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Three Ways to Encourage Student Discovery

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January 29, 2014 08:05 pm


This guest blog post is from Nancy Hniedziejko, the library media specialist for Myers Elementary School in the School District of Cheltenham Township, Elkins Park, PA.

As a 21st century librarian, my title includes media specialist. The American Association of School Librarians answers the question, “What does a school librarian do?” with the following.

… the school librarian develops, promotes and implements a program that will help prepare students to be effective users of ideas and information, a lifelong skill.

I’m drawn to the words, “help prepare students to be effective users of ideas and information, a lifelong skill.” Students love technology. It’s that simple. When I present a new tool or application, the hush that falls over the room is unlike other more traditional lessons. The speed at which they embrace and implement new tools is rapid and typically self-directed. The students easily help and support each other as well. But, are they prepared to be effective users of ideas? Is the goal to be a great app user or do we want them to be responsible global digital citizens who contribute to the new millennium? My focus this year is to answer this question.


I am fortunate to work in a school that embraces and provides technology. Many of my colleagues are willing to learn and use new tools in their teaching. While the interest grows, elementary students also need a foundation of good digital citizenship upon which their learning, and most importantly, their ideas can be created. I love the excitement the students have for using the tools we provide, but are they using them responsibly and in ways that contribute.

How do we do this at the elementary level? How do I help my students discover this rather than me “telling” them how?

The three areas that I focus on are digital footprints, privacy and security, and creative credit and copyright. Initially, I found myself talking – a lot! I was explaining and explaining. Not only was I boring myself, but also my students were getting that glazed over look. Where was the discovery? Where was the inquiry? Where was the contribution? Using technology means connecting with others. It was time to take some risks and for me to stop talking. Here is how I changed my focus:

Collaborate meaningfully: The quiet learning environment is a thing of the past. Kids need to work together, sometimes quite nosily. When given a task, the students are required to work together. I’ve discovered that a teacher posted or created list of ground rules is seldom effective. A student-generated list is productive and more successful. Learning to collaborate, wait, share, and critique are vital 21st century skills. Through collaboration and discovery, the students challenge and question each other. While learning to use an online document, some students were a bit inappropriate with their content. We discussed, revised and learned from this teachable moment. Students need to embrace that using technology is a connected activity rather then a solitary one.

Create responsibly: When we give students the tools to create, part of the process must focus on copyright and creative credit. The students won’t know it is wrong to use what others have created unless we first model it, and then, show them how to cite work. Simple steps that are easy to use provide the most success. Even Kindergarten students are aware when they are using something that does not belong to them. Older elementary students must see that part of the creative process includes this vital step. When students were creating presentations and wanted to incorporate images, we found sites that provided free images. Then, we figured out ways to store them so using and accessing them didn’t slow down creating the project.

Participate safely: We must stress the importance of safety without fear. Social media is an integral part of the 21st century and burying our heads in the sand will create unprepared students. Our district has an educational social media platform where the students can build a foundation of communicating with their peers in a safe way. Through this platform, students learn in real time how to present themselves in ways that reflect positively on their character, their school, their families and society. The students were discussing and posting book reviews and when a student asked for someone’s phone number, well, let’s just say the students quickly reminded each other about sharing personal information. These learning opportunities provide the keystone to a successful foundation.

One of the greatest aspects of digital learning is that it is always changing for everyone. In order to create successful digital citizens who are effective users of ideas and information, both my students and I are constantly changing and learning.


Digital Learning Day


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    Posted 7 years ago

    WOW……. You go girl……CONGRATULATIONS on the publishing of these amazing thoughts. So very proud of you. Nancy, you are going to make such an incredible difference in these children’s lives. You are where you need to be for the future of these students. What a gift this school recieved when they signed you on. Keep up the great work. Looking forward to the summer and visiting with you at school. LOVE YOU, NONNI

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    Julie Johnson
    Posted 7 years ago

    What you have to say is so important. As an elementary teacher, I take my job of building the foundation of digital citizenship very seriously. I am getting ready to begin a digital writing workshop with fourth and fifth graders. I’ve discovered in my own classroom that just telling the kids about Creative Commons isn’t enough. This time around I am going to ask students to work collaboratively to discover their own examples of cited work and then let them explore places they can find free images. I am hoping by giving them more control, they will understand the importance of Creative Commons. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. It’s in these early years that we need to build good digital habits in our students.

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    Randi W
    Posted 7 years ago

    Great article! Sounds like the risks you took paid off.

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