Over spring break this year my library focused on maker and STEAM based activities – we called it Make Your Break! The highlight of the event was a drop-in all ages Maker Mania day where we let library users test, tinker, and try some tech tools and maker stuff. Our event was very successful, bringing in a crowd on a Wednesday afternoon.
What we did:
- Set up stations for various hands-on activities. I provided a menu of what tech tools were available for tinkering.
- Allowed for all ages, so families could come together.
- Made it a drop-in event over two hours so families could come when it was convenient for them.
- Had back up staff available in case of crowds or technology trouble shooting needs.
- The menu and the stations worked really well. We had tools that would appeal to a wide variety of ages: Bee-Bots and the Osmo for the younger set – Sphero and Lego WeDo for older kids. Kids were able to check out what they were interested in and we had enough stuff for there never to be long lines (except for Sphero).
- Having the event be for all ages worked wonderfully. That way families could attend the event with all their kids. I’ve found that parents and caregivers are very curious about anything STEAM related. This lets the parents try the tools with their kids and do a little tinkering themselves.
- The Spero! Our library Sphero is having trouble holding it’s charge. Luckily we had a back up, which worked great, for an hour. But our program was two hours! Those who came at the end really didn’t get to try out the Sphero and well, that is just a bummer.
- Staffing this type of even can be difficult. Luckily we had staff who was ready and willing to lend a hand. But if you are solo on your own, two hours of eight hands on activities might be a little overwhelming.
Overall this was a great event, and I’m really glad it went well. We also made sure to promote the Make Your Break activities to the schools and through our other outlets. This was key! Patrons who attended appreciated the opportunity to tinker and many asked if the materials would be circulating soon. Circulating STEAM and maker kits is the next step at my library and I can’t wait to get started on the project!
We are happy to feature a guest post from Ann Carpenter!
Ann Carpenter is the Youth Services Librarian at the Brooks Free Library in Harwch, MA. Among many other programs, she runs a monthly Engineering Challenge for school aged children.
Engineering Challenge: Marble Runs
Around 15-20 school aged kids can participate. More can be accommodated if you have them work in groups. Each group should have at least two pieces of foam.
10 6 foot pipe foam pieces at $1 a piece. You will also need marbles and masking tape, but those are things I had around the library anyway.
We talked about momentum demonstrating that a marble rolled along a mostly flat track will stop, but a marble rolled down an inclined track will keep going, and that marble rolled down a very steep track can build up enough momentum to keep going even uphill. Once they had the general idea, I gave them the first challenge: to build a roller coaster that allowed the marble to go up and over a hill. I purposefully make my first level of challenge relatively simple so that every child participating will have at least one success by the end of the program.
To accomplish their challenge the children were given pipe foam that I had cut in half lengthwise, forming a channeled track. The pipe foam was perfect for our purposes: very flexible for young hands to manipulate and very cheap at about $1 for a 6 ft tube, which provided 2 channels. I also gave them access to lots of tape. Our second level of challenge was to create a loop-the-loop. I told the children who completed the second challenge that they could either do a free design, or they could try for two loop-the-loops. Most chose to try for two loops.
- Difficulties and challenges:
One thing I noticed during this program was that it was not enough for the children to accomplish the task: they needed me to be a witness to their success. This meant running around the room quite a bit so that I could personally watch marbles rolling around the tracks. The looks of delight were definitely worth it. Emphasize that engineering is a process, and they may need to try out their design, then go back and make adjustments based on results.
There is a really easy thing to do to make people feel welcome and part of the library. Invite them. It seems very simple but I often think we make simple things more complicated than they need to be. When you break something down, and get to the root of the issue – sometimes the simplest answer is often the one that makes the most sense.
So when you have those moments of, “why is no one coming to my program?” or “why do my coworkers not understand what I’m doing?” or “why can’t I do this because of (insert whatever you are struggling with here)?” It might be good to stop and make sure whatever you are doing is inviting and welcoming. Is your program at a bad time for the people you are trying to serve but fits awesome in the library schedule? Well, that’s not very inviting for the people you are trying to serve. If you get a chance ask people why they couldn’t make it and then give them a reason to come to the library – extend an invitation.
Do you sometimes struggle with advocating for kids with your coworkers? I think everyone feels this at some point and it hits like a brick. And sometimes it is really hard to work your way out from that feeling. And that’s okay. But dwelling too long in that feeling won’t help. Advocacy can be a friend here. A large part of advocacy is getting the entire library team on the same page, and that means you have to understand and appreciate. I think inviting people to see what you do and why you do it is a huge way to break down some walls. Invite staff to programs personally, let them observe. Show them the tech you are using. Did you get Sphero/Cubelets/MakeyMakey/etc.? Let them try it and if they have concerns – listen! Talk about why you do what you do, and why. Then ASK them about what they are doing – congratulate them on their success. Because the library is one team and that team deserves the recognition.
Inviting people is essential and I think it is taken it for granted. We must honor the trust the public gives us for wanting librarians and library staff to serve their community. After all, the library belongs to the people – make sure they know they are welcome and wanted.