Samuel J. Northern | Movers & Shakers 2020–Change Agents

In five years as a school librarian, Samuel Northern has worked to give meaningful experiences to students, as well as to seize learning opportunities himself. As a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow for Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic, he participated in a 14-day voyage to Antarctica. He gained real-world research experience as Teacher at Sea for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And in 2018, he earned a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant to study project-based learning in Finland.

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

CURRENT POSITION

School Librarian; President-elect, Kentucky Library Association, Simpson Elementary School, Franklin, KY 

DEGREE

MS, Library Media Education, Western Kentucky University, 2014; MA in Teaching, Morehead State University, 2011

HONORS

KET Education All Star, Kentucky Education Television, 2019; Outstanding School Library Website, Kentucky Association of School Librarians, 2017; Presidents’ Scholarship, Kentucky Education Association, 2017, 2014

FOLLOW

@Sam_Northern (Twitter); @themisterlibrarian (Instagram, Facebook); misterlibrarian.com; pbltoolkit.weebly.com; knowledgequest.aasl.org/author/
snorthern/

Photo by Gene Smirnov

Lifelong Learner

In five years as a school librarian, Samuel Northern has worked to give meaningful experiences to students, as well as to seize learning opportunities himself. As a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow for Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic, he participated in a 14-day voyage to Antarctica. He gained real-world research experience as Teacher at Sea for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And in 2018, he earned a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant to study project-based learning in Finland.

"I quickly realized that in Finland, districts customize their curriculum and daily structure to meet students’ needs," says Northern. "Teachers and administrators prioritize students’ overall well-being and development."

Finnish schools employ project-based learning to enrich students’ use of 21st-century skills along with interdisciplinary teaching, student-led instruction, cooperative learning, strategic use of technology, and the development of global competencies, says Northern. By focusing on social and emotional learning skills, students are better able to collaborate and excel academically.

"My library gives students the space and resources they need to experience the world, be it through problem-solving, storytelling, Maker space, product design, or research," he says. "Students construct knowledge through experimentation, virtual reality, 3-D modeling, expert testimonies, geo-tools, and other information sources."

Northern used his observations of Finland’s phenomenon-based learning (PhenoBL) instructional practice to develop his Fulbright Inquiry Project, a website that guides educators through project/phenomenon-based learning. The PBL Toolkit is a user-friendly, easy-to-navigate online platform for starting or enhancing inquiry-based instruction, with information from research and observations, links to resources, downloadable files, multimedia content, and blogs.

"Teachers in my district are now using more inquiry-based learning strategies to engage students in deeper thinking," Northern says. "Instead of front-loading information, teachers encourage students to inquire and investigate before providing explanations."

He is currently a member of the AASL Best Digital Tools Committee, works closely with the Kentucky Council for Social Studies, and has presented several times this year on inquiry-based social studies instruction.

"Most of my students have never gazed upon the ocean, hiked a mountain trail, or entered an art gallery," Northern says. "Some have never left their own town. It is my duty to help develop students’ schema through literature, innovative technologies, and inquiry-based teaching."

Northern points out that students’ exposure to unique cultures is heavily dependent on the teacher. He’s determined to provide that connection. "Each international experience prepares me to facilitate a classroom where students are eager to discover what our varied society has to offer," Northern says. "Understanding the connections [we share] helps students build a tolerance for diversity." 

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