FORT ATKINSON

It has been a long time since school libraries were regarded simply as places to find a book.

But neither are they just places for working on computers.

Over the last two decades, schools have made an effort to ensure their libraries had computer labs. Today, many of those labs are out of date as school libraries try to meet modern demands and transform themselves into “discovery spaces with books.”

Fifteen library media specialists from the Janesville School District visited Luther Elementary School in Fort Atkinson last week to gather ideas on how libraries can better engage students.

Among them was Shelley Gard, director of the Janesville district’s library program. Her full title is “21st-century learning program support teacher,” which means she’s the liaison between the Janesville district’s information technology team, curriculum specialists and library media staff.

She and her staff help Janesville schools stay one step ahead of current trends. Teachers have too much on their plates to know about the latest technology or innovation that can help students, she said.

“It’s always pushing beyond tradition. When new stuff comes up, how can we use it to help?” Gard said.

Nedra Sadorf, CEO of Nasco, a Fort Atkinson company that offers classroom instructional materials, asked the Janesville educators to help Nasco understand their schools’ needs.

What do students need the opportunities to do? she asked. What would you do if you had a million dollars? A magic wand?

One media specialist said she wanted to give students the chance to “create, make and innovate.” Another hoped to inspire classroom teachers.

The group agreed on the need to let students learn independently and creatively—what Sadorf called a move from being “a sage on the stage to a guide on the side.”

The resulting lessons and learning tools should be mobile and flexible, offering students different ways to solve a problem or create an outcome.

While the feedback and discussion will help Nasco develop its products, “understanding their challenges helps us,” Sadorf said.

Jordan Nelson, Nasco science sales manager, said Friday’s goal was to give educators suggestions they could take back to their schools.

“It’s giving them ideas and abilities to take back, to implement solutions and collaborate with each other,” he said. “We’re not trying to sell anything; it’s more of a brainstorm.”

Nelson demonstrated the benefits of housing bugs, worms and tadpoles in school libraries, saying he wanted to show the importance of experiences.

The educators also learned about hydroponic and aquaponic indoor gardens and teaching coding through Legos and circuits.

“Not every teacher is going to reach every student,” Nelson said, “but an experience can last a lifetime.”

Gard said she was encouraged by what her staff took away from the demonstrations.

“It gives us ideas, affordable ideas that we can definitely do,” she said. “Not pie in the sky; it’s little things to change the culture.”

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