Ten Dollar Tuesdays: Coding Club

Programs, Ten Dollar Tuesdays

In the Robot Test Kitchen, we talk about five main barriers that we typically face in conducting technology programming in our libraries: time, budget, skill, interest, and support. It’s our belief that most of these are not impossible barriers, but sometimes it’s hard to see how. Especially when things like your time and budget are already stretched paper thin.

On Tuesdays, we’re tackling the budget question with programs you can run at your library for under $10. We’re also addressing the interest and support questions by asking you to share your inexpensive STEM programs in the comments, and to let us know what kinds of feedback you’ve gotten when you’ve tried these or similar programs in your buildings! This week: Coding Club

Cost: $0*

Age range: elementary – teens

Difficulty: simple to set up, requires perseverance to maintain

There are some really great FREE coding sites out there ready to use. Some of us have used Code.org, Kahn Academy, or Code Academy (which has a free After school Programming toolkit) to work alongside teens and tweens as they learn javascript and other computer languages. You don’t need to know how to code to run a coding club, but you need to be willing to work with your patrons to figure things out together.

Those of us in RTK that have used this approach to run coding clubs have had different experiences. At best, it’s a jumping off point for teens to explore their own coding interests. At worst, the freeform, youth led nature of this approach can be frustrating. It’s crucial to communicate with your group about what they want to get out of the club and what you can offer them. Sometimes all you can offer them is popcorn, free wifi, a time and place to meet, and the promise that you’ll be there to help them work through problems and questions together. Sometimes it will be a lot more. Working with your youth is essential here. It’s a different approach than most of our traditional library programs use, and can take some getting used to.

My coding club began working with Codecademy to learn Javascript. After a few months, it became clear that the kids wanted something that offered more immediate visual feedback and we shifted gears. They played around designing platforming games online that they could share with each other, and ended up planning and executing a Minecraft hangout night for tweens as a summer reading kickoff event. This year, they wanted something more hands-on, so we have invested in three Raspberry Pis for the club. I want to make it clear that the library didn’t spend any more than $10 on Coding Club for an entire year (popcorn!) until it had proven to be a draw. I don’t think that it has to work this way — I think it’s totally reasonable to spend some of your programming budget on new or innovative technology programming – but I want to point out that it is possible to start a multi-year technology focused group for almost no money.

*This assumes that your patrons have access to computers in your library. My library does not have a computer lab, but all students in 5th-8th grade in the public schools have Chromebooks. For those attendees who came from private schools, we have a few Chromebooks that we check out for in-library use that I would pull into the meeting room.

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Take it Apart!

Ten Dollar Tuesdays

In the Robot Test Kitchen, we talk about five main barriers that we typically face in conducting technology programming in our libraries: time, budget, skill, interest, and support. It’s our belief that most of these are not impossible barriers, but sometimes it’s hard to see how. Especially when things like your time and budget are already stretched paper thin.

With this new weekly feature, Ten Dollar Tuesdays, we will be tackling the budget question with programs you can run at your library for under $10. We’ll also address the interest and support questions by asking you to share your inexpensive STEM programs in the comments, and to let us know what kinds of feedback you’ve gotten when you’ve tried these or similar programs in your buildings!

Take It Apart

Cost: $0

Age range: tweens & teens

Group size: Up to 20, depending on materials

Staff amounts: 1

  • Give kids an opportunity to explore how things work, how they’re put together, and what happens if they they take them apart.
  • Ask for donations of broken appliances (no tube TVs or microwaves) and computers, supply tools, and let kids explore.
  • Disassembling a PC is a great learning opportunity, and you don’t necessarily need to know a lot about computer hardware. I supplied printed diagrams for kids to match up the components, and I learned a lot from YouTube videos. You may need special screwdrivers for some of the screws on the computer case; our IT department was happy to let us borrow those, and a staff member even helped at the program
  • Taking things apart can very exciting, so caution your tweens and teens not to get carried away and get scrapes or cuts on sharp parts
  • Ask kids what similarities they saw, what surprised them, what parts they already knew about, and what they would like to learn more about
  • After the program, you may be able to salvage some parts for a future craft program (another Ten Dollar Tuesday!), or check with your local recycling facility to see what they can accept.

Have you done a Take it Apart program? Share your experience with us!

Review: Sphero

Reviews, Sphero

Robot Basics:

  • What is it?

Sphero is a sturdy, buoyant, waterproof, hard shelled ball that changes color and responds to commands via a handheld device – a smartphone or a tablet. At the most basic, Sphero can be used as a game controller for a number of downloaded games. But there are more complex functions that teach programming as well. It’s very sturdy and waterproof which makes me much more comfortable about handing it to a rambunctious teen or extremely eager toddler.

  • What’s in the Box?
Sphero: what's in the box

Sphero: what’s in the box

There’s the Sphero itself, an inductive charging base and plug, holder, and best of all — two ramps with rubberized feet. Pencil here for scale.

  • How Much?

Sphero 2.0 retails for $129.99. The original Sphero is available for $79.99. Either can be purchased at a discount in an educator 10 pack.

 

  • Age Range?

Game play and the pre-coding apps are friendly with kids as young as Kindergarten but Sphero is fun and useful for pretty much any age.

  • How Did We Acquire it?

Purchased with ILEAD funds.

Ideas for Use

Sphero can be used just like you’d use any other gaming platform at the library. It’s really so much fun to play with. But for someone who wants to dig deeper into the technology angle with a more active approach, I like the way Sphero allows for scaffolding skills.

Begin by showing users the basic Sphero app. This introduces the capabilities of Sphero, couched within an origin story and a fun game. Then it’s easy to move on to apps that allow users to code without knowing they’re coding. Something like Sphero Draw ‘n Drive has users draw pictures on their handheld device, and then Sphero will act out the drawing that was created, changing direction, speed, and color just like the artist did while drawing. Beyond that, you can move to Sphero MacroDraw or MacroLab which give allow you to add different action components together to build programs, then give you real-time feedback on the macros that you program.

Time Involved

Sphero needs some time to charge, then you’ll need to download the apps you intend to use, and get your bluetooth connection up and running. Plan at least an hour of playing around with it before you introduce it to kids so you’re comfortable with the basic controls.

One-time or Recurring Program

Plenty here to expand into a recurring program.

Extension Activities

Once your kids have mastered the basics, there are lots of educational projects you can embark on, and another app, orBasic for Sphero, that delves deeper into the coding element. You could also use this in a more hands-on Maker program by creating mazes, obstacle courses, and challenge courses for Sphero to compete in.

Skills You Need

You need to be able to connect a device to the bluetooth on your handheld device.

Other Tools You Need

A bluetooth enabled tablet, smartphone, or iPod for each Sphero.

Good Stuff

It is SO MUCH FUN. The fun is really a huge draw for getting users to engage with it. And it’s SO EASY to begin. There are no necessary skills, beyond basic hand-eye coordination, to start having fun with it. If you’re going to jump in an purchase an Educator pack, I think that would be a good, long-lasting value.

Frustrations

The Bluetooth connection on my Android device was pretty fussy. It was much smoother when used with Apple products. I don’t know if this is a function of the Sphero or of my Xoom, but it happened.

It’s a pricier prospect. It works best as a one device per person project, but you could fairly easily construct your event so that two people share one Sphero. But beyond that, each Sphero must have a dedicated handheld device to control it. If your library already has iPads, you’re set. If your community has a 1:1 tablet program in schools, that should work too. Otherwise, this may be a significant limiter.

Ending Thoughts/Observations

I really like this device and think that there are lots of opportunities for fun, education, and expansion.

Overall Rating:

Have a ball! –But proceed with caution (solely due to the cost and additional tablet constraints).