STEM and the School Library: A Marriage that Makes Sense

From makerspace creation and related activities, to coordination of “STEM Talks” from experts in the field, the school libraries in my district continue to take on an increasingly expanded role in STEM/STEAM programming and instruction. I’ve been excited to serve on district-wide leadership teams involved with these efforts, including the Digital Literacy Team, made up of technology and media specialists, and the STEAM Committee, made up of educators and specialists across grade levels and subject areas. The overlapping nature of the work, from development of a high school “STEAM” certificate program to the planning and implementation of district-wide library makerspaces, connects with the evolving roles and responsibilities of library media specialists and a re-imagined vision for school library media programs in our district.

School library programs are in a unique position to play a key role in STEM education and to serve as powerful hybrid spaces for STEM learning. The many hats that school librarians currently wear in schools, from information specialist to instructional partner and technology integrator/coach, position media specialists as natural allies and supporters of STEM education. Library media programs offer an ideal informal learning space for students to engage in STEM topics. Through the provision of a wide range of media resources from books, periodicals, DVDs, iPads and computers, to the addition of makerspace materials, library settings naturally lend themselves to independent exploration and discovery. Whereas students might not enjoy math or science class, they may be more inclined to utilize the library to read books, watch videos, or independently explore math and science-related topics through hands-on opportunities.

One of my favorite projects this school year involves the development of a series of STEM Talks held on a monthly basis in the library. I’ve been working with our Science Coordinator, Emily Burke, Biology Teacher James Dixon, and former SHS alum, Vlad Botchkarev, who received a grant from the American Society for Cell Biology to help fund the cost of the talks. The ASCB is the largest cell biology society in the United States, whose roles include hosting an annual conference that attracts thousands of scientists from around the world as well as providing resources for local science meetings and community outreach events.

Designed to engage the entire school community in science topics, speakers thus far have included John Lydeard, a scientist at Biogen, who explained how epigenetics controls the way cells can modify their properties depending on different cues. Discussing examples that ranged from yeast DNA repair to wilting of flowers in the winter to understanding human diseases, Dr. Lydeard led an active and exciting discussion with audience members including Sharon High School students, interested parents, staff and other adults from the community. The event also raised money for the SHS Science Olympiad Team.

The role of the library as a community center and learning hub has expanded through the monthly talks, which average close to 70 participants per session. Other featured speakers include science editor Heather Goldstone from WGBH/NPR who spoke about global warming, and Caitlin Krause, a world renowned mindfulness educator who will address “the science of mindfulness” this May. Coffee, snacks and mingle time precede each talk, which is followed by audience Q & A. Sharon STEM Talks website



Author: Cathy Collins

Ms. Collins has worked as a Media Specialist/Librarian for 14 years. She is currently a library media specialist at Sharon High School, where she has worked for the past four years. She began her career as a reporter who covered business, arts and education-related issues. While interviewing the headmaster at a private school, she realized that she wanted to combine her love of research and writing with a career in education. At that point, she returned to school for a Masters in Library Science and further graduate studies in educational leadership. Ms. Collins has published her writing in various journals including “Library Media Connection,” “NEA Today,” education-related blogs and websites including AASL’s “Knowledge Quest.” She is a 2012 Reynolds High School Journalism Institute Fellow and project consultant for the E-Book, “Searchlights and Sunglasses: Journalism in the Digital Age.” She received a “Teachers for Global Classrooms” fellowship from the U.S. State Dept. in 2014 and is the recipient of AASL’s Intellectual Freedom Award (2014) as well as a “Super Librarian” award bestowed by MSLA (Massachusetts School Library Association). She is a Massachusetts Library System Executive Board Member and has served on the MassCUE Board as PD Chair since 2013 along with the NEISTE Board. She earned National Board Certification as a Library/Media Teacher in 2009. In her spare time, she enjoys nature walks, reading, travel and yoga.

Categories: Blog Topics, STEM/STEAM

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