Last winter, I was asked by staff in the Office of Library Services in the New York City Department of Education if I would consider being a consultant on a grant that they were submitting to the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Melissa Jacobs Israel spear-headed the project, which was awarded one of the IMLS National Leadership grants.
The official description of the grant reads as follows:
The New York City Department of Education will build a digital gateway for students and teachers called “Project ECS@ESC: Encouraging Connections through STEM” at the Environmental Study Center. This will offer rich and engaging experiential environmental science programs for students and teachers at all grade levels. The project will develop a digital depository of educational materials and digital resources that connect instructional content and programs. Educators and students will access the instructional resources beyond the walls of ESC, facilitating STEM-focused inquiry experiences in the classroom and utilizing instructional materials, e-content, and digital resources. It will also create a digital depository using Springshare’s Libguides, an online content management system, to provide e-content focused on STEM topics and themes.
|Photo copyright Environmental Study Center, NYC Public Schools|
I think the design of the project is brilliant (which I can say because I didn't plan any of it - the Office of Library Services and Environmental Study Center team did). Teachers and school librarians from New York City Public Schools volunteer (and get paid) to be on a planning team to curate text sets and develop curriculum units aligned with the offerings of the Environmental Study Center. Teams are comprised of two classroom teachers, one school librarian, and one staff member from the ESC. The teams receive professional development on inquiry-based science instruction, digital resources available via databases that the NYC schools subscribe to, and the process of creating and using multimodal, multigenre text sets.
I spent a Saturday in early January working with the first two teams, providing professional development on text sets and text selection, drawing from the ideas in my two books Teaching with Text Sets (Cappiello & Dawes, Shell, 2012) and Teaching to Complexity (Cappiello & Dawes, Shell, 2014). The teams were interesting and interested, engaging and engaged. It was a joy to a work with them, all while hearing the squawks and squeaks of the animals from the Center in the background.
The teams will continue to meet under the guidance of staff from Library Services and the ESC. They will develop text sets and curriculum. My colleague and co-author Erika and I will review the work and provide feedback. Once the curriculum is finalized, it will become available to all in a public Libguide, along with the curated digital resources, e-books, etc. available to teachers using the curriculum with the NYC school district. Over the summer, the two teams will provide professional development for the teachers who will be using the newly-designed curriculum next school year. Then, the process starts all over again, for a total of three years.
Erika and I are the only outsiders. Otherwise, this grant uses the expertise that is already in the system, and creates a new network of curriculum experts in the teams of teachers and librarians. The process produces locally-created curricula for the school system, utilizes an amazing local resource that gets students out of the confines of the classroom and gives them the opportunity for hands-on science, and creates a cadre of teachers and librarians working across districts within the system who have increased knowledge of curriculum design, inquiry, text selection and text sets, and a sense of agency based on their delivery of professional development to their colleagues.
Isn't it marvelous? Isn't it a great example of harnessing strengths within a school system and building capacity? It could easily be replicated with other content areas. I'm sure there are other projects out there working with a similar model, and I'd love to hear about them in the comments section. I'll report out more as the project progresses here on this blog and in other venues with Melissa and her team.