New library curriculum a novel mix of research, teamwork, hands-on building

Penn Manor elementary students are building zoo displays, space stations and national parks in a new curriculum that combines research skills, creativity, teamwork and hands-on building in an unusual setting – school libraries.

The Project-Based Makerspace Curriculum challenges small groups of students in grades four through six to build the structures out of Legos, magnetic tiles, straws, pipe cleaners, cardboard, clay and other materials. But before the construction begins, they must conduct research and cite the sources of information (online and in print) they’ll use to guide their project designs.

For the space station, they need to select a specific planet and determine how to provide food and oxygen, remove waste and resupply humans stationed in its unique environment. For the zoo, they have to design an enclosure for a specific animal, replicating its natural habitat. The parks must be built in a U.S. state that currently has no national park, and students have to highlight the physical features of the state in their design.

The groups can either build a small-scale model of their design or describe their project in another way — by creating a PowerPoint presentation, a board game, even a play based on the details of their projects.

Before the hands-on work begins, however, students must complete a detailed “project team worksheet” specifying who will work on each detail of the design.

“Not only do students have time to develop the creative skills of constructing projects with a variety of materials, they also are learning the lifelong skills of research, design, collaboration, cooperation and reflection to consider re-design,” said Kathy Ashworth, Central Manor librarian.

“Our blend of project-based learning and library makerspace we believe to be unique in this area,” said Ashworth, who helped write the new curriculum with Penn Manor’s other elementary librarians, Nancy Nadig and Lori Paules, over the summer. “It was designed to blend traditional information literacy skills (research, citations, presentations) with the four ‘C’s of education – creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.”

Students love the freedom to be creative and work with their hands.

“I like that you can design your own park and it comes to life in 3D,” said Central Manor fifth-grader Kira Basile. “It’s a lot of creativity and thought. And since we all have jobs to do on the project, it’s not chaos, with everyone running around.”

Kira was responsible for designing and building the mountains of her group’s fictional Wildstone National Park in Nebraska, which features a zip line, pond, gardens, campsites and cabins.

“I feel like it lets you express yourself more than in other classes,” she said.

The curriculum was piloted at Central Manor, Eshleman and Conestoga elementary schools in the fall. It will be implemented at the other elementary schools when the librarians move to their spring semester assignments.

Kudos to our librarians for finding new ways to engage students!