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Introducing Fifth Graders to Government Publications

  • A group of fifth graders enjoying the activities at the library courtesy of the Compass to Campus program.
  • When you think of publicizing Government publications, chances are fifth graders aren’t the audience you have in mind. Nonetheless for the last three years, we have had a unique opportunity to spread the word to those young and eager minds.

    Western Washington University is a public institution with 15,000 students. We have been a Federal depository for almost 50 years. Starting in 2009, Western has had a program called Compass 2 Campus (C2C), spearheaded by Cyndie Shepard, the wife of our president. C2C encourages underprivileged fifth graders to think about attending college by getting them involved in our campus, introducing them to mentors and role models, and so on.

    Picture all the fifth graders from twenty elementary schools arriving one fall day for a grand tour of the campus. Each group will have a few of many different experiences – a science lab, an art class, and so on. Some will visit different parts of the library. The question was: would the Government Information area like to sponsor a station, where three different groups of about twenty students would be entertained during the day?

    It seemed like a great idea, but what exactly did we have in the Federal documents collection that would entertain fifth graders? After racking my brain I came up with four mini-stations. Here is a brief description of each:

    1. NASA Jigsaw puzzles. We have four of them, all images from space (e.g. NAS 1.83:NP-2008-3-011-GSFC ). We set them up on four small “coffee tables” from our offices (so the pieces didn’t get intermingled).

    2. Civics Flash Cards. The Department of Homeland Security provides these cards for potential citizens to study for the test. Students had a great time quizzing each other.

    3. Government Web sites. I created a Web page with links to some of the best Federal pages for kids and had it running on two laptops in our area. The most popular sites were the FBI Kids’ Page, Let’s Go Outside!, and CIA Spy Page for Kids. I also used one of the laptops to answer a genuine reference question: I dug into usa.gov to assist a fifth grader in finding information about her chosen career: herpetology.

    While I supervised half of the twenty-or-so students at these three activities, a volunteer librarian guided the other half around the last station:

    4. Quiz. There were two goals here: to show the students a sample of Government publications and to give them a sense of doing research. Thirteen documents were placed on a table. Each student got one of three pages with four questions on it. (The thirteenth document was used as a sample.) Because the kids didn’t have the time (or in most cases, the skills) to search the books for the answer, we had marked the correct page in each one. All they had to do was figure out which book was most likely to have an answer to the question, open to the marked page, and try to find the answer.

    For example: Loretta Janet Velasquez fought in what war? If you guessed that the correct book was Hispanics in America’s Defense (D 1.2: Hi2/2/989) you would learn on page 20, already marked, that Velasquez fought for the Confederates, disguised as a man. (The phrasing of the question caused an interesting problem: some of the students didn’t know which war the Confederates fought in.)

    After ten minutes the students taking the quiz traded places with the students engaged in the other activities. At the end of the session, each child received a handout with a list of the children’s Web sites on one side and the answers to all twelve quiz questions on the other.

    Participating in C2C has been a refreshing experience, one we tweak each year. Problems have included chaotic arrivals (groups coming late from their previous session), wildly different skill levels (some kids zipped through the quiz in half the time allotted), and varying levels of cooperation from the college student tour guides (it works better if they get involved).

    It is exhausting but fun, and at the end of the day we know that some kids have learned about Government publications and also learned that there are friendly people in the library.