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.
For the past several years I have been offering a special coding program (as part of the worldwide Hour of Code event) or another learning experience that supports Computational Thinking (CT). Why libraries? Kids and teens need CT skills, along with traditional literacy skills, to be able to effectively communicate and express themselves in the Digital Age.
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.
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.