Molly of Denali!

Source: AK Public Media

I’m always looking for media, in all formats, that authentically reflects Alaskan families’ experiences. Today, a new show produced by WGBH in Boston for PBS Kids does that and more. I’m excited about the show and the advanced screening we offered at the library earlier this summer was a great learning experience. Here’s why.

The show

Molly of Denali, like other PBS Kids shows for young children, is an animated, entertaining show that supports early learning; in this case the idea of informational text. The producers define informational text as “any text created for the main purpose of providing information. Informational text can be created using written words, oral language, visuals, or a combination of these forms.” (PBS Kids) Examples include recipes, signs, maps, websites, text messages, podcasts, songs and more. Informational text is all around us and provides another entry point for supporting early literacy, but it is rarely given so much attention in early childhood entertainment.

The show also aims to address cultural representation and it does this well. The story, ways of knowing, and setting details are authentic. Each episode also features a live action piece featuring Alaskan kids sharing about well, Alaskan life. How does a producer in Boston, get that right? She had help. From the script writers, voice actors, and song writers to the cultural advisors, Alaska Natives were involved in the production and the result is what I dreamed of when I was working on the Diverse and Inclusive Checklist with KIDMAP. (Watch out, Pamyua‘s theme song is catchy and you’ll be singing it all day long!) The show is silly, entertaining, enriching and even serious at times.

Listen to a story about the making of Molly of Denali on Alaska Public Media here.

The Event

While Molly of Denali is set in a fictional town, Qyah, kids from all over rural Alaska can see themselves reflected in the show. But no, this isn’t just a show for Alaskan kids. (Let’s face it, that would not be an easy sell for a producer.) Kids from elsewhere can relate too! Families will connect with the characters and learn much about what it is like to be a kid in rural Alaska. Molly Mabray is a young Athabaskan who is adventurous, strong, curious and kind. What a great role model for all kids!

We were excited to be one of several Alaskan communities to host an advanced screening of the show. We wanted to bring families together at the library to celebrate what the show and its creators had accomplished. It was also a great media mentorship opportunity. I knew we could model how to practice Joint Media Engagement, or Co-viewing, while watching a tv show together, introduce tips on evaluating media and talk about how quality tv can support early learning.

I started the afternoon family event by quoting from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s piece “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors”; introducing many grownups to her name, words and ideas. I have wanted to do this for a long time and Molly of Denali offered great examples of all three for families in my community. It also gave use a foundation for talking about the show during the event (in between the two episodes we watched). Dr. Bishop’s idea is not strictly a book-related concept, but applies to all media and we can use it to evaluate media in the library and at home.

I then introduced the show and some of the characters, talked about what informational text is and why it is important to talk about, and shared some of the backstory and why it is a landmark creation. The intro was not too long, just several minutes, but planted a seed that got grown-ups thinking. The questions I got after the program- about recommendations, the show’s creators, when the show would air, etc. – were evidence.

We showed two episodes (animated portions only), with a short conversation and popcorn break in between. The in-between episodes chat was prompted by questions like “What did you recognize in that episode?” (high tunnels for growing food, mountains, trees dirt roads, traditions, rivers, the library, the kids and more), “What is different about Homer (where we live) and Molly’s community of Qyah?” (no ocean, no boats, the language, the stores) and “How did Molly and her friends learn about canoeing?” (YouTube, the coach, practice) Many kids enthusiastically chimed in with their observations.

Afterwards I mentioned that families who enjoy podcasts might like to add Molly of Denali to their listening list. Several families asked me how to access podcast episodes and if I could recommend others. Alaska is big and even casual road trips are long. Podcasts are a perfect fit for the Alaskan family!

About 65 people showed up for the program held in our children’s library. After the screening families stayed in the library to chat with each other, do some of the activity sheets connected to the show, and look for books. (I made sure a display of Alaskan picture books was prominent.) The event was simple, but meaningful.

I hope you enjoy the show!

New Professional Books!

Are you a children’s or teen librarian looking for some new books to add to your professional collection? I am lucky enough to be part of three book projects that I highly recommend! All are published this Spring or Summer and range in scope from the everyday guide to the academic reference. These are resources rich with content contributed by researchers and practitioners who are experts in literacy of all kinds. Enjoy!

Create, Innovate and Serve: A Radical Approach to Children’s & Youth Programming

Edited by Kathleen Campana and J. Elizabeth Mills

Published by ALA (March, 2019)

60 Ready-to-Use Coding Projects

Edited by Ellyssa Kroski

Published by ALA (April, 2019)

International Encyclopedia of Media Literacy

Edited by Renee Hobbs and Paul Mihailidis

Published by Wiley (June, 2019)

CT and Early Literacy Activities: Making Music

Activity: Making Music with Makey Makeys

Ages: 4+

Materials/Equipment: Laptop computer (1/station), Makes Makey (1/station), 4 pieces of Play-doh, different colors (1 set/station), internet access for digital piano

CT Skill: Decomposition is the CT skill that involves breaking larger actions into smaller, easily completed steps. We do this when we sing and clap words to break then down into syllables.

In a music storytime, among other books, I shared I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison which follows a young girl and her mother on a walk around their community. On the mini-adventure, the girl creates individual moves that become a dance accompanied by the music created by neighbors.

Afterwards, families visited stations that included: music-making with Makey Makeys, building rubberband kazoos or egg shakers, instrument exploration and mixing music with the app Loopimal on one of the library’s mounted iPads.

At the Makey Makey station, the computer was connected to the pieces of Play-doh with several wires, each going to a different clump of clay, via the Makey Makey. Young musicians touched a clump of Play-doh with one hand and held the “ground” with the other, creating an electrical circuit, and then a corresponding note was played on the digital piano. Once they figured out which Play-doh piece made which sound they created songs to their liking. (The Makey Makey tricks the computer into thinking the Play-doh clumps are keys and creates an electrical circuit. So if the Play-doh, which is conductive, is pressed or tapped, something happens on the screen. In this case a key on the digital piano is played.)

Both the book and making music with a Makey Makey exemplify breaking down (decomposing) music and dance into its components, but they also demonstrate how to build something back up, songs or dances, using other CT skills like pattern recognition and algorithm design.

Want to learn more about CT for you children? Paula Langsam and I will be talking more about the CT and early literacy connection at ALA Midwinter in Seattle.

CT and Early Literacy Activities: Simon Says

In a recent webinar about Computational Thinking (CT) and early literacy for the Public Library Association, Paula Langsam and I highlighted several activities that can be used to support both sets of skills in storytime or another library experience. (The link to the recorded webinar is coming soon.) Some of the activities we mentioned are in the Libraries Ready to Code Collection, while others have come about after our work with the cohort. They will eventually be added to the collection, but for now we’ll be posting them here. Keep checking back for more!

Activity: Simon Says

Ages: 4+

Materials/Equipment: None

Pattern recognition, one of 4 commonly recognized CT skills for young children, involves identifying and classifying similarities. When we play the game Simon Says with children, they are using a pattern to know when to do the action mentioned and when not to. If I say “Simon Says touch your nose”, kids are supposed to touch their nose. If I say, “touch their nose” they do not. This game also introduces conditional statements and logic, both fundamental to computer science.

Adaptations:
In storytime, some kids may easily get how this game works and some need more experience. I adjust the actions and physically model when and when not to do the action for kids new to the game. I do less modeling for more experienced players and even let kids lead if appropriate.

Book connection:

Lost. Found. by Marsha Diane Arnold and Matthew Cordell.
Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong and Grace Lin.

Feltboard Algorithms in Storytime

As part of #CSedWeek 2018, I included activities (and grownup tips) that support Computational Thinking (CT) skills in my storytimes. One of these activities was feltboard programming.

I first tried feltboard programming about a year ago and I continue to tweak the activity here and there depending on the group, the topic and the context. This week I found myself gravitating towards a lot of snow books, despite the warm weather. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. To go along with those books, I decided to have kids help me make an algorithm for building a snowman. 

Here are the books I shared:

  • The Snowy Day (Viking Press, 1962) by Ezra Jack Keats
  • Snowballs (HMH Books for Young Readers, 1999) by Lois Ehlert
  • Froggy Gets Dressed (Puffin Books, 1994) by Jonathan London (author) and Frank Remkiewicz (Illustrator) or Ten in the Sled (Sterling Books, 2010) by Kim Norman (author) and Liza Woodruff (illustrator)

I prefaced the feltboard algorithm activity by telling the kids that I forgot how to build a snowman. I then explained that I needed their help to know how to build one. When it finally snows again, I want to be ready, even if they are not around to help me. What follows is the process I used with the kids to create a feltboard snowman.

I have two feltboards so I used one for the “algorithm” and one to actually build the felt snowman using the algorithm. I made image cards that acted as symbols for the different parts of the snowman. (I only made cards, or blocks, for the actual objects. We talked a lot about where the objects should go as we applied the algorithm to the building process.) Before storytime, I had organized the cards on one felt board so kids could see what parts they had to work with. I told them they did not have to use all of the “blocks” (cards) and that they could choose where the objects were placed and the order in which we added them.

I told grownups that this type of programming was similar to the coding older kids would be doing later in two different CSedWeek programs: <HPLCode> Unusual Discovery using CS First and Scratch or <HPLCode> byte sized using ScratchJr. 

Next, we built the algorithm. To get things started, I asked the kids what we part we should add first and everyone wanted to begin with the body by having me move 3 snowball cards. Note: We read Snowballs before this activity and talked a lot about the parts of the snow people, whose bodies are all made up of 3 snowballs. Looking at the materials Ehlert uses, and the body parts she includes, was useful for this activity and the art project kids worked on after stories.

We built the algorithm from top to bottom, acknowledging that this how we read and write in English. Kids articulated what they wanted to add and in the order they chose. I moved the cards from the board above to the board pictured below, as they made decisions, because I wanted them to use words to describe what they were referencing; all the while practicing turn-taking and compromising, or at least considering others’ suggestions. Here is the algorithm they helped me make.

And here is the snowman we built based on the algorithm. Different kids took turns adding the different felt pieces after we talked about what would come next and where the object was supposed to go. This activity and process emphasized the sequence,.an important concept in CT, literacy and math. 

When the first child went to put a felt piece on the board, she wanted to put the first snowball on top, instead of on the bottom, to reflect the order we created with the cards. So obvious, right? Some preschoolers think this way and some are able to think more abstractly. It’s all ok and we move gently through this process, keeping it fun.

We talked a bit about gravity as a group- what would happen if we tried to put the first snowball on the top (in mid air). As a group we figured out that the first ball has to go on the bottom to give support for the others. What I love about practicing this process in storytime is that we already figure out the names of letters, how things work, what to read next, etc. as a group so we did this as a group. I emphasize that it is ok to try, even if what happens is not the intended outcome. If it doesn’t work, we just try again. That’s what happened here.

Below is what a child made later while I was busy helping families with the craft. She wanted to practice making an algorithm based on the felt snowman we built. It’s fascinating to see how kids think. It’s a great example of the CT skill decomposition in action.

I don’t expect every kid to get new concepts or skills right away so we’ll try this again and continue to talk about sequences, patterns, and all things CT, early literacy, math and more.

And here are a couple examples from the art project! I gave kids a bunch of materials and challenged them to create a snowman or snow creature out of them. Some built snowmen out of three blocks of foam with lots of accessories and appendages and some went this route, using the foam blocks as stand for the snowman pieces. I think the kids found this project so much easier to dive into than the adults…

This kind of art activity, open-ended but with a design challenge, gets kids thinking about the process, and sequences, in a creative way. There were a lot of proud artists leaving the library today.

Throughout the week, I have this display (below) in the kids library (for ages 0-12) so families can consider how they might support CT skills with their kids, small and big, at home.