New York librarian promotes Techspert team idea at local library conference

By Garrett Simmons

Lethbridge School District No. 51

Communications Officer

When is a library more than just a library?

For Kristina Holzweiss, school librarian at Bay Shore Middle School in Long Island, New York, a lot happens inside her library. School Library Journal’s 2015 School Librarian of the Year, Holzweiss sees the library inside her 1,400-population school as a place of excitement and discovery for students.

A huge part of that are the student Techspert teams she has created. Techsperts, typically in Grade 7 and Grade 8, with a sprinkling of Grade 6s, harken back to the days when students assisted teachers with audio-visual clubs in high school, and resemble the elementary-school model of student helpers.

“It’s really kind of oldschool,” said Holzweiss, who made a presentation Thursday morning at the Lethbridge School District No. 51 Commons Connection Library Conference 2016 at Chinook High School.

The concept is simple – groups of students apply to be part of a Techspert team. They submit an application, complete with references from three adults inside the school, and those selected participate in the program, which runs similar to an internship.

“The kids take it seriously,” said Holzweiss, who added the students are committed to their team, and treat it almost like a job.

The roles and responsibilities of Techsperts is virtually limitless, she added, as the goal is to make students feel welcome inside the library and have them be part of something special.

“We teach them to create websites, how to use Twitter and produce video tutorials. I want our students to be life ready, and to go out and get the jobs they want, be productive people and be part of the global community. Kids are digital citizens of the world now.”

But helping students learn the skills they will need going forward is only part of the equation. A Techspert helpdesk welcomes those who enter the library, as team members are constantly on hand to help their fellow students with a wide variety of tasks.

“It’s also about student empowerment,” said Holzweiss. “Having students have ownership empowers them to have control of their learning. Kids get tired of listening to adults, and learning from their peers can be very helpful.”

Techsperts at Bay Shore Middle School also assist their fellow students with projects that require technical assistance, and team members have also been known to help teachers solve tech-related issues. As the school transitioned from Apple computers to Chrome laptops, Holzweiss said one Techspert typed out step-by-step instructions, including screenshots, to help teachers navigate through the use of their new computers. She added that is just one example of how students have embraced the Techspert model.

“Any way you can empower students in your library to take responsibility of a job or a responsibility, they will flourish and become people you never thought they would become. It’s important to give them those opportunities.”

Holzweiss also mentioned one student who placed an iPad on a stand and recorded a tutorial about how to complete an origami project, a tutorial he shared with other students.

“It’s really about flipping the classroom and having the kids decide what they want to make videos of,” said Holzweiss, who added those videos are then added to their student-created websites.

Team members also help out inside the library, performing a wide variety of tasks, from cleaning up, ensuring laptops are charged and stored correctly to writing book recommendations.

“The techsperts can do a lot of the things you don’t have time to do.”

But Techspert teams are not the only way Holzweiss engages students within her library. Makerspaces are set up inside the library, which allow students to create a wide range of items, with a few common goals in mind.

“We have a kid’s kindness cart, where students can write cards for sick kinds, make blankets for babies or write letter to veterans. It’s a way for them to not just make something, but make a difference by creating something in their makerspace to connect with their community.”

The library also utilizes elliptical machines and features pedal bikes under desks, so students can get a physical workout while they work up a mental sweat.

“In middle school, there’s not enough time to let off energy, so this gives them opportunities to exercise their minds and bodies in the library,” said Holzweiss.

She added her library is also complete with 45 Chrome laptops, 23 iPads a 3D printer and various robots, along with other tools and toys, technology acquired through donations, grant money and through www.donorschoose.org.

Holzweiss also mentioned her current favourite toy for her students, Bloxels (www.bloxelsbuilder.com), which allows students to physically place tiny blocks into a small black tray, blocks which are then scanned with an iPad, to become a custom-made video game.

But whatever direction schools want to take with their libraries, in terms of technological integration or community-based projects, Holzweiss added it’s all about preparing students for the future.

“Go out and empower your students to do great things in the world.”

To learn more about Holzweiss and her library at Bay Shore Middle School, visit her blog at http://www.bunheadwithducttape.com

Date posted: Nov. 10, 2016