Perseverance and Problem Solving

Makey Makey, Raspberry Pi

What a lucky kid. Seventh grader C is an active participant in our library’s summer reading club. Last year, his first year participating in the teen program, he won the big tech-focused prize: a Raspberry Pi setup. This year, he was one of the random drawing winners again, and selected the MakeyMakey*.

excited price is right prize winner

When he and his mom stopped by the library’s table at the Junior High’s registration night to tell me what he’d been up to with all of this tech, he was glowing, and his mom was excited too. And just what had he been up to? Building a media server for his house. With the prize he won from the library for reading books.

I asked him to come over to the library some time and chat about what he’d learned, and hoped he’d share his ideas on technology in the library. We had a really interesting conversation. I showed him the pieces that I’ve been collecting for our circulating technology collection, and he had some great ideas on how to promote the collection. There was definitely more than a spark of curiosity and hunger when I asked if he would help me figure out how to use the tools.

When I asked what he had learned while working with these tools, I expected to hear about how he’d learned a lot about programming in Linux. Or how he’d discovered some fun vintage games online while looking for ways to play with the Makey Makey. What I didn’t expect was an answer that we can all learn so much from.

“I would say, perseverance and problem solving. Definitely. Yeah.”

My librarian heart grew three sizes.

grinch heart growing

This is, of course, the “right” answer. It’s the one we hope for, and the one that here, at the Robot Test Kitchen, we believe in sincerely. But it’s not the answer we often hear the young people we work with repeat. We hear about the fun they had finding the vintage games. We hear about their new sills in Linux. And though we might see them persevering and problem solving, those aren’t the skills they can usually pull out as evidence of their learning. What made the difference here that allowed this teen to make and then verbalize that connection so unwaveringly? I think there are several elements at play here.

First, he has ready access to the tools he used. He had them in his home, and he had time to use them.The ability to approach the technology on his own terms, when he’s in the frame of mind to be open to trial and error is key. This is obviously not a possibility for a lot of teens. But an ongoing club setup or open Makerspace time at the library could provide similar access.

Second, he has a great support network at home. Both of his parents are involved in engineering, so he had people to bounce ideas around with, and more likely than not, he had someone to fish him out of the weeds if he got in too deep. Again, not all teens have this, but this is an area where that same club setup and the supportive co-learning environment of Makerspaces fills that need.

Third, he had open ended time and opportunity. There was no assignment and there was no deadline. Assignments and deadlines certainly have their place, but for this teen, the blank slate of opportunity allowed him to be creative, think about what he wanted and needed from the tech, play, revise, start over, settle in to the detailed work required, and finally triumph with a project that was meaningful.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on the benefits of summer reading program for teens whose reading skills are more established and don’t slide over the summer like those still developing reading abilities. What I’ve learned is that more than minutes spent or pages read, the most significant impact for teens in developing a love of reading, or increasing the perceived value of reading, is engagement. It’s seeing that adults care that they are reading, want to hear about what they think of the books they find, and encourage and champion them to read more.

I believe that technology literacy is largely the same. If we can encourage engagement with the technology by providing time, access, and support, the minutes spent on tech and the lines of code created will likely increase. But more than those quantifiable results, the teens will want to come back to it because they will be developing those Assets that have proven to lead more teens into successful adulthood.  It’s not about the tech. It’s not about the library. It’s about the people.

*I’d like to point out here that the total cost of the prizes he won this year is far less than many of the big draw prizes that some libraries offer. Another prize option, the gift card to the local book store, had a higher dollar amount. Sometimes -maybe most of the time- the biggest splash doesn’t come from the most expensive, shiniest tech.

Students Involved with Technology Conference

Bee-Bot, Cubelets, littleBits, Makey Makey, Programs, Snap Circuits, The Finch

Our local school district is one of the sites for the Students Involved with Technology Conference that happens in several sites around the state of Illinois.  Kids, parents, and teachers presenting workshops on things they love best. Kid led workshops. Isn’t that great?

The district asked the library if we were willing to provide a maker space for the conference.  With very short notice, we  decided to create a play space for participants to try different technology.  (Maker space? Play space?  Are they the same thing?  I guess I’m not 100% sure of that. They were definitely creating things.)

Given two work days to make this happen, I was able to recruit two co-workers and my husband to spend time with me for four hours on a Saturday afternoon.  I also recruited one of the kids from my Robot Test Kitchen sessions last summer.  

Review: Makey Makey

Makey Makey, Programs

Robot Basics:

Both Heather and Sharon describe this well, check their posts here and here. But if you missed it – Makey Makey is a tool that turns everyday objects into a computer controller.

  • Age Range? My program was for grades 4 and up.
  • How Did We Acquire it? Through the ILEAD grant funds, and my library also purchased the Makey Makey for programming.

What I did:

I used the Makey Makey in a “Library Makers” program at our library. The goal of our Library Maker programs are to add more STEAM/Maker based offerings for a variety of age ranges. For this one, we registered for grades 4 and up. The session was designed to be an introductory session where kids could get their hands on the Makey Makey and see what they could do.

We had three kids attend, and I also invited their caregivers down to the program if they wanted to come. All of the caregivers came down for part or all of the program. I like to do this at certain events, I feel like it is a good advocacy strategy and also I like when caregivers can do something different with their kids. Playing with a Makey Makey is not something kids and parents do together every day.

I set up each Makey Makey with one of the library’s Chromebooks. Each participant got to use their own Makey Makey, so it was nice not to share. But if we had had more kids, we would have had to work in teams. The kids mostly experimented with the Makey Makey piano. One participant had used a Makey Makey before and he played tetris and showed the others how to do it as well.

For supplies to use with the Makey Makey I had potatoes, bananas, oranges, playdough, tin foil and some fun foam craft sheets I dug out of the craft supplies. I think this was a good variety of tools, but I would probably add more in future programs.

Overall, the kids really enjoyed the time to play and the caregivers also had fun too!

Skills Needed:

Makey Makey is approachable. You will need basic computer skills and an Internet connection.

Good Stuff

Everything was good at this program! Feedback was very positive and our library users are enjoying our new tech based programs.



Ending Thoughts/Observations

Makey Makey is a great way to start to build more STEAM/Maker programs. I think it is a really good entry point for librarians.

Overall Rating