Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Inching closer to the end

Posted by lpearle on 1 June 2010

It feels as though I’ve been neglecting this blog, but that’s only because so much has been happening at work!  First (and looming large) is the upcoming move to the rebuilt Goodhue – we’re in inventory mode, as well as packing up the non-book stuff in preparation for the Big Day.  Of course there’ll be more on that as it gets nearer.

Second, and in some ways more exciting, has been the spate of year-end research projects.

For some years now, one of our 10th grade history teachers has done a project based on Sinclair’s The Jungle.  Essentially, he asks students to find modern-day examples of the same sorts of abuses Sinclair chronicles (the caveat is that the example has to end in a guilty verdict or plea).  This year, another teacher decided to do a Jungle-based project, only this time he had students researching muckrakers contemporary with Sinclair.  So of course that meant another LibGuide – and he’s just informed me that the students did well, that JSTOR was a great resource, and that we’ll do even better next year as we flesh it out (seriously?  I learned about the project at 10:30 and by 11 was in his room with the LibGuide and a quick “here’s how to use JSTOR and Google Books” lesson!).

I was also thrilled with the Enlightenment Project, the final 9th grade history paper.  This was a new project, and with something so broad (papers covered everything from Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s use of smallpox-laden blankets against the Indians to the use of the astrolabe as a new navigational technology to whether capitalism is just economic system to Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities as a means of religious domination) it’s always touch-and-go with what we’ll have in terms of the collection.  Words cannot express how thrilled I was with the students’ reaction to this project: so many of them were focused on their research and realized that print (including our digital collection of eBooks and databases) was a great source.  So much so, in fact, that up through the last day there were new books being pulled from the shelves.

There were a number of interesting moments during their research (none the least of which was seniors realizing that there were no free computers, because the busy reading/writing/researching 9th graders were using them all!), including the number of times students said “[topic] isn’t in the index” only to have me point out that there was an entire chapter in the book.  I also watched them struggle to narrow their topic down, to create keywords that really would help them (“capitalism” is a little broad, but “Adam Smith” might work), and to analyze their findings.  For some this was really the first in-depth paper, and that so many of the best sources were print is a message I hope they remember next year.

I had the pleasure(?) of reading/grading almost half of them and I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the work.   What saddened me was that some of them did not use Noodlebib and lost points by having incorrectly formatted Works Cited lists.  Now, Noodlebib is not the only tool out there, but so many of them seemed to just cut-and-paste the citations from databases and didn’t pay attention to whether it was in MLA7 format, or whether they were in alphabetical order.  There was also an insistence that nearly everything have an author, so Gale or Oxford or ABC-CLIO was slotted in (as though the publisher also wrote the article in question).

When I do my Noodlebib dance for them, I stress that the things that I’m teaching them are the things they should work hard to ingrain, so they don’t lose points on the stupid stuff.  Learning how to cite sources, proofread properly and format a paper are like getting dressed in the morning: I teach you how to put your shirt and slacks on, leaving you to worry if the outfit matches.  Having looked at these papers, I wonder if they need another metaphor.  Any ideas?

Still, the teachers seemed very pleased, and the students continually told me how invaluable my help was (which is, of course, a wonderful thing to hear at the end of a long year!).  Even better, we have a year to fine tune all of these projects and make the experience even better for the students.  Watch this space for updates.

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