Sticking with STEAM

Programs, True Confessions

I don’t know if the kids in your community are into duct tape programs, or if you’ve been doing it for years and they’re kind of over it. Where I work, duct tape is kind of A Big Deal, and has become one of my most highly attended monthly programs. I started to see the potential a few months ago when we were making wallets, a perennial favorite, repeated again by popular demand. I provided instructions and samples and helped out as needed. I noticed one middle-school girl was making hers rather larger than the prototype, and I felt slightly bad for her and her over-sized wallet that would never fit in a pocket. Then she took a long piece of a contrasting color, folded it up and affixed it to the other piece — she had made a cute cross-body purse. I was impressed, as were her peers. This sparked something in the other kids, who increasingly try to make new things or modify the simple project I introduce each month.


Here at Robot Test Kitchen, we’ve been open about learning about learning from our problems and even embracing them. I’m at a point where I keep my eyes open for problems and run toward them because they create learning opportunities and keep things so interesting. Duct tape is so perfect in this regard. It sticks to your hands, it sticks to the table, it sticks to itself, and I’ve seen it get stuck in hair.

But it is forgiving! Is your project turning out too short or too small? Just add some duct tape. Is it bigger than you’d planned? Cut it with scissors. Has it stuck to itself and everything else and now it’s a mangled sticky ball? Toss it and start over; it’s just duct tape. We have lots more!

Most importantly, making things out of this challenging but forgiving material lets me ask the questions I really want to ask. One quote from The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard that always stuck with me is, “If you can´t tell me what you’d like to be happening, you don’t have a problem yet. You’re just complaining. A problem only exists if there is a difference between what is actually happening and what you desire to be happening.” I’m not suggesting anyone say that to a middle-schooler, but we can guide them toward a mindset of productive problem-solving. When someone shows me their shapeless project and says, “It’s so ugly!” I can say, “How would you like it to look different?” When I get asked how to make something completely new and different, I can ask, “What do you think the pieces would look like? How would they go together?” I can even grab the prototype and say, “Let’s take this apart and see how it’s put together.”

Working with a duct tape is the perfect metaphor for so much of the STEAM programming we’ve been doing. Unsurprisingly, it’s not about the duct tape or anything we make from it. Our young patrons are not just building wallets or bow ties (which are very cool), they’re building community and building confidence and developing problem-solving skills. Even when we’re not talking about new kinds of programming (hi, robots!), we can still talk about new ways of approaching our roles, especially in guiding rather than instructing.

Meet us at Tech Soup’s Teens & Tech Webinar


Next Wednesday, May 20th, Tech Soup is hosing a free webinar on Teens & Tech: Creating Successful STEM Programs in Libraries. Robot Test Kitchen is one of the two projects that is going to be featured, and we would love for you to join us! If you’ve been reading along with the blog and can appreciate the TechSouplogoTrue Confessions and have been encouraged by watching us try things, stumble, and keep on going, we really think you’ll get a lot out of the webinar. We did a rehearsal the other day with the other presenter, Amanda Allpress of Shasta Public Libraries, and she’s got some great stories to tell as well about involving teens in graphic design and more! It’s a quick hour, and there will be lots of time to share ideas and ask questions. Join us!

Hosting a Maker Day


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!