Connected Learning at a High-Tech High School

The YALSA Programming Guidelines help YA library staff plan, create, and evaluate teen programs. In this month’s blog, Michele Rivera, Digital Learning Specialist (aka Librarian) at Sheridan Technical High School in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, explains how she designs “interest-based, developmentally appropriate programs that support connected learning.”

Blogger: Michele, I know that Sheridan Tech is a public magnet high school, what else do we need to know?

Rivera: Like our two “sister” schools in Broward County, Atlantic Tech and McFatter Tech, students who wish to enroll in our school must meet certain academic criteria and enrollment is limited to 600 students. But Sheridan Tech is unique because it was founded on the commitment to a blended learning environment – combining face-to-face instruction with online curriculum, support, and resources. Every student is issued their own laptop. In their first two years, students attend their academic classes full-time on campus, with all their lessons and support available online. In their junior and senior years, they are enrolled half-time in academic classes, and half-time in their chosen technical program. Sheridan Tech offers over twenty different technical career choices, ranging from Automotive Service Technology to Practical Nursing. Students can graduate with a college-ready diploma, articulated college credit, as well as industry certification in their technical field. It is definitely not the old model most people think of as a “vocational school.”

Sheridan Tech Innovative Learning Center

Blogger: With such a unique learning environment, what is your role as librarian and Digital Learning Specialist?

Rivera: We call our school library the ILC, the Innovative Learning Center, because it serves as an extension of the classroom – both physically and virtually to support the blended teaching and learning. I try to do this by “connecting, curating, and creating.”

I connect by collaborating with teachers to design, deliver, and assess technology and resource-based learning tasks and projects. One of these is a year-long culminating senior exhibition project that integrates students’ academic and technical learning. It includes a portfolio and a research-based component in which they explore a topic of their choice related to their chosen technical program. The topic and the final product are chosen by the student with mentoring by myself and other staff members. I have worked with teachers across the school to develop the project steps and final product, and created support materials and resources that guide students along the way.

As a curator, I consider myself a Digital Compass, pointing students and teachers to the appropriate tools, resources, and strategies that help our students learn the effective use of information technologies. I use my libguide and our school’s learning management system, D2L (Desire 2 Learn) to deliver instruction; post tutorials; link resources for each step in our state’s research process model, F.I.N.D.S.; connect to our district and public library databases; and post online lessons in copyright, critical evaluation of websites, argumentative writing, and other learning activities that support classroom projects. These are available for students any time to review and practice whenever there is a need.

I help students create by sponsoring the school’s Multimedia/TV Production Club. I am excited about our new project – the creation of our first-ever, student-produced online school newspaper. Our staff of ten students work on their own time after school, usually collaborating online to create the website, decide on the topics and features, as well as the roles and responsibilities of each staff member. I will give the final approval before publication, but so far, the website looks amazing and very professional. The students are learning not only technology skills, but also developing their independence, self-regulation, self-management, and organizational skills.

Blogger: Tell me about some of your special events and enrichment projects that you have designed.

Rivera: Every month I sponsor a Scavenger Hunt based on that month’s theme. This is a totally independent activity that students can elect to do on their own time. They submit their responses to me through our D2L learning management website. Correct submissions qualify for a drawing to receive a book or magazine of their choice. Everyone who submits may also receive extra credit points added to their grade in one class, with that teacher’s permission.

For example, September’s theme was Banned Books and Celebrating the Freedom to Read. Students took a position on the question, “Should censors limit the freedom of others to choose what they read, see, or hear?” They needed to locate an article supporting their position, and one that refutes their position, citing the two sources and summarizing the evidence from each. Other months focused on topics such as College Going Culture (October); Improving America’s Schools (January); Safer Internet Day (February); Saving the World’s Oceans (April); Expand Your Reading Horizons (May). The “hunting tasks” varied with each topic.

Blogger: How do you connect with community resources and help students find opportunities to “become civically engaged”?

Rivera: This year our public schools will be partnering with Broward County public libraries to issue all students a “BCL Digital Direct Student Library Card,” giving them access to the public library eBooks and research databases. I will be instructing students in using these resources effectively and integrating them into our library programs and projects.

One civic-minded project we have done is called “Read & Feed.” For the past few years, our Teen Readers Book Club has sponsored a “Read & Feed” drive, collecting hundreds of new and used books along with non-perishable food items, canned goods, diapers and wipes for the Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center and the Food Pantry of Broward.

Michele Rivera, Sheridan Tech Digital Resources Specialist

About Margaret Rohrbach

Margie Rohrbach recently retired after 32 years as a high school librarian and English teacher in Broward County, FL. She is interested in exploring how school and public libraries can work together to help teens explore and grow as learners, creators, and citizens.

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