Thursday, May 8, 2014

Downtown Central Library Field Trips

As a high school located in the heart of a city, we have all the resources of a major public library system at our fingertips to supplement and support our school library.  The best way we've taken advantage of this is to take our history students on research field trips to Hennepin County's Central Library in downtown Minneapolis.

Hennepin County's Minneapolis Central Library opened in 2006 and is super fancy. 
When school resumed after Spring Break, our ninth graders began their World Cultures history projects.  They could select any historical topic between the years 1500 and 1940, as long as it was from a non-U.S. point of view.  Topics included the Dutch tulip bubble of 1643, court life during the reign of King Louis XIV, the inventor of the mustard gas used during World War I, the science behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the history of the mafiosi in Italy, the disappearance of the USS Cyclops in the Bermuda Triangle, and the formation of the Mercedes-Benz company.  Since students were expected to work with both primary and secondary sources, we decided to introduce them to research at Hennepin County Library.

Over the course of two weeks, Lizz and I accompanied students and teaches on six separate trips to the downtown library branch.  For many of the ninth graders, this would be their first time using public transportation.  We herded the students across the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden by the Walker Art Center, over highway 394 on the Irene Hixon Whitney pedestrian bridge, and to the bus stop on the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Oak Grove Street.  For the most part, we could get a double-section (usually about 25 to 35 students) on a single bus, which didn't generally thrill the other passengers, but it's all part of the wonderful world of public transportation!

Walking through the Sculpture Garden
Crossing the bridge over the freeway.

Once on the bus, we stressed "bus etiquette":  more as far to the back as you can, fill in any empty seats, and accept that you will have to sit next to strangers!  We elected one kid each trip to pull the cord to signal our stop, and after a twenty-minute ride down Hennepin Avenue, we piled off the bus and into the library.

Our students on the bus to the library.
A Blake students makes the acquaintance of a young bus passenger.
Into the library!

The Minneapolis Central branch is very large; most students had not been there before.  We gave them a quick set of instructions:  most of the history materials are on the fourth floor, each student should leave with at least one book either checked out or on request from another library branch, and no coffee from the coffee shop until they found a good resource!  Let the research begin!

As the students searched for their topics, Lizz and I  and the teachers provided guidance on searching the catalog, using subject headings to find similar books, evaluating a book based on all the available information in the library catalog, and using the stacks (always a good time, pushing the buttons to make the bookshelves move!).  We also stressed the art of finding the best book available, not merely the top hit after a simple search.

A student looks in the moveable stacks for a book.
Students use the library's catalog stations to find resources.
Student and teacher evaluate a book together. 

We also helped several students check the status of their library accounts, and in some cases, get library cards for the first time.  One of our goals for the coming years is to make sure every student at the Upper School has a Hennepin County Library card, the better to access the many resources available.

A student gets a library card!

The field trips to the public library prove that research is an adventure, and that finding and using your resources correctly is the most important part of writing a research paper.  The field trips also allow our students a glimpse of the city that our school is part of--an important part of the outing since many of our students commute from the suburbs and rarely leave the school campus until they're juniors or seniors.  Also, libraries are just plain awesome and we love showing them off.  

Students waiting for instructions in the library lobby.
Visiting the coffee shop is a highlight of the library field trips.
Note Lizz, seated below the display case on the right, working with a student.    
Students wait near the library exit for the bus home.
A proud history teacher leads students back onto
the bus after another successful library field trip.
Goodbye, library, until next time!