By Mike Marsee
Emily Northcutt is no science teacher, but that didn’t stop her from experimenting.
Northcutt, the library media specialist at LeGrande Elementary School (Hart County), was the only school librarian to sign on for the Next Generation Instructional Design project. The project is a statewide initiative of The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky to promote collaboration among teachers to develop standards-based lessons and assessments.
Northcutt said she thought the NGID project presented the perfect opportunity for her to do on a larger scale what she already was doing in her school.
“They had placed an emphasis on wanting people to part in this project who were interested in furthering collaboration between teachers, and to me that’s one of the most important things that a library media specialist can do,” Northcutt said. “I thought it would be an interesting idea to take what I have learned to do with teachers in my own building and apply it to a statewide project.”
Northcutt was the only library media specialist among 49 teachers from across Kentucky who were selected for the 2015-16 NGID Network – one of the other 48 has since moved into a library position – for their commitment to professional learning and their interest in collaborative teaching.
Northcutt works at a small school; LeGrande Elementary has about 250 students in grades K-8. She said she welcomed the chance to work with other teachers beyond her school’s walls, just as she was already doing within them.
“Being able to interact with new people in other teaching contexts is always a positive,” she said. “I was very excited.”
She also was excited about the chance to step outside her comfort zone. Northcutt, who said she was certified in 8-12 English before becoming a library media specialist, joined the NGIS middle school science group, which is designing lessons that implement the Kentucky Academic Standards for Science.
“I think the easy route would have been to join an English/language arts group, since that is what most of my practical experience and my education is in,” said Northcutt, a National Board certified teacher who has spent the past 10 years at LeGrande Elementary after four years in Fayette County. “With the science standards being new to all of us, I thought if I was going to take this on as a learning opportunity for me, I felt that it would be the most beneficial to my practice as a school librarian to dig into these new standards and practices and learn how I can best support that kind of learning.”
Renee Boss, initiative director for The Fund, said Northcutt’s application to the NGID Network stood out.
“When we saw her application come through as a library media specialist, we were especially intrigued because we were curious about how that might look in designing curricula,” Boss said. “It’s been a beautiful example of cooperation. She’s been able to show what true collaborative teaching and collaboration look like for a library media specialist with science teachers.”
Northcutt has been working with middle school science teachers Amy Eads of Woodland Middle School (Kenton County) and Patrick Goff of Beaumont Middle School (Fayette County) on a science unit. Nathan Lockhart, a science teacher at Tates Creek Middle School (Fayette County) also is working with the group behind the scenes.
“I think I might have surprised my group members along the way with contributions that I was able to make to the process,” Northcutt said.
Her group’s project is now in the revision phase of their unit in which the three teachers are analyzing student work and determining how they can improve it based on its implementation in their schools.
“All in all, I think it was really well received. The students seemed to be engaged in the tasks that we gave them to do and the topic that we chose,” she said. “We hope to have a finished product before the start of the school year, with the intention to reteach this same unit next year and see where the improvements come into play.”
She said she has had the cooperation of LeGrande’s longtime middle school science teacher, Annette Jones, in implementing the group’s unit at her school.
“I’m not a science teacher, but we frequently combine our strengths to help our students. I couldn’t have taught this without her expertise,” Northcutt said.
As a result of developing a deeper understanding of the NGSS, Northcutt said she wants to incorporate more STEM and STEAM instruction into her own library program.
Northcutt said she has shown that libraries and librarians can be an important part of the instructional process.
“There’s always instruction going on in classrooms that you can help other teachers implement,” she said. “Being a school librarian is not just about providing access to books; sometimes the information that teachers and students need is on a topic you’ve never heard of in an electronic place that you didn’t know existed. You have to be a life-long learner to be effective.”
Boss said Northcutt’s contributions are being felt beyond the middle school science group.
“To bring her on with that different perspective and experience, it benefits not just the science teachers in her group, but all of the 49 teachers in The Fund,” Boss said. “She has given us examples of what collaboration between library media specialists and other teachers might look like, not only in their school but across school and district lines.”
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