Hosting a Maker Day

Programs

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.

Successes: 

  • 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.

Challenges:

  • 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!

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Punching Above My Weight

Raspberry Pi, True Confessions

It’s Sunday morning and I wake up thinking about computer monitors. Specifically, where can I get more for cheap, and where will I store them and how will I get them, smoothy and safely, into our multipurpose meeting room at the library every other week. And this gets me thinking about extension cords and how we probably need some more since the outlets are only around the perimeter of the room, and these kids want to look at each other, not stare at a wall.

I’m also thinking about these Minecraft Circuits In Real Life kits, and trying to figure out if any soldering is actually involved despite them being listed on a site called Soldering Sunday, which is kind of like how some folks probably find themselves here in the Robot Test Kitchen and wonder what’s robotic about paper airplanes and marshmallow towers. I have a lot on my mind.

I tell my husband I need to figure out more things to do with the Raspberry Pis that piqued my initial monitor musing. I’m worried that my coding club needs more ideas, maybe a project to bring them back together again since they’ve grown in number and mostly paired up and are working on individual projects. “Are they networked yet? I found these cool soundcards for cheap. What about moisture and heat sensors? There’s so much cool stuff you can do with them! ” he says. I tell him what the ten kids (ten! TEN! This time last year I was happy when I had three!) did last Thursday and how no, they’re not networked and one of the three isn’t working, and we’ve only gotten Minecraft Pi loaded on one.

He reminds me how far I’ve come before asking, “You do realize how much you’re punching above your weight here, right?” Boy, do I. Every day I’m reminded of that.

I’m energized by the enthusiasm of the middle schoolers who come to my coding club every other week, who ask why can’t we do it every week, and who excitedly show me the JavaScript games they’re building together outside of club too. But yes, I know I am punching above my weight, every time they ask me a question and I reply with, “Well, what have you already tried? At which point did you get stuck?” and then ask if anyone in the room has had experience with that problem, and can they come and help this guy over here work through it because that’s the only answer I have.

I’m reminded of it when I read the components lists for simple project kits and need to Google several of the pieces and then only gain a surface level understanding of them.

I’m reminded of it whenever I read about what much bigger libraries (and only a little bit bigger libraries) are doing with makerspaces and technology with their youth and am paralyzed when I think about how I would go about implementing similar projects.

As my friends in tech often say, and as I often feel even in the library world, “there’s a legion of people out there who know more than you and they’re coming fast and furious.” The struggle is to see this not as a threat, but as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to collaborate, to keep on punching. None of us needs to be the best, we just need to keep going.

I am punching above my weight. But I’m punching. I’m thinking about it on Sunday morning when I wake up. I’m looking for answers from colleagues and peers and strangers. I feel like I’m cheating when I ask my tech-field husband’s advice because really, shouldn’t I be able to figure this out on my own? What kind of example am I setting if I’m relying on my husband‘s knowledge to do my job?

On better days, I remind myself that the example I’m setting is the one the Maker movement wants set: I’m setting an example of trial and error, of collaboration, of shared workspaces and cocreation. I’m trying. I’m failing. I’m thinking. I’m learning. Maybe not as fast as I want to be learning, but it’s happening. Like Michelle reminded us, our one-year-ago selves would probably be impressed with where we are. And I need to check myself – constantly – and pull myself back to the present, where it’s about those ten (ten! TEN!) tweens & teens in my meeting room every other week who are doing their own thing, doing things that they couldn’t do a year ago, and not about me one bit.

I’m a big believer in the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets and every time I read through them, I feel better. Coding Club – even as thrown together and chaotic as mine sometimes feels – is giving these kids the opportunity to add to their asset lists. What we’re doing matters, and it’s working, and by perservering when it’s hard, I’m modeling exactly what I hope they get out of it. I’m not in this to help teens become excellent coders, Maker extraordinaires, or jumpstart their app creation businesses. I’m in it for the long haul.

I’m in it to be a part of their community of caring adults who believes in them, supports them, provides a safe space where they are valued, and the skills they need to persevere, and encourages them to keep it up, keep punching above their weight. In coding club, in everything.

We’re not Faking it, We’re Making It.

littleBits, True Confessions

Working with my Robot Test Kitchen colleagues during ILEADUSA was a fantastic experience, and now that we’re continuing with this project I appreciate the value of this collaboration even more. When we’re given opportunities, chances are at least one of us can say yes. A couple of weeks ago Brian Pichman with the Evolve Project asked if any of us would be panelists during a webinar about Library Makerspaces, specifically talking about LittleBits in libraries. Due to busy schedules, I ended up being the one who was available.

As the webinar began, I experienced a moment of self doubt (which is unusual for me, but I know I’m not the only one to go through this) as I read the comments from the participants. So many of them have thriving Makerspaces, and are already using LittleBits in innovative ways that I thought, “Who am I to be a panelist and impart any knowledge to them?” I was already in and I accepted that plowing forward was the only option, so I gave myself a brief pep talk and carried on. I did talk about my experiences with LittleBits thus far, as well as plans for in-house use and circulation of kits.

Here are just some of the things I learned and ideas I gleaned:

  • The other panelist, Jessica Lamarre, shared the fantastic idea to use small pictures of the LittleBits components to make sure they get put back correctly, whether they’re housed in the original packaging or in a plastic tackle-box type container.
  • I learned that there is a LittleBits Synth Kit, which I think will be a great fit in my library for next summer’s Read to the Rhythm summer reading program.
  • There is an Arduino component so you can use Scratch extensions, there is a LEGO brick adapter, and they’ve even been used to power 3D printed cars. Is there anything LittleBits don’t play nicely with?

In the end, I’m glad I had this experience. I may not be an expert, but I have a lot to share. I’m not new to this either, but I still enjoy learning, sharing, and being inspired by the ideas of others. It was worth it to step out of my comfort zone, sit in front of a webcam, and share what I know because this is all so very important.

Whatever we’re working on, our ultimate goal is enrich lives and build communities. At the same time, if you’re reading this you’re part of a community. Whatever fantastic things get made or invented in our schools and libraries, however many kids are inspired to pursue new interests, we are part of it. Just as we’re giving people in our communities a chance to create and connect, we need to keep on connecting with each other. We’re not just making the makerspaces so the makers can come make, we are the makers too. So let’s embrace that maker spirit and realize that each of has a unique perspective and something to share. Your experiences and even the questions you ask can spark an idea for someone else.