Tag Archives: teach like a pirate

The Mystery Box: Museum Edition

As librarians we LOVE primary source documents! A few years back, we converted a spare room into a museum and work with local organizations to help history come to life. We’ve been lucky enough to build a strong relationship with our local historical society.


I love my Exploratorium, but I HATE making labels for the items. I realized, I could turn this into a great chance for students to explore on their own. Hence: “The Mystery Box!”

mystery box

The mystery box has 14 items from our historical society. Students are given a sheet to see what they can observe, what they can infer, and what they think the item is.

Due to space constraints, we can only fit half a class in the museum, so we offset that with an essay question about what museums exhibits say about the culture of our area.

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Can you figure out what the items in our mystery box are?


Librarian like a Pirate

Our¬†principal sent 10 teachers to the Association for Middle Level Educators (AMLE) earlier this school year. Since then, we have all been OBSESSED with Dave Burgess’ “Teach Like A Pirate.”

For those of you unfamiliar with “Teach like a Pirate,” PIRATE is an acronym for what you need to have in your lesson. The other big part of “Teach like a Pirate” is having hooks for your activities and lessons. It can be a mystery box, a secret message on the board, dressing up, or through using props. The book is FILLED with great ideas.


Lately, I have been working with people outside of the school library world. In my brainstorming process, I’ve realized that “Teach Like A Pirate” has had a larger impact on my planning process than I had realized.

Being on a flexible schedule, I am always comparing my teacher’s curriculum to what resources I can provide for them. I live in a world a structure, and at first glance, Burgess’ PIRATE philosophy can come across as a messy process. In planning a variety of activities and lessons, I’ve realized that Burgess’ philosophy weaves into the planning process with ease.

To begin the process, I take a look at what I want my audience to achieve. What do I want them to learn, and what activities am I thinking of. This is where we get into the P part of PIRATE. Everyone has passion for a part of their subject.Sharing this passion can make the experience more interesting for your audience. Even if it is an aspect of librarianship that you are not passionate about, you can embed it in something you are passionate about. If we are not sure our audience will pay attention to our message, think of what other features can we add to our activity to make it memorable? Sometimes, we can add technology, sometimes we can introduce it with a hook.


I was lucky enough to get a picture with Dave Burgess at AMLE!

This process has made me less afraid of making a fool of myself. I have also been struck by the “Immersion” aspect of the PIRATE philosophy. I realize that as a librarian, we have to immerse ourselves in both our teacher’s lives and our students lives. For me, it means thinking about not only the traditional needs of my teachers, but the non-traditional needs of my teachers. Can I foster a dialogue that promotes cross-curricular activities, even if I not the one delivering the instruction? Can I put library resources into the hands of students in a forum that they use in their spare time? We’ve been able to do this and so much more.

Now, I know most librarians have a great rapport with their patrons. So we won’t go into detail on that section.

The next section is on “Ask/Analyze.” Burgess is very critical of people who say, “but I’m not creative….” He goes on to say that creativity comes from hard work. It’s a matter of reflecting on what you currently do, and asking the right questions. He challenged the listeners of his presentation to think…”If you had a lesson (or activity/program) that you could sell tickets for…would you have students (patrons) lining up at the door?” This line really struck me. I have a flexible schedule, so I have to make sure teachers see value in what I do. I have been looking at my lessons and activities, and think about why people would WANT to come to the library!

This transformation of how we think about our services and programming can seem like a lot of work, but the teachers in my building would all agree that it’s worth it. It takes time, and teamwork, but your students and patrons will appreciate the work you do on their behalf.

The last part of the book is about enthusiasm. In libraries, we sometimes get bogged down by the negativity of budget cuts and wearing many hats. We have to remember that enthusiasm is something that is remembered…and remember that bad days happen. Even when things don’t go according to plan, we keep ourselves centered and bloom where we are planted.

Check out Dave Burgess’ book¬†Teach Like A Pirate! Even though it’s not specific to libraries, librarians of all types will enjoy this book. If you are looking for more great ideas, check out his weekly Twitter chat with #tlap.