Ali Schilpp of Northern Middle School in Accident, MD was named School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year in 2018.
I had the opportunity to attend SXSW EDU in Austin, TX this year and present with library colleagues, Michelle Carton and Cassy Lee. Our panel was moderated by 2017 School Librarian of the Year Tamiko Brown. It was wonderful to meet these dynamic school librarians for the first time and learn about their global programs. Personally, it provided the best professional development I could have ever hoped for. Together, we represented school libraries from the four corners of the United States; California, Alaska, Texas and Maryland! Our programs and school libraries differ in location, but our mission is united. We were able to highlight our students’ success and echo our advocacy, proving that if a child is provided with a school library and a certified school librarian, they know their education is valued, have a safe space to visit in school, and an advocate that supports their literacy, community and confidence.
This year, it was a personal goal for me to connect my students with educators and experts; to introduce new cultures, people and places. Students have so much access to technology but are they making authentic human connections? This is why being a digital citizen and global collaborator is so important and must be experienced in tandem—our school libraries are the ideal place to make it happen! I knew the power of global citizenship from working in a large district and felt my students needed authentic connections. Moving to a small, rural community school gave me the incentive to seek out collaborations to provide “windows,” opportunities to meet and observe diverse people, their culture and develop empathy. The greatest need is to provide “doors,” an incentive to move beyond one location and seek opportunities, connections and adventures.
How did we “Go Global?” My students created LEGO® mini figures for the educators and librarians who connected with us abroad. This was an inexpensive way to provide a small token of thanks and a way to represent our school library’s love of LEGO. By exchanging an item or small gift with your global collaborator it encourages a stronger bond and a tangible reminder to connect. Students can visually see that the object they created or originated in their school now appears in a new destination. This really sparked interest and led to the creation of “LEGO Travel Buddy” using the official LEGO Travel Building Suitcase Set 5004932.
To date, our various Travel Buddy sets have trekked over 60,000 miles around the globe and have introduced us to people from four different continents! They have been in the hands of students and educators in places like Morocco, Taiwan, Hawaii and currently South Africa. Thanks to the interest in global collaborations, we were able to expand the how and why we connect. What first started as “What in the WORLD are you reading?”—an exchange of favorite authors and recommended reads—turned into a lesson about applying the five themes of geography and creating a Mystery Flipgrid for others to guess our location. Our Grid Pals have shared their expertise and have helped us with lessons ranging from history projects to STEM challenges solving real-world problems! Need some inspiration to see what you could share? Follow our adventures on Twitter and Instagram using #LEGOtravelbuddy.
Once our global connections caught on, my students and I were given the confidence to connect with more people from afar. Our FIRST LEGO League team needed to share project and programming ideas. There are 40,000 teams in 98 different countries, and they are all are working on the same challenge. Why not connect with at least one? We discovered a team in the Netherlands on Twitter that was welcoming and ready to share ideas. We connected through video chats and it was fun see how they were approaching the same research and robot challenges from 5,000 miles away.
Why is this important? I saw students become more engaged when we made global partnerships. When they hear people say their school name in a video and greet them personally you can see the power of an authentic connection. Proving that exposure to new faces and places is paramount to broadening perspectives.
As summer approaches it's a great time to think about traveling, enjoying your TBR pile and planning global projects for next school year! I have been inspired by many global projects and educators this year and would like to share some ideas that might connect your students, classrooms and schools. Here are some ways you can help students GO GLOBAL to support multiple literacies and digital citizenship:
- Read to give back. Connect your students’ global citizenship to reading! As part of Scholastic Read-a-Palooza Summer Reading Challenge, kids can unlock book donations for other kids in need across the U.S. by entering their summer reading minutes online. Heifer International also has a reading program that raises money for families in poverty to become self-reliant with the gifts of livestock, seeds and training, providing a source of food and and income.
- Send a book from your school on an adventure. Using BookCrossing, students can release their books “into the wild” for readers to find and track via journal entries from around the world. This community of book-lovers is changing the world one traveling book at a time.
- Get ready to code. My library received a micro-grant from ALA to ignite a school-wide love of coding! There are so many great resources that were created by a cohort of libraries and are a great way to learn and connect. This inspired us to start a Girls Who Code club and join 165,000 girls who code worldwide!
- Project Lit your must-read list! This community will connect you to educators and like-minded readers everywhere who want to provide the latest and greatest diverse books for kids! Participate in their #ProjectLitChat on Twitter and partner your classes with others reading the same books! Apply here to become a Chapter Leader.
- Read aloud. Participate in the Global Read Aloud during September. The curation of resources and connections that are shared are invaluable and there is nothing more powerful than connecting your school community to a whole-school read.
- Think out of this world. Students love and need their SPACE! We had the rare opportunity to meet teacher-turned-astronaut Ricky Arnold. There are so many wonderful videos featuring astronauts and life at the International Space Station. For younger students, why not try Storytime from Space.
- Find your park. Visit the National Parks of the United States using Google Earth. This summer my family is heading west on a road trip to visit Yellowstone National Park and I can’t wait to take my “LEGO Travel Buddy” along and share my adventure.
- Try problem solving. Solve a real-world problem and share your idea with others using a program such as FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Research Challenge. Every year, our students brainstorm an innovation that would improve our interactions with any animal on our planet. Students create a prototype and present to a “Shark Tank” style panel. Their peers vote for the most helpful and needed solution!
- Find pen pals. The global project-based learning community Pen Pals Schools connects students from 144 countries around the world through exciting, authentic lessons to learn about cultures and practice skills.
- Make students’ voices heard. The organization Harry Potter Alliance turns Harry Potter fans into heroes through the power of storytelling. Since 2005, they have engaged millions of fans worldwide through their work for equality, human rights and literacy. This organization inspired a Harry Potter club in our school library creating our very own “Wizard Activists.”
After seeing the power of engagement from global projects, I am hopeful for new partnerships that will continue to evolve, and with the help of so many shared resources, that students and educators will feel confident in cultivating collaboration and sharing innovation from any location.
Follow and connect with Ali Schilpp on Twitter: @AliSchilpp
Image courtesy of Ali Schilpp