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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
families will understand the basics of how electricity work
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
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.
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).