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Crestwood, KY – Educators at Camden Station Elementary in the Oldham County School District understand the importance of flexibility. “Our student population has shifted and changed over the past five years,” says Library Media Specialist Lauren Rataj. This has brought about many changes, including its classification as a Title I school.

Flexibility also is one reason teachers at Camden Station have come to love and rely on Big Universe since they began using the digital library five years ago. Not only does it grant their nearly 500 K-5 students access to myriad titles — more than 10,000 eBooks to be exact — but that content can be used in a variety of instructional models by the school’s 28 teachers. Ms. Rataj starts each year with a brief tutorial of the intuitive program. “From that point, teachers make the choice in how to use it.”

Teachers Value Variety
How teachers use Big Universe differs from classroom to classroom. Some teachers have students access eBooks independently on their iPads during reading enrichment times throughout the day, while others assign eBooks that align with lessons in ELA, science, math, and social studies. Big Universe has proven to be an effective tool for reading remediation and intervention to support struggling learners. Other teachers ask students to access Big Universe from home to complete nightly reading requirements.

Before she was Library Media Specialist, Ms. Rataj was a teacher who used Big Universe daily, and she understands the benefits it brings to the classroom. “My favorite part was the simultaneous, instant access it gave students to eBooks,” she says. Every one of Ms. Rataj’s students could access the same book, and she didn’t have to worry about exceeding limits or students being timed out. “Big Universe also can be used at night, when many other digital libraries restrict access.”

Students Appreciate Choice
Students enjoy the benefits of Big Universe’s flexibility, too. “It gives them some choice that they don’t always have in the physical library,” says Ms. Rataj. “They can search by subject or content area, and not only are they able to make choices based on interest, but also reading level.” Because every student can read the same book at different levels, Ms. Rataj believes this helps avoid potential embarrassment that could discourage lower level readers — particularly reluctant readers. “It gives them a boost in their confidence,” she says.  

Plenty of Reasons to Renew
At the end of each school year, Ms. Rataj reaches out to teachers to gather opinions about the programs Camden Station makes available to them. “I send out a survey every year before we renew our subscriptions to make sure we’re spending our money wisely,” she says. The most recent survey results reveal that 44 percent of teachers use Big Universe weekly and 28 percent use it daily in their classrooms. The overall consensus: “Teachers say they can’t live without it.”  

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