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Magazines > MultiMedia Schools > May/June 2003
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Vol. 10 No. 3 — May/June 2003
The Online Educator
Pathfinders: Helping Students Find Paths to Information
By Kelly Kuntz, Coordinator, Intstructional Technology and Library Services Beaverton (Oregon) School District

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As we begin the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the names of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark figure prominently in every celebration, discussion, and remembrance. Occasionally, the name of Sacagawea is mentioned. Her ability to read the land, her knowledge of nature, and her ability to speak Shoshone saved the Lewis and Clark expedition on more than one occasion and certainly helped to pave their way to the Pacific Ocean. I like to think of Sacagawea as a precursor to the 21st century school library teacher, for she provided succor, support, and guidance. Probably the members of the expedition would have forged their way West without her, but she certainly eased their path and shortened the time spent on the journey. Along the way, her expertise was invaluable. She did not lead the way, but simply pointed them in the right direction.

Pathways on the Information Highway

As our students and staff face the unknown of the information highway, desperately trying to plow their way through unknown territory, they need the quiet, yet effective guidance of a Sacagawea (or a Sacagawe-man). Sometimes they need this advice or counsel during the school day, but more often than not, they need help outside of school hours. This was the dilemma facing a group of library media teachers from 46 schools in Beaverton, the third-largest school district in Oregon:

How could we provide help to our students and staff in their quest for information? How could one high school library teacher guide over 2,000 students and 120 staff members in their research needs? How could an elementary library teacher get his eager fourth graders lined up in the starting gate for their annual state research reports? How could we help teachers who watched their students spend endless hours searching the Internet without ever finding appropriate and relevant information? How could we expand our ability to guide students and staff beyond the reach of our library walls?

We found one answer at the Northwest Council for Computer Education Conference (NCCE) 2001 in Spokane, Washington, at a concurrent session presented by a group of Wenatchee (Washington) School District library media specialists who shared their Pathfinder plan1. This iteration of a Pathfinder is a Web page accessible to students, teachers, and parents that presents resources such as books, magazine articles, keywords, online encyclopedias, Web sites, videos/CD ROMs, community resources, and correlated state standards—all geared to support a particular classroom unit or library lesson2.

A Pathfinder offers students and staff a plan of action, a place to start ... a trailhead for finding information. A Pathfinder is literally a map for locating important information destinations with street signs and helpful hints along the way. It is up to the user to actually follow the route in order to arrive successfully. A Pathfinder does not do the work for the student. Rather, it is a path guiding students as they navigate the complex world of the information age. Nor does a Pathfinder pretend to be comprehensive; it is merely intended as a starting point, a launching pad for students.

Creating a Pathfinder requires close collaboration between the library and the classroom to precisely target the most useful materials. This partnership is an essential ingredient in raising academic achievement as verified by Lance in his recent statewide research studies in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Oregon, and Iowa3. Historically, the work of gathering specific and pertinent reference materials has been somewhat covert, with the results hidden behind the circulation desk in deep file cabinet drawers. Now, by posting these Pathfinders on the Web, library media teachers are making them available 24/7 for students, parents, and teachers. Working together to shape the project and locate appropriate materials at a variety of ability levels, the classroom and library teachers provide for the most efficient use of students' time and for differing ability levels.

Pathfinders offer library media teachers an opportunity to share their vision and mission (as described by Mike Eisenberg, co-definer of the Big 64) with staff and students:

• To teach essential information and technology skills

• To guide and promote reading, books, media, and technology

• To provide information and technology services, systems, resources, and facilities

Creating Pathfinders

To prepare for this 21st century journey using the Pathfinder concept, our first task was to carefully examine the template so generously shared by the Wenatchee library teachers and to customize it according to our own school district needs. By using a basic template, students and staff can rely on the consistency of format and become confident information consumers. A common template also makes it easy for those less comfortable with creating Web pages: They can copy and paste from a word-processing document. A third benefit is that the Pathfinders can be shared among schools and easily tailored to reflect a library media center's particular resources.

A second task was to locate and resize the common icons shown below.

Fortunately, we have some very talented and Web-wise library media colleagues who shared their Web design expertise and provided the icons.

Once we finalized the template, the next step was to invite library media teachers to participate in 3 days of paidstaff development during summer vacation. We asked them to consult with teachers and bring two collaborative units in their book bags. Training included using a Web editor to enter data and working with graphics and borders. For those who wished to go beyond the basics, the district Webmaster was available for consultation and assistance. The basic template could be expanded to include other unique features as needed at each school. For example, several elementary library media teachers added a link to the leveled books used in the reading program, a very useful feature for teachers wishing to expand their thematic units. Others added a "For Teachers" link leading to professional materials on the topic available in their library media center.

Using Pathfinders as Models of Searching for Information

The intent of a Pathfinder is to present a selection of resources—print, electronic, and nonprint—not to list every single item a library has on the topic. Too often students (and staff) look to the Web as the authoritative, single source of information. A Pathfinderdisplays a variety of resources, allowing users to see the range of sources available. And it was clear that we needed to find a way to send the students out to locate additional books while helping them to understand the organization of the library media center. A simple chart of the Dewey Decimal system highlights sections for additional materials, encouraging students to browse the shelves for additional information.

A Pathfinder is powerful because it highlights a variety of resources. Instead of simply listing nonfiction books on Native American life, a Pathfinder may also include fiction, poetry, cooking, or folklore. It can also feature topical periodicals such as Faces, American History, or Zoobooks. Through the section entitled Keywords and Phrases for Searching, a Pathfinder addresses another common problem for novice researchers who sometimes have difficulty in selecting the right keywords.For example, when looking for birds, try "specific birds, such as eagles" or "types of birds, such as birds of prey." Again, the purpose is to guide the student down a useful path, modeling effective search strategies.

An effective Pathfinder does not display a long litany of URLs, but rather ashort, descriptive list of relevant, developmentally appropriate Web sites. The links should be specific enough to guide the student into the data. Rather than sending a fourth grader studying Belize to the CIA World Factbook home page, it is more helpful to link to the URL, sending them directly to the section on Belize. Briefly describing the content of each site listed helps students to develop their information-seeking strategies. Eduscapes [http://www.eduscapes.com], Annett Lamb's outstanding Web site, proved invaluable for elementary and middle school links. We also included links to state standards to help teachers focus on addressing them in their research projects and to help parents understand the relationship between standards and assignments.

Another critical factor for student researchers is the citing of resources or the dreaded bibliography! Links to interactive bibliography assistance sites such as OSLIS (Oregon School Library Information System) [http://www.oslis.k12.or.us/tutorials/cited/index.html] and to Noodlebib were built into the template. When the formerly free Noodlebib changed to a subscription fee for use, the links had to be deleted in each Pathfinder. It is important to remember that Web sites are dynamic and subject to change, so Pathfinder creators must regularly check all links for functionality and appropriateness, replacing them if a more pertinent, useful link is available.

Lessons Learned, Benefits Reaped

A year has passed since the introduction of the online Pathfinder concept to the library media teachers in Beaverton, allowing us time to reflect upon the process, outcomes, and lessons learned. Creating Pathfinders requires a commodity rare in the life of a library media teacher: time! We needed time to meet with teachers, to personally view and evaluate the resources in terms of the audience, to load the data onto the template, and to revise and update as needed. We needed support for technical questions. During the 3-day summer workshop and subsequent inservice days, the district Webmaster was available for assistance to help with those "How do I ... ?" or "Help, I can't make my graphic fit on the page!" questions. We also discovered it is important to identify the big assignments. And we learned that the search for community resources was often elusive, depending on the topic.

Looking at the positive results, it is clear this endeavor put a public face on our libraries, which now have a prominent spot on their school Web pages. It pushed the envelope for those library media teachers who were somewhat fearful about publishing Web pages. It created a unique opportunity for collaboration between library and classroom teachers. In addition, because the entire collection of Pathfinders is posted on the district intranet, teachers and other library media teachers can browse and look for new ideas and resources.

The bottom line is that we are supporting students by guiding them through the gridlock of the information highway, assisting them in the development of effective search strategies, and helping them to understand that information is available in a variety of formats and from many resources, places, and even people.

REFERENCES

[1] View sample Beaverton School District Pathfinders—http://www.beaverton.k12.or.us/pathfinder/pathfindersamples.html.

[2] NCCE 2001 Presentation by Library Media Specialists in Wenatchee, Washington [http://home.wsd.wednet.edu/pathfinders/path.htm].

[3] Lance, Keith, (2002) Library Research Service, Denver, Colorado
[http://www.lrs.org/School_stats.htm].

[4] Minkel, Walter (2002, October). "Making Every Librarian a Leader," School Library Journal.



Communications to the author may be addressed to Kelly Kuntz, Coordinator—Instructional Technology and Library Services, Beaverton School District, 16550 SW Merlo Road, Beaverton, OR 97006; 503/591-4416; Kelly_Kuntz@beavton.k12.or.us. Kelly is also currently serving as president of the Oregon Educational Media Association [http://www.oema.net].

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