Media Literacy Week: Girls Learning to Code at the Library

It’s Media Literacy Week (November 5-9)! How are you helping youth in your community learn how to access, analyze, evaluate, COMMUNICATE and CREATE using a variety of media formats? 

Girls learn how to solder with the help of a teen mentor at the Girls Get IT! NCWIT camp. (Ages 9-12)

Two high school girls from my community are in the process of applying for NCWIT’s annual Aspirations Award. The award “honors women in grades 9 through 12 who are active and interested in computing and technology, and encourages them to pursue their passions.” Many young women, from all 50 states and US Territories, apply each year so two might not seem remarkable. But, in my community it is another step in the right direction.

While not new, the fact that women are underrepresented in the tech world and STEM professions, especially in leadership roles, still persists. In rural communities, jobs in tech-related fields, and many types of STEM professions, seem out of reach or are never introduced as an option, especially to girls. At my library and many others, girls are often out numbered by boys in maker programs, LEGO clubs, and robotics teams. The goal of these programs is to provide access to learning opportunities that introduce and strengthen Computational Thinking (CT) skills and computer science knowledge, yet a significant number of kids are still missing from the picture. Populations of kids still think these programs, and the associated skills, are for others. How much do we really talk with kids and teens, including girls, about the important role computer science now plays in business, government, and our/their personal lives, beyond “screen time?”

Makers2Mentors, our Libraries Ready to Code project, aimed to change that. What if kids and teens in our community had new opportunities to become comfortable not just using digital media on a superficial level, but digging deeper to understand how computers work and using digital tools to express themselves and make their voices heard?

Girls learn the basics of 3D design with the help of a teen mentor at the Girls Get IT! NCWIT camp. (Ages 9-12)

Over time I have connected the idea of learning how to code to learning how a book works. If we teach young children the fundamental concepts that will later fuel them as readers and writers, which we do in storytime and in other experiences, why can’t we prepare kids and teens to control digital information, creating and manipulating the medium, just as authors and creators have done with paper formats?

One of the goals we set for the Makers2Mentors project was to provide CT and CS learning experiences specifically for girls. We want more girls to learn CT and CS skills, and be prepared to think critically about information in all its forms, so we wanted to encourage their participating in all of the M2M programs. I also recognized that I needed to reach out to girls in targeted ways. In some cases, this meant integrating CS and CT into traditional library programs like storytime to reach girls before extreme gender stereotypes about STEM get a foot hold. I also led a coding program for girls and their moms (or grandmothers, aunts, grown-up female friends), partnered with the local Girl Scouts to provide a girl scout overnight for area troops featuring robotics and CT activities, and hosted a camp for girls, led by visiting CS college students, that introduced girls to new skills as they explored computer hardware and software.

Reaching underrepresented populations requires creativity and doing things differently. Obviously, if a group isn’t coming to the current programs or using the library space now, something needs to change. New partnerships, unique program designs and flexibility are essential. Sometimes opportunities to provide learning experiences come in unexpected ways.

Girls and their families are excited about making a space for girls’ voices in the digital world, even those from a faraway place like Homer, Alaska.

Teen mentors are recognized for their service and interest during the reading of the 2018 National Library Week proclamation at a City Council meeting.

Key to the success of many of the M2M programs was the empowerment of teen mentors who helped fill leadership gaps often found in small communities like mine. Many of these mentors were girls, and in fact, several of the girls who acted as mentors became interested in learning about CT/CS as they mentored. They got involved not because of their tech experience, but because they like mentoring. So, I capitalized on their valuable leadership skills and ended up providing CT/CS training sessions that became ‘programs’ in and of themselves. They learned about CT and CS and helped other girls (and boys) gain new skills also. Over the course of the year long grant period, more girls were interested in both the girl specific programs and general events.

Here are some images highlighting girls in the library’s M2M programs.

Girls make cardboard automata at an afterschool Maker Club.
A girl programs Ozobots with markers at a Maker Club session.
Two girls, with their moms, make the robot Dash move during a coding program. (Ages 8-12)
Girls and moms work in teams to program Dash & Dot robots.
Young girls, and a teen mentor, learn coding basics with Dash and Dot at the Girl Scouts overnight held last winter. (ages 5-11)
A teen mentor preps materials for a LEGO Lab featuring LEGO WeDo.
Girls Get IT! camp was a little fun…

Take the Survey! Young Children, New Media and Libraries 2018

Have you taken the Young Children, New Media and Libraries 2018 Survey yet? If not, you have until August 31 to share your thoughts about, and experiences with, new media in your library work with young children.

Using a short video about Empreror Penguins in Preschool Storytime

Who should take the survey?

Someone from each library who is able to answer questions regarding your library’s use of new media with young children. That person may be a children’s librarian, manager, director, or other staff member. The information you provide will be kept confidential and no identifiable information will be used in published findings.

What is new media?

New media is defined in the survey as: tablets (including iPads, Nabi, LeapPad), combination eReader/tablet (e.g., Kindle Fire), digital recording device (digital camera, Flip Video, GoPro), MP3 players, Projectors, AWE or Hatch stations, tangible tech (e.g., Makey Makeys, Osmo, Squishy Circuits), programmable tech (e.g., Beebots, Code-a-pillar, Cubetto), and computers of any kind.

Why should you take the survey?

Libraries continue to be at the cutting edge of incorporating different kinds of new media devices into their branches and programming, and we are examining the changing map of this landscape across the United States. We want to hear how you share technology with young children and their caregivers, your attitudes about that, and any evaluation you do of new media for young children and their caregivers. Your input will be useful for guiding future research and professional development.

Who is behind the survey?

Dr. Katie Campana (Kent State University), Liz Mills (University of Washington), Dr. Marianne Martens (Kent State University) and I are conducting the survey in partnership with the ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children.

You can find out more about the 2014 findings, and find a link to the current survey, here. 2018 survey findings will be shared widely.

Computational Thinking in Storytime with Robots

I’ve been reading and thinking A LOT about computational thinking (CT) and coding this Winter as part of my work on the Libraries Ready to Code initiative. And by A LOT, I mean A LOT, A LOT. Needless to say, that thinking has not stayed put in my coding programs for older kids and teens, like  <HPLCode>, or in the Maker Club. It has spilled over into every aspect of my work at the library, including storytime.

Storytime has always been about supporting early literacy (EL) and learning. What is so cool about computational Flyer which explains computational thinkingthinking is that it aligns so nicely with so much of what we already do at the library, even in storytime. Every time I mention CT or coding in either storytime or a family program, a grown-up speaks up and makes the connection, on their own, between traditional literacy and code or computational thinking. “Making a program (by connecting blocks of code) is like building a sentence,” for example.

The Plan

5 minutes: As families entered, I asked them to “get ready for storytime”. For regulars, this meant following a procedure they knew. For new families I broke down the “get ready for storytime” into: take off your shoes if you want to (ok at our library because of the snow, mud, etc. that is outside), hang up your coat if you brought one, choose a storytime mat, and meet me at the reading area.

5 minutes: When we were gathered in the reading area, I asked kids “what is a robot?” Kids shouted out ideas and led us to talk about what robots do, who designs them and why. I then asked the group “what is the difference between you and a robot?” and “what is similar?”

I then showed the group my code-a-pillar and pointed out the parts of the robot (power button, lights, sensors, code blocks, wheels, etc.) I told them this was my turn to play with the robot but they would all have a turn after we played and read together.

7-10 minutes: Book #1, Pete the Cat, Robo-Pete by James Dean (Harper Collins, 2015)
As with any storytime reading, this was a conversation! We talked about patterns in the story and kids tried to anticipate what might happen next based on previous occurrences in the story. We also compared Robo-Pete to what we knew about robots.

5-7 minutes: Feltboard Robots
Next we built a robot as a group on the felt board. I cut enough similar pieces of felt into recognizable shapes to make two robots. I divided the felt board into 3 sections. If you have used Scratch or other block coding platform, you will recognize the similarity of the 3 sections (the stage, scripts area and blocks palette). I built one robot beforehand and had the other identical pieces in the thin section of the board. They pieces were arranged by shape. As a group we talked about the robot’s parts and what we thought each might be used for. We then started building the new robot out of the other parts. The idea here was to support shape knowledge but also to practice the process of articulating making, doing, or building something. I asked where we should start (at the bottom, they yelled). I then asked kids to tell me the shape and color of the part they wanted me to add next and I would move the felt pieces over. We built the robot you see here. This activity also became a station for further exploration after the group time.

7-10 minutes: If You’re A Robot And You Know It by David Carter (Cartwheel Books, 2015)
Before we read (and sang and danced) to this song, I mean, book, we talked about circuit boards which is featured in the text. Kids obviously quickly identified with this familiar song and jumped up to act it out. The text of the book repeats in a similar fashion to the song and kids move different robot parts in each each verse.

Image: booksamillion.com

7-10 minutes: Robot Zot by Jon Scieszka (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009)
To finish off the reading portion of storytime we read a book that is just silly! Be ready to use your animated voices and be loud!

image: goodreads.com

3 minutes: Clap Your Hands by They Might be Giants
Before we moved on to the station portion of storytime, we danced together. I told them there were three actions we would do in this song: clap hands, stomp feet and jump in the air. I asked them “How do we know when do each action?” Kids answered with ideas like “until it stops!” I brought out the images of each action (5 hands clapping, 5 feet stomping, 4 jumping) to match the number of times the singer says each action and then counted as we danced and did the actions. I mentioned that the song is divided up into beats or sections (measures) so that the musicians and dancers know when changes will happen.

Stations

Code-a-pillar play
Here kids programmed the code-a-pillar to move towards a target. Some kids spent time figuring out how it worked and understanding which arrow was left or right. Kids took turns coding and even collaborated on where the robot should go (“It’s looking for something to eat.”). Grown-ups guided play at times, talking about the sequence of events that need to happen first, etc. and about directionals.

Cube Stackers
Future Coders: Cube Stackers by Alex Toys is basically a board game that involves cubes with robot parts on the different sides. Kids build robots by twisting an turning the sides based on instructions not he game cards. It is primarily for kids 5+. In the summer I have several 5+ kids that come to storytime and this was a hit with them. Whole families took time to work through this thoughtful game.

 

Aluminum Can Robots
Kids built robots by adding magnetized parts to cleaned off cans. I encouraged grown-ups to talk with kids as they built, asking open-ended questions about the robot, what is could do, etc.
To prepare, I collected and cleaned aluminum cans for the robot bodies. I hot glued small magnets to objects like big buttons, clothespins, pipe cleaners, etc. for robot parts. Parts were set out all mixed up in bins and the bodies  were laid out separately to encourage kids to create their own kind of robot.

Robot Coloring Sheets
This activity was great for kids who like to color or needed a quieter activity between other stations.

Feltboard Robots
Younger children really loved this activity and enjoyed repeating what we had done as a group.

Robot Party app on the mounted iPad
Sago Mini’s Robot Party is a giggle-inducing group activity that involves building digital robots that dance and more. Perfect for groups of two or three because the app features multi-touch so kids (or kids and grown-ups) can work together.

How it Went

Families loved this storytime for the richness of the activities and the obvious learning. They appreciated the CT and EL asides and the play ideas they could replicate at home.

When I first got a code-a-pillar I thought it would be kind of loud and garish for storytime, but not so. The sounds and lights are less intense in a group setting and the code-a-pillar moves at just the right speed for young children learning to code for the first time.

Supporting Computational Thinking with Passive Programming @ the Library

As part of ALA’s Libraries Ready to Code initiative, all Winter and Spring I’ve been leading programs like <HPLCode> for teens, the Let it Glow family program, a Girl Scout overnight focused on robots and the LEGO and Maker Clubs with the goal of providing access to computer science and activities that support computational thinking skills. The programs have been plentiful, and in some cases, needed a lot of creative energy to design and get running. I’ve loved every minute of it, but my job is varied. So as part of the Libraries Ready to Code grant, I proposed that part of my project focus would be to incorporate CS/CT into existing programs like storytime and create opportunities that were less staff intensive than a full-scale program.

Over the Winter, I repackaged several of the passive programs I occasionally offer in the children’s library during non-program hours or as activity stations in storytime. These worked well because they continued to inform grown-ups about computational thinking and support kids learning without constant staff-led programming.

I also purchased Ozobots for check out so that kids and their families could tinker with robots at home after learning about the tiny bots at a Maker Club program or outreach activity. The four Ozobot kits have been in constant circulation since we introduced them earlier this Spring.

Along with the materials needed for the passive CT activity, I posted signs that encourage grown-ups to support CT skills with suggested questions. I have been talking to families about CT all winter, so many are familiar with the term and have heard why we support it at the library.

Want to learn more about CT in the library? The Libraries Ready to Code project is launching the beta version of the “toolkit” for libraries at ALA Annual 2018 on June 22.

Here are a couple of signs from recent passive programs. (Note: I keep the sponges slightly damp with a spray bottle to make them easier to stack. These sponges were cut from the usual rectangle kitchen sponges you can buy at grocery stores.)

 

And here are the circulating Ozobot kits with info sheets I made to get families started, especially those who had no idea how these cute little bots work and what they can do. Cases were custom made by a local company called Nomar.

 

Makers2Mentors: Let it Glow Family Program

As part of my library’s year long Makers2Mentors initiative, I hosted a family program around the winter holidays that introduced computational thinking and Computer Science concepts in a computer-less program. We made light-up, pop-up cards! This program, and its name, were inspired by SparkFun’s Let it Glow light-up card projects. In additional to the learning that happened, this program served a social purpose; supporting family engagement and bringing community together during Alaska’s darkest time of year.

flyer for Let it Glow program

Intended Outcomes

  • families will understand the basics of how electricity work
  • families will learn basic CS concepts (algorithms, conditionals, events, inputs, outputs)
  • families will be introduced to computational thinking (CT) skills in a low stress, hands-on experience
  • families will see experience play-based learning that blends a traditional art form (paper craft), literacy (writing a greeting card), and tech (electrical components), instead of one or the other
  • families will play and learn together and meet new neighborsAs part of my library’s year long
  • families will attend a program for the first time

When, Who and Where
Date: Saturday, close to Winter Solstice in December

Time: 10:30-11:30am (could have been longer with more time to decorate, but the space is popular and often hard to schedule for more than 1 hour)

Staff: 3 (me, another grown-up who is a casual employee/sub and a teen mentor who volunteered time towards the high school’s community service requirement)

Ages: families with kids 4+ (best for ages 6+)

Location: library’s meeting room

Advertising: library’s dedicated Makers2Mentors webpage, library calendar, flyers posted around town, social media, local radio, newspaper and community online calendars.

Equipment/Supplies
For room:

  • large monitor for displaying graphics of electrical circuit and template
  • laptop or tablet with slides to display graphics
  • tables pushed together to make 3 large tables or stations
  • a handful of chairs for those who wanted or needed to sit (not one for everyone so we had more space)
Shared Supplies for Each of the 3 tables:
(on each table when families arrived)

  • 5mm conductive copper tape- 3 for each table (extra tape used for other programs)
  • regular tape (like Scotch brand)- 2 dispensers for each of 3 tables
  • instruction signs- 1 for each of table
  • gluesticks- 4 for each table
  • scissors- 4 each table

Electrical and Paper Supplies for each child/card:
(distributed to tables after I described the project, defined computational thinking, and explained how electricity works)

  • 1- 12mm coin batteries, plus extra for troubleshooting or additional experimentation
  • 2 pieces of cardstock (1- white and 1-red or green)
    • white: printed with SparkFun’s template #1 for electrical part of card (see project link)
    • red or green: printed with SparkFun’s template #2 for the tree portion of the card (see project link)
  • 2- 3mm LEDs in miscellaneous colors (Spark Fun)
  • LillyPad button boards (Spark Fun)- the button is used as a switch so the card lights up when the button, placed at the bottom of the card, is pressed
Shared Decorating Supplies:
(at front table for families to take when they were ready)
  • Winter and Christmas stickers for decorating cards- enough for approximately 5-8 stickers per card
  • markers and pens in a variety of colors- 2 baskets of markers/crayons for each of 3 tables

Program Plan

60 minutes prior to start: set up and answered any last-minute program staff questions

5-10 minutes: At the beginning of the program, I welcomed families, introduced the Makers2Mentors initiative and then gave a quick explanation of how electricity works and how it relates to computing. With only an hour, I kept the explanation short and used a graphic displayed on the monitor to help families visualize the abstract concept. Kids who had attended maker programs previously, and knew about electricity, helped me.

Flyer which explains computational thinking

DRAFT computational thinking flyer for my library

I then displayed an image of the template we were going to use (#1) and described the process (CT: algorithm) for creating a circuit and the light up portion of the card. I started by explaining the “problem” (CT: decomposition)- we needed to make a pop-up card light up using an electrical circuit and LEDs. I explained how to use the template to create the circuit, pointing out each step (CT: algorithms) to be followed, and I asked what patterns kids could see as we verbally worked through the process (CT: pattern recognition). I wanted families to have the maximum amount of time to actually make the cards, so the talking to the group portion took less than 10 minutes. I had the same template and directions displayed at each table for reference.

50 minutes: For the remainder of the program, each child took a template and either created the circuit on their own or with a family member. Some families with multiple children worked on one card as a family instead of each child making one.

The basic idea is that kids apply conductive tape to the lines on the template #1, adding LEDs, the batter for power a button (switch) in the appropriate places. The template has the steps numbered to make it easier to follow along. Once the circuit was working, and the LEDs were turning on when the button was pressed, families moved on to decorating the second layer of the card (template #2) with stickers, drawings and messages. As we talked with families, we used vocabulary that connected to computational thinking and computing (circuit, input/output, switch, debugging, pattern recognition, algorithm, etc.) During the hands-on portion of the program families used what they knew, or learned, about electrical circuits and determined what information could be applied to the card project (CT: abstraction).

30 minutes after program: clean up

Family working together to make a light up, pop up card.

How It Went

  • The program was a success!
  • We have hosted several family programs and maker programs for kids over the past few years so I anticipated a large crowd (for our size library). The attendance, 52 kids and grown-ups, did not disappoint.
  • It was a little challenging to manage this size of group with only 3 of us in the lead, especially with the fact that many of the kids knew me better than the other two program staff. (“Claudia, how do you…?”) But, as a result, grown-ups were empowered to participate- helping their kids make the card and troubleshoot. I modeled how to support kids instead of doing it for them. This was especially important when it became clear that some of the batteries were older than others, not working well, and needed to be switched out to make the circuit work.
  • I had enough materials on hand for the families that attended.
  • Beyond remodeling the library, the space accommodated the group size without requiring registration, just barely.
  • Most of the kids who attended were ages 4-9, but several were closer to 12. The ideal age for this program is probably 6-12 because of the troubleshooting aspect of the program. Several of the younger kids got pretty frustrated when their circuit didn’t work. On the flip side, it was valuable for them to see grown-ups work through the troubleshooting process and see how we handle ‘mistakes’ or something that isn’t working the way we intended.
  • Several families were attending their first program at the library and among the grown-ups were grandparents and both moms and dads. Some families knew each other, some met for the first time. because of the size of the space, families interacted as they shared materials and worked side by side.
  • Part of the program’s success had to do with the activity, but the publicity surrounding the Makers2Mentors grant funded initiative and offering the program during the Winter school break on a Saturday helped also. Many grown-ups mentioned that they liked the combination of electrical and paper/art. I got lots of nods when I made the electrical/computer connection.
  • Every family left the library with a working pop-up card that lit up, I made sure of it!

What I Would Do Differently

For future iterations of the program, I would:
  • modify the age range for the program to 6-12. Some families would still bring younger siblings, but the expectation would be slightly different.
  • have all new batteries to avoid the power issues we had.
  • identify ways to help families articulate the CT and electricity concepts in addition to being able to make a functioning circuit.
  • plan a longer program to allow more time for deeper learning, debugging, and decorating.
  • include this project in the almost-monthly Maker Club program line up (ages 8-11).