3rd Grade Cartographers

3rd Grade Cartographers by Bel Beeson, School Librarian 

This is my sixth year as the Brandeis School’s librarian, and I think the program that illustrates all of the wonders I have always imagined a library’s potential to be is showcased in the second and third grade pinwheels. I am currently reading The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster to the third graders. We spend the first half of the pinwheel in the cozy reading room, embarking new chapters that lead us into new worlds together, and the second half of class, the students spend as cartographers, illustrating their imaginations into physical space.

Before I was a librarian at Brandeis, I worked as a Writing Table Coordinator at 826 Valencia, a non-profit creative writing tutoring center in the Mission of San Francisco. Others may know this place as the “pirate store”. This is where my life trajectory changed from wanting to be a creative writer, to moving into education. I sat at a place called “The Writing Table” during the afterschool program, where I designed a creative writing program for students that culminated into miniature books of their stories that I illustrated. I was in awe of how students, ages 5-12 used language to write poetry and stories. This learning center mimicked the style of a nautical pirate ship, students were able to explore and discover their imaginations freely, while being supported by educators who were deeply fond of the written word. There was even a fish theater with a puffer fish named Otka that lived in the storefront. The space was warm, creative, and bursting at the ship beams with a whimsy that you could feel falling away as you left the environment for the day. I learned how important a space could be when I entered Brandeis freshly out of library school, and redesigned the library that first summer. I took this opportunity to infuse the Brandeis library with the sort of magic I had witnessed in the libraries, bookstores, and the creative writing centers of which I had spent so much time.

The Phantom Tollbooth is both awe-inspiring and absurd at the same time. Students can interact with the text in a multitude of ways. As a way to gain an insight into the imaginations and insights of our third graders, I designed a curriculum where students are literally able to put their imaginations into topographic space. One of the most rewarding parts of seeing their process is that they are naturally inclined to utilize the skills they have learned from Ms. Bisson’s CREATE program, and their art skills from Ms. Withrington and Ms. Goldstein’s program. And of course, their love for reading from the library program. It’s amazing to see the development of something that they can forever be proud of. One of the most special parts of being a teacher is getting to see the reflection of your students’ learning in a way that allows you to understand how they are viewing the world. Having just met Alec Bings, the boy who is born 3 ft off of the ground, teaching us about how your perspective in life is everything, it’s been a true joy to see the perspective each of your students hold at this point in time.  
Check out some of their amazing maps below!