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Little Libraries Lead to Big Learning Experiences for Othello Students


Many adults lament that today’s students aren’t leaving school equipped with the essential skills necessary to succeed in “the real world.” The shift by numerous school systems to incorporate more intentional Project Based Learning is, in part, a response to this demand. According to the Buck Institute for Education, “Project Based Learning (PBL) prepares students for academic, personal, and career success, and readies young people to rise to the challenges of their lives and the world they will inherit.”

In early August 2018, Othello school staff gathered to attend a three-day training led by a team from the Buck Institute.  The goal was to build the capacity of Othello’s teachers and leaders to design and facilitate Project Based Learning district-wide.  Othello Superintendent Dr. Hurst charged his administrators with the goal to engage 25% of every Othello school in PBL.  Desert Oasis High School Principal Joshua Tovar decided that his school’s smaller student enrollment was no excuse for small-scale participation.  That’s why, when the idea to build “Little Libraries” was pitched to Principal Tovar, he knew it was the perfect PBL opportunity for his staff and students.

Project Based Learning requires that students work on a project over an extended period of time that engages them in solving a real-world problem. In creating a product and presenting on their work, students are able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.  More than reading out of a textbook or completing worksheets, students gain deeper knowledge of the content through critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.

Project Based Learning also begins with a driving question. At Desert Oasis High School, the question posed by Principal Tovar to his team:  How can we design a project that will increase the literacy rate in our community? 

“If you look at our past English Language Arts scores,” says Principal Tovar, “you can see that literacy is a challenge.  We know at our school; our kids don’t read enough. Reading has been an issue in our community.”

The answer to this real-life driving question came through the process of building a Little Library.  Now a worldwide endeavor, Little Free Libraries (est. 2009) are a neighborhood book exchange that invites community members to take and/or leave a book inside a small structure, oftentimes a small wooden box.  The intent is to inspire readers and strengthen communities.

Desert Oasis was the first Othello school to attempt a PBL project at a school-wide level.  Principal Tovar said it was a big risk to begin at such a broad level, and they had to shut down all other school activities for a day-and-a-half to let the project take over the school.  Using the school’s gym and courtyard, the DOHS team created a sort of “Makerspace” for the project. The 85 students shared materials and tools as they worked in their six separate advisory classes, each group building its own little library. Over the course of roughly a month, DOHS students were highly engaged in their project based learning, some using tools for the first time in their lives.

“It was so encouraging to see kids that normally don’t get involved in things being completely engaged,” says Principal Tovar.  “Even when we told them to go to lunch, they wanted to keep going.”

The six completed Little Libraries will be installed at Othello Manor, Sackman Law Office, McDonald’s, Othello Housing Authority, Wahitis Elementary, and Desert Oasis High School.

To conclude their first school-wide PBL experience, DOHS is hosting a Little Libraries Assembly at the school on Tuesday, November 13th at 2:15 PM.  During the assembly, each advisory class will present on their work and their experiences in the hands-on learning.  The many local donors, partners, and clients who came together to make the project a success will also be thanked during the assembly.  Donors include Builders First Choice Lumber, ACE Hardware Paint, and Johnson’s Glass-Plexi Glass.  The Othello district maintenance department was also instrumental in the production of the little libraries.

Othello community members are invited to attend the DOHS Little Libraries Assembly beginning at 2:15 PM on Tuesday, November 13 at 825 E. Ash in Othello.  Staff and students are looking forward to the assembly as a time to celebrate the great success of the district’s first, school-wide attempt at Project Based Learning.  As the 2018-2019 school year continues, each school across the district will continue to focus on Othello’s commitment to engage all students in learning that equips them with skills to succeed in after they leave the classroom walls.

 

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