Making a Difference: Sam Northern

Bringing It Home

When Sam Northern was standing on the deck of the ship Explorer, watching humpback whales breach, leopard seals hunt, and penguins nest, there was only one thing on his mind in the face of these awe-inspiring sights.

His students.

Sam NorthernNorthern, a library media specialist at Simpson County Elementary School, visited Antarctica as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow in a program established by the National Geographic Society that offers immersive experiences to educators, who then use them in their teaching.

For Northern, this once-in-a-lifetime experience mirrors his teaching method: to bring real-world experiences home to his school. And he has found no better way to bring learning to life in countless subjects than with PBS LearningMedia, which is packed with the same kind of video, photos, and journals he logged in Antarctica.

PBS LearningMedia is a comprehensive online multimedia learning service — provided by KET and the Kentucky Department of Education — and is accessible for free to every Kentucky public, private, parochial and home school.

“There’s 200,000 resources on PBS LearningMedia. It’s my go-to place,” said Northern, who has also been named a PBS Digital Innovator for his imaginative and effective use of technology in the classroom.

“PBS LearningMedia’s Lesson Builder allows me to use the resources provided by PBS, and I can embed external links and ask questions,” said Northern, who has also taken a similarly immersive educational voyage to China.

“Everything is included in this one spot. When you’re on limited time, like we are in the library where I see every class once a week for 50 minutes, I want to get the most out of my instructional time. So there’s a lot that I can include, and it makes it a self-paced lesson.”

PBS LearningMedia provides students with a variety of learning opportunities.

“I know that the resources I’m getting from PBS are credible and safe for students, and they’re familiar with how to navigate Lesson Builder. So not only are they getting good content, but they’re starting to get those online navigational skills, and that takes practice,” he said.

PBS LearningMedia not only provides Northern an exceptional way to provide a library curriculum to his students, he also uses its resources to support classroom teachers.

“We also use PBS LearningMedia when teachers request information about a certain topic,” he said. “If they’re doing a unit on raccoons or caribou, I may not have that many books, but I can find on PBS images, videos, there’s ‘interactives’ — I can put all that in a folder, share that URL with a teacher through email, and they can access more than what the library has in its print collection.”

Recently, Northern was leading third graders in their weekly library visit, where the lesson plan was on world folk tales, tsunamis, pets, and dolphins. They participated in four centers, where they did hands-on activities and learned via audio, video, and print media.

“I’m trying to promote multiple literacies; I intentionally think about how students can access content. I’m trying to give them these opportunities to learn how to collect information and how to make sense of information,” he said.

“And it isn’t always [taking] information in. They have to apply the information. So they can read a book, and then think about their own [response] to it through PBS LearningMedia when they answer the questions,” he added.

“Giving them that diversity in the library shows them that the library is not just books — and there is a way to use them in conjunction with other media to obtain a well-rounded view.”

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