Managing a public middle school library and media center I’ve become aware of some of the gaps in students’ knowledge of and access to certain resources that can give them a considerable step up in their academic achievement.
My school’s library, like so many in the public school system, is small and underfunded. Despite valiant efforts over the years by administrators and librarians to keep the collection of reference materials and fiction titles up to date and meeting the needs of our changing population, it is still exceedingly difficult to be successful without the necessary financial support. As a result, we are often faced with the dilemma of choosing to weed our titles without guaranteed replacement materials, or keep the resources we have despite the clear signs of a depreciating value to our students.
Fortunately, the addition of the media center – which includes 36 student computers, and 216 laptops that can be borrowed for classroom use – has opened the door to greater information access for students on school grounds, their primary learning environment. Unfortunately, provisions in the primary learning environment are not sufficient to overcome the deficiencies that many students face several months out of the year when not attending school.
Additionally, many parents and students rely on their local schools and educators to guide them to educational resources, often feeling helpless outside school in commanding their own educational journey. Effectively using time outside of school for learning can help students gain ground and momentum in their academic achievement, where they might otherwise see a stagnation or even a decline in achievement.
Free Educational Resources Outside School
Find your public library!
The public library doesn’t just provide books for borrowing. Many public libraries have computers with internet access, as well as resource centers for assistance for academic and community needs. Libraries often offer access to language learning programs, job finding services, literacy programs, tutors, and connections to social services provided by the greater community.
While public libraries still house a large collection of books for children, teens, and adults, most libraries today also offer digital collections for patrons to borrow. EBooks and audiobooks can be conveniently downloaded onto your computer, tablet, or smartphone without having to go to the library or worry about fines accruing if you fail to return the book on time.
Many students find themselves in a “No Man’s Land” when they enter middle school, feeling they lack the time or the means to go to the library. While parents made time to take their children to the library when they were small and learning to read, parents of middle schoolers often step away from actively encouraging continued literacy development in their older children. Also, parents tend to afford middle schoolers more autonomy, but tweens and early teens find going to the library by themselves is outside their comfort zone. As a result, many middle schoolers break the habit of visiting, exploring, and utilizing the library and all its resources. Having access to public library digital materials and services, like eBooks, databases, and online tutoring, can help middle school students narrow the achievement gap.
Best of all, public libraries are free!
To combat the growing problem of library inaccessibility in communities, concerned citizens are providing tiny libraries within their neighborhoods. A very popular consortium of these tiny libraries is LittleFreeLibrary.org which provides a centralized internet resource for those who provide the service or those who want access to the service in their neighborhoods.
Home owners, business owners, and community groups build a publicly accessible “cupboard” for community members to borrow books in their collection. Community members can donate, borrow, and return books with the intent of sharing information and the gift of reading with their neighbors. At LittleFreeLibrary.org you can find a directory to help you find a library in your neighborhood, or the resources to start a little free library in your neighborhood.
Free Internet Opens the Door to Learning
Even if you are fortunate enough to have a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, internet connection can sometimes still be difficult to access. Many public places offer free internet connection, including college campuses, libraries, recreation centers, shopping centers, cafes, bookstores, and transportation centers. While it might not be ideal, finding a convenient and accommodating place where you can access the internet consistently might help you create a routine for effectively using your time outside of school.
Websites like Kids.USA.gov offer free resources, learning materials, games, and projects for students interested in math, science, and engineering. Specifically designed for kids, this website helps explain ideas through easy to do experiments, videos, as well as text explanations that are fun and easy to understand. Coolmath-games.com is also an excellent alternative for students who love playing computer games but also need help in math and science.
For those students interested in computer programing, whether as an app developer or video game designer, a great place to start is to learn how to code. Coding is the text language that developers and programmers use to create websites, applications, video-games, and other digital interfaces we are so familiar with in the 21st century. Learning how to code will likely give students a leg-up academically as well as in preparation for the job market. Websites like code.org provide an enjoyable and easy way of learning the fundamentals of coding, opening the door to learn more advanced coding languages as students progress through their education.
OpenCulture.com offers free educational resources for people of all ages and educational achievement. Offering links to free eBooks, audiobooks, language programs, primary sources, and lesson plans for all areas of study suitable for kindergarten through 12th grade, OpenCulture.com is a great one-stop resource for students who need an extra challenge or need more practice on a specific topic. Most courses are based on an “at your own pace” structure, where the focus is on life long learning and knowledge building.
The Library of Congress offers a tremendous amount of free information, primary source material, curated photographs and artwork, as well as sources for free books. Read.gov is a website supported by the Library of Congress to encourage free access and exploration of the world of books for teens.
Another great source for building literacy through access to published texts is WorldCat.org, a digital library providing information and connection to printed materials. WorldCat.org affords a search of printed materials, and the links necessary to borrow those materials through the public library system, either directly through your local public library or the link+ system used for inter-library loans.
Finally, for those who have set their sights on college, it is never to early to start preparing. Gather information from websites like California College Pathways to help plan for what is expected of you when the time comes to apply to colleges. Scholarships and grants are often available in addition to one-on-one guidance through the application process.
Programs in your public school, like AVID, are designed to help you through all the stages of academic achievement including time organization, developing great study habits, visiting college campuses, filling out applications, and taking entrance exams. And all of this support is free, except for your hard work and dedication to your educational goals and future success.
Give these a try, and let us know what you think. What free educational resources have you found to be helpful to you?