When some first-graders at East Heights School recently studied a unit on apples, they didn't begin in the classroom.
Instead, they started in the library, with a book on Johnny Appleseed.
Their teacher, Nancy Scott, and the school's librarian, Marilyn Baxter, devised the apple unit covering subjects ranging from math to science to art after they'd brainstormed for ideas and discovered that Sept. 26 is Appleseed's birthday.
Increasingly in Lawrence's public schools, elementary students are participating in units that are "team taught" by their classroom teacher and their school's librarian.
"One of the things we're trying to make kids realize is the library is a place to go for all kinds of information," said Susan Peterson, the coordinator for elementary librarians in the district.
A REFERENDUM passed by local voters two years ago increased the number of librarian positions in the elementary schools, so it's now possible for librarians to take on more of a teaching role, Peterson said. Their role used to be more supervisory, as students went to the library while teachers used the time for planning.
In addition, the district has hired more art teachers in recent years, which has increased the amount of time regular classroom teachers and librarians can devote to planning special activities, Peterson said.
"It's a way to have another pair of hands for special activities," she said.
IN THEIR APPLE unit, the first-graders at East Heights visited a nearby orchard after they'd talked about the parts of an apple tree and about how apples grow.
In an art project, they made placemats with designs they made by dipping apples into various colors of paint. In language arts, they worked on the vocabulary of apples and practiced writing by expressing what they liked best about their trip to the orchard. In a math activity, they counted the seeds inside apples they brought back from the orchard and determined that the largest apples don't necessarily have the most seeds.
The children also involved their parents by asking them for their favorite apple recipe, which they placed in a recipe book to take home. Finally, in a birthday party for Appleseed on Tuesday, the children participated in making apple fritters from a recipe provided by one of the parents. Baxter also read a biography of Appleseed, reinforcing what most of the children knew about him from other books.
"THE GENERAL idea is to integrate the curriculum of the classroom by backing up what they're doing in the library," said Baxter. "I'm supposed to try and be an extension of whatever the teacher's doing."
The new practice of integrating the classrooms with the libraries requires a good deal of creativity and planning, said Baxter, but seems to be working well for everyone involved, especially the students.
"With something like this, kids won't be forgetting what they've learned," said Baxter. "If all you do is open up a book and say `it's Johnny Appleseed Day,' then you're going to lose them. In this, where she integrated the science, they liked it and were really interested, but they didn't know they were learning science."
Scott, a teacher who enjoys the challenge of coming up with creative units that integrate many areas of curriculum for her students, said having someone to help her relieves a lot of the pressure.
"I don't feel like I'm the only one doing this," she said.