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: 1

Happy New Year!

2017 was a crazy year all around, but it was exceptionally busy for me. The latter part of the year was consumed with my work on the Caldecott Award Committee and the Makers2Mentors <M2M> initiative I started, thanks to a Libraries Ready to Code grant funded by ALA and Google. Mum’s the word, for now, regarding my year of evaluating picture books, but I am ready to share about the <M2M> project.

Makers2Mentors logo in black and whiteWhat:
Makers2Mentors is a series of programs and opportunities for local youth and families to explore Computational Thinking and Computer Science in age-friendly ways. As part of the Ready to Code project, I am a member of a cohort (28 libraries in 21 states plus the District of Columbia) contributing to the design of a toolkit for all libraries to help kids, teens and families explore Computational Thinking and Computer Science at the library.

When:
November, 2017- August, 2018

Why:
I launched the initiative, in part, to address the huge gap in access to Computer Science education in my community by providing a variety of free programs for diverse audiences. And beyond the library, we wanted to stimulate a community conversation about why Computational Thinking and Computer Science are vital skills for Homer’s kids regardless of whether or not they work as a programmer, journalist, mariner, artist, etc.

This project is also an extension of my work with families around the idea of media mentorship and literacy in the Digital Age. Understanding CS and being able to communicate with digital tools reflect the evolution of literacy, much like the printing press did in 1234 (Asia) and then in 1440 (Europe). Finding information and creating content still happen on paper, but much of our  information exchange is happening online. How do we help kids, even young children,  navigate both traditional media and new media not solely as consumers, but as active participants and creative designers, producers and writers? How do we help families and educators support literacy and learning with tools that include high quality apps, digital tools and even robots in and out of the library?

How:
This initiative targets preschoolers, older kids, teenagers and their families. It is designed to capture the interests of many- maybe not all at the same program- by showing the many faces of CT and CS. Each program or component of the initiative will include both digital and ‘unplugged’ aspects and will have its own unique goal or intended outcome. Along with formal programs, we’ll also start circulating robot kits, add new CS related books to the collection and share information with parents about CT and CS. As part of <M2M>, kids and teens can be makers and they can also be mentors. Our community lacks a large CS community, so training teens as mentors empowers them and fills a need; additional instructors to help guide and teach.

I’ll be highlighting some of the programs and resources I use, including challenges and successes, over the coming months.

Media Literacy Week 2017

How are you celebrating Media Literacy Week 2017?

According to NAMLE, media literacy is defined as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication.”

Here is what I am up to:

  • Today, I wrote about media literacy in storytime on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center blog.
  • Tonight, I’ll be talking about media literacy with my library director on KBBI AM 890, our community’s public radio station, as part of an introduction to the airing of a media literacy panel recorded in September.
  • This week, I’ll be including media literacy in storytime.
  • This month,I am leading <HPLCode/>, an afterschool program that teaches coding concepts to 11-14 year olds and gets them creating their own digital content. This program is part of our Makers to Mentors <M2M> initiative sponsored by ALA and funded by Google (Libraries Ready to Code).
  • This year, we are promoting our Teen Digital Citizenship Challenge, a curated list of resources and activities teens and their families can try to learn more about media literacy and digital citizenship.

Simple Media Advisory in the Library

I’m always looking for better ways to provide media advisory that incorporate paper and digital resources, but that can be tricky. My library is small, has only limited resources, and is remote in comparison to many. We don’t have large monitors to project images or even good enough WiFi to keep an iPad connected 24/7. So I have to be creative. If you are a librarian or teacher, you probably know all about that.

So here is what I am doing lately. I am creating ‘Learn More’ themed signs, and accompanying displays, to provide media advisory (not just reader advisory) in simple ways wherever families look- throughout the children’s library landscape, on our website, and on social media. This isn’t a particularly new or innovative idea, but I wanted to highlight a simple example of media mentorship.

I start with the weekly storytime themes, pull in a broader array of library materials for kids 12 and under, and add high quality digital resources that relate to the theme but families might not know, or think, about. The idea is to connect families with information in multiple formats and encourage them to extend learning experiences with picture books, nonfiction books, audiobooks, movies, websites, apps, and more. The lists are not exhaustive by any means, but are a taste of what’s out there. The ‘Learn More: Penguins’ sign is part of a display in the library and is posted on our social media accounts. Again, it’s not super fancy, but media mentorship doesn’t need to be.

What does media mentorship look like in your library or classroom?

Learn More: Penguins display sign

Note: I love Jory John and Lane Smith’s latest book Penguin Problems for many reasons, but the inclusion of a walrus, an Arctic animal, in this obviously Antarctic tale was unfortunate. Alaskan kids are familiar with walrus since much of our state is above the Arctic circle, so when I read this book with kids I made sure to explain that walrus don’t actually live in the same parts of the world as penguins. Maybe that’s part of the humor? I’ve emailed Jory John to find out.