(Note that I wrote this posting for the American Association of School Librarians Blog, and am cross-posting it here.)
I have had the pleasure during the last two years to collaborate with Teresa Nielsen, one of the science teachers at my high school. When she arrived at Mira Costa HS in Fall of 2012, I urged her to bring her classes to the library to work on projects together. For one project, she asked for my input on an assignment in which the students would learn about stem cells and then answer questions about the ethical issues associated with their use. I suggested that, instead of having them answer questions, she have them choose a side and write a letter to their congressmen for or against funding for stem cell research with arguments to support their viewpoints. She liked that idea, and I offered to set up and walk them through a pathfinder for sources and a template to help them learn the structure of a business letter. As a result, in addition to practicing research skills and learning about stem cells, the students also learned about finding their political representatives, how to write a persuasive letter in proper business format, and how to use Google Docs for word processing.
A few weeks ago, Teresa let me know that her Chemistry students were learning about combustion and the benefits and disadvantages of hydrogen power compared to gasoline. In talking about this in class, she told me, a local controversial issue – whether to proceed with drilling for oil off the coast in Hermosa Beach, California – came up, and she thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of this local situation to have the students research the issue, and, like we did with the stem cell project, write and send a letter to a local political figure about their stance on the issue. I agreed that this was an excellent idea! I offered again to set up a pathfinder and prepare a template for a letter to the members of the Hermosa Beach City Council. This time, we went with sending the letter as an email. Here is the pathfinder we used:
Not only did the students write excellent letters voicing opinions on both sides of the issue, but Nanette Barragan, one of the City Council members, responded to many of them, and both she and Hany Fangary, another Council Member, got in touch with Teresa. The students’ letters became part of the March 25 City Council meeting official input, the Beach Reporter featured an article about it, and both Council members came to speak to students from Ms. Nielsen’s class and several other science classes in the library last week.
The students learned about an important “real world” application of their chemistry studies, practiced persuasive writing, and became engaged in an issue affecting their local community.
Nanette Barragan and Teresa Nielsen also signed the Declaration for the Right to School Libraries! (Read my earlier post for information about the declaration, and sign yourself online here.)