How do you make the Dewey Decimal system exciting to young “digital native” students? The library classification system dates back to 1876, yet remains relevant today as a way for organizing books and ideas.
Patton Junior High School English Language Arts (ELA) teachers Penny Paradies and Celene Pallesen collaborated with school librarian, Kelly Funk, to take students on a journey that not only taught the Dewey Decimal system, but teamwork, project management, and public speaking skills as well.
Paradies explains, “We were looking for a way to engage students that would do more than teach the basic numbering of the system. Working with Kelly, we came up with the idea of a group project that would have a teamwork and technology component, and also satisfy several important Common Core standards.”
During the first two weeks in October, the two ELA teachers combined their 7th grade classes and organized the students into teams of about 3-4 students each. Students were given the task of learning about a certain section of the Dewey decimal system and then teaching back what they had learned via a slide deck and live oral presentation to their peers.
“We let the kids use iPads in the library then turned them loose!” laughs Paradies. “We gave them some guidance, but it was fairly open.”
Students spent one class period in the library, roaming the shelves. Some groups took pictures of the book covers and others took pictures of the insides of the books or certain pages.
“It was really interesting to see how the different groups chose to interpret and approach the assignment in various ways,” says Paradies.
Students uploaded photos from their iPads to Google Drive, then began creating a group presentation using the Google Presentation application. “After the library day, they had four in-class collaboration days for face-to-face time,” says Paradies. “And some of the groups chose to work online from home at the same time. The beneficial part of the software is that multiple people could edit the presentation document simultaneously. This was a great lesson in communication, respect, and efficiency. There was a lot of collaboration and some great conversations.”
Paradies appreciated the fact that she could let the students run their groups independently, while at the same time, she could step in and monitor–wherever and whenever–the students were working. “As the teacher, I could pop into the document and add comments, ask questions, and see how they were doing. Being able to view the revision history is handy, too, because it gave me a sense of how the students were or weren’t interacting as a team.”
The two ELA teachers observed lots of teamwork. “While they were gathering photographs and planning their presentations, I found that if one kid had a technical question, another kid would jump in to help before I even got over to see,” says Paradies. “There was a lot of cooperation!”
Common Core Integration
“This project felt successful on several fronts,” says Paradies. “There are public speaking and listening skills from the Common Core, plus the Dewey Decimal system and the technology aspect. Covering the decimal system may not seem very exciting at first glance. However, all the kids eventually found a number of books that they might not normally have stopped to see in the library.”
There was an ulterior motive to all this, admits Paradies. “This was our October kick-off activity for the second quarter. After this, the seventh graders will be doing non-fiction book reports. Being exposed to the wide spectrum of non-fiction books because of this project, the kids realize that there is more to non-fiction than just biographies and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not-type books! It teaches them how the library is organized, which is still relevant today. And we kept them thinking about that afterwards, asking each student to note down one fact they learned about the Dewey Decimal section they studied and an additional fact from another group’s section.”
The project had a mix of high-tech and low-tech. Taking photographs of paper books with iPads. Giving a traditional “front of the room” oral presentation using a slide deck developed “in the cloud.”
The culmination of the project was presentation day. “We have an ‘everybody speaks’ rule,” says Paradies. There are some shy kids in the class, but we had participation from everyone. Each student had a slide or two they were ultimately responsible for and had to share with the rest of the room. We really saw some people open up. They had to think about what they wanted to say and how best to communicate it.”
Every student in a group shared the same grade that the their teacher assessed. “This was a team effort, in every sense of the word,” says Paradies. “Then, afterwards, I informally asked each student to realistically assess themselves. Seventh graders are blatantly honest, I’ve found. And they were clear if other kids had or hadn’t done the work. I think this post-project reflection made the kids more aware of what they do or don’t do to carry their weight.”