way. Now he was logging on to one of the library computers, to continue his quest for data on kiwis, using all the sage advice he’d learned from “Mr. Paul” in Technology class, I’m sure.

Brigid Lengyel, Assistant Librarian

I’m new to Inly, but some of its students made an impression on me right away. One morning a Children’s House class arrived in small groups for their library time. Each group contained two kindergartners who took responsibility for their younger classmates, helping them with book selections, making recommendations, and generally keeping a watchful eye on the preschool students.

I was struck by how serious these five-year-old children took their responsibility while remaining kind and gentle. I wondered if I might be seeing them on their best, September behavior, but their attitude hasn’t changed over the course of seven months. I’ve observed as the school year has progressed that this combination of nurturing and confidence-building is a thread that runs through the Inly environment, and that what seemed a bit remarkable at the time was in fact an everyday occurrence here.

Paul Park, Technology

The pervasiveness of digital technology can make the word “digital” seem almost mundane. Their joy at being able to manipulate and create digitally is something that seems to be almost innate in today’s youth. However, in the journey that I am privileged to guide the third-year students through each spring semester, there are times when the inner workings of today’s digital ubiquity can produce those low and drawn-out utterances like “Cooooooool!” or “Neeeeat!” and that certainly makes my day.

One of the first discussions we have in the class is about the flow of digital signals throughout, in and out of a computer. I show them various components of a computer and explain how they communicate with each other by sending digital codes down either wires or electronic circuit paths. While we are having this discussion, I pass around the physical computer parts for the students to inspect. The ability to see and touch the parts—parts that when turned on come together and communicate to produce the technology experience that they are so familiar with by now—produces some of the longest exclamations: “Coooooooooooooool!”

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on April 10, 2009.]

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