The Online Educator
Pathfinders: Helping Students Find
Paths to Information
By Kelly Kuntz, Coordinator, Intstructional Technology
and Library Services Beaverton (Oregon) School District
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
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 standardsall
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,
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
Using Pathfinders as Models of Searching for Information
The intent of a Pathfinder is to present a selection of resourcesprint,
electronic, and nonprintnot 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
 View sample Beaverton School District Pathfindershttp://www.beaverton.k12.or.us/pathfinder/pathfindersamples.html.
 NCCE 2001 Presentation by Library Media Specialists
in Wenatchee, Washington [http://home.wsd.wednet.edu/pathfinders/path.htm].
 Lance, Keith, (2002) Library Research Service, Denver,
 Minkel, Walter (2002, October). "Making
Every Librarian a Leader," School Library Journal.
Communications to the author may be addressed to Kelly
Kuntz, CoordinatorInstructional 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].