When student teachers in the University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education venture out into real-world classrooms for their practicum experiences, it is the faculty’s Curriculum Lab (CurrLab) that equips them with the physical tools to help them succeed.

Much like “Q” in the James Bond films, Kirsten Livingstone and her CurrLab colleagues draw from a large repository of resources to assist the student teachers in their mission, which, while not as hazardous as the ones 007 is called upon to tackle, can be equally challenging: capturing the attention of their students and engaging them in meaningful and productive learning.

Livingstone, one of the CurrLab’s Library Operations Specialists, notes that the department features much more than books. There’s also an assortment of experiential materials such as a microscope and slides; base 10 sets for mathematics; geometric shapes for geometry; replica money for teaching counting; puppets and a puppet theatre; and even a full-size skeleton.

“There’s a lot of interesting things you wouldn’t necessarily have in your school,” says Livingstone, who will have been with the CurrLab for 13 years as of May.

The CurrLab is housed within the university’s main library but is funded by the Faculty of Education. Its role is to support the faculty’s student teachers during their practicum training.

Book materials are collected in keeping with Alberta Education curriculum guidelines. That includes not only textbooks but also fiction.

“We’re very proud of our fiction collection. It’s high-quality fiction,” says Livingstone, noting the lab works to include the winners and runners-up of most children's and young-adult book awards such as the Rocky Mountain Book Award, the American Library Association book awards (Caldecott, Newbery, Pura Belpré, Robert F. Sibert, Michael L. Printz, Theodor Seuss Geisel, etc.) as well as a curated selection of well-reviewed and recommended books.

Livingstone has a deeply ingrained love of books that was developed when she was a youngster, though she admits learning to read was initially a challenge.

I had a hard time learning to read and often complained to my mom that I would never be able to do it. However, once I had my breakthrough, I read just about everything I could get my hands on.”

That included everything from her brothers’ Calvin and Hobbes comics and Star Wars novels to her mother’s collection of Agatha Christie mysteries. “I read it all. I especially loved the classics like Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Lord of the Rings, and pretty much anything by Jane Austen.”

She is also an avid fan of science fiction, though that generally involves her viewing entertainment. “I grew up watching Star Wars and Stargate SG-1 with my family, and got into Doctor Who when it was rebooted.”

Kirsten Livingstone's love of reading laid the foundation for her eventual career. “In junior high, I would spend my lunch hour curled up in the library reading, and in high school, every day after school I would walk over to the public library to wait for my older brother to be finished with football practice. I remember watching my junior high librarian and thinking how awesome that job would be, spending every day just surrounded by books.”

These days other media forms have established their place in her relaxation time. “As an adult, while I do still read, now that I don’t have to fight my brothers for control of a TV or need a reprieve from the chaos of a large family, I have found the amount I read has gone down. Now I’m just as likely to put on a show or movie and cross stitch as I am to pick up a book.”

But books remain a big part of Livingstone’s life, in view of her career. She and her colleagues endeavour to keep up with Alberta curriculum changes to ensure material available to student teachers is current. That involves sorting through a great many resources before selecting those which will be added to the collection. It’s a monumental task since, in a typical year, roughly 1,500 new materials are acquired. The resources include picture books for younger grades, teacher guides for lesson planning, digital subscriptions, videos, ebooks and more – essentially everything a teacher might need, ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

“We want to give them a good crash course and show them what will be available to them,” Livingstone says of their efforts to assist student teachers. “We want to give them the best opportunity to be prepared when they leave the university and go out into the workforce.”

Livingstone’s roles include updating the CurrLab’s website as well as training and overseeing the student assistants who handle some of rudimentary tasks such as shelving materials, creating displays, and processing materials for borrowing. Livingstone also orders supplies, catalogues materials and e-resources, pays invoices, and handles all circulation issues, including fines.

The CurrLab staff includes Cheryl Lynch-Staunton, who works with Livingstone to keep the flow of new books moving smoothly by receiving and cataloguing new materials in the library system. She also creates and manages online library guides (LibGuides) to direct student teachers to resources and information for use in their practicums. She lives with her husband, Marcus, and their three cats, Dexter, Oscar, and Lila.

The work done by Livingstone and her colleagues is behind-the-scenes support, but this support is important to the development of future teachers being trained by the U of L.

It’s very rewarding to say I had my hand in helping some of the best student teachers progress in their schooling,” she says. “The Faculty of Education is so well regarded.”

For Livingstone and the rest of the staff at the faculty's CurriLab, it's mission accomplished.

Writer: Dave Sulz
Photo: Rob Olson

Faculty of Education Staff Series:
Jaimie Iwaasa: Juggling the demands of career, studies, and family

Learn more about the Faculty of Education:
Portfolio of stories (2019-present)
Legacy Magazine (2008-2019)


For more information please contact:

Darcy Tamayose
Communications, Dean's Office, Faculty of Education
University of Lethbridge
Twitter: @ULethbridgeEdu and @ULethEduGrad
Website: uleth.ca/education
BecomeaTeacher.ca | BecomeaTeacherAssociate.ca | EdGradStudies.ca