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).

Makers2Mentors: HPLCode Program

Searching for images for a Scratch project background

Beginning in November of last year, a group of kids ages 11-14 started meeting at the library once a week after school as part of a new program, <HPLCode>, which is part of my library’s <M2M> or Makers2Mentors initiative. (Read general information about the initiative and Libraries Ready to Code here.) In years past, we’ve offered intros to coding, Hour of Code sessions, a web design series and a week long coding camp (thanks to a grad student at Carnegie Melon’s Entertainment Technology program), but we have never offered a program that allows kids to delve deeper into coding, computer science and computational thinking; particularly programs specifically for ages 11-14 (middle schoolers). We decided to offer the <HPLCode> program for a few reasons.

  • We recognized that understanding both Computational Thinking (CT) and Computer Science (CS) concepts is part of literacy in the Digital Age. With CS and CT skills, kids would be better prepared for the work force that lies ahead regardless of the field or occupation they choose.
  • There are no computer science courses offered through area schools. I recognized a void that the library could help fill.
  • The kids who have regularly attended the Maker Club and LEGO Club events (for 8-12 year olds) were aging out and expressing interest in other opportunities to keep making and creating using digital tools.

The first part of <HPLCode> ran for 7 weeks. 5 weeks included “formal” instruction (led by me with the help of video tutorials) followed by free play, tween style, inspired by a particular concept. The goals of the program were:

  • introduce key CS concepts common across programming languages and provide opportunities for kids to apply those concepts
  • provide a new social experience for kids interested in Computer Science; connect kids from different schools and friend groups
  • attract more and different kids to the library, including those underrepresented in formal library programs
  • connect kids to CS professionals with a connection to Alaska
  • offer a CS program that allowed kids to help mold its design
  • broaden after school ‘making’ opportunities for kids older than 12
  • make accessible the opportunity for kids to create a digital project that addressed a problem in their life or in the community
  • test the program prototype for the Libraries Ready to Code project
picture of boy watching Skye interview on monitor

HPLCode Interview with Lauren Farleigh of Dote

When: Thursdays, 4-5:30 (extended to 4-6 based on kids’ requests) November 2 – Dec 21 (except for Thanksgiving Day)

Who: Kids ages 11-14 (primarily 11-12 years)

What: Kids were introduced to basic Computer Science and Computational Thinking concepts while they learned to code in Javascript and design basic video games or choose your own adventure apps.

Where: Library’s meeting room which offers conference style seating, dry erase board for drawing/planning, and a large monitor for projecting slides, teaching videos, Skype video for expert interviews, and group work

Resources: Code.org (CS curriculum, App Lab and Game Lab), App Authors, Scratch, Google CSMakeCode (for micro:bit)

CS Concepts: Algorithms, Functions, Variables, Loops, Conditionals, Events

Computational Thinking Concepts and Ideas: Abstraction, Decomposition, and Pattern Recognition, Debugging and Problem Solving, Prototyping, Feeling connected to the broader CS community

Equipment and Materials: Chromebooks, micro:bits, Scratch challenge cards, large monitor for projecting slides or video, flash drives for each and ear buds or headphones for each (provided by Friends group) with splitters to foster shared projects, paper/pencils for storyboarding, designing and problem solving, snacks

CS Professionals interviewed: Lauren Farleigh (dote.com), Reid Magdanz and Grant Magdanz (Chert- Alaska’s Native Language Keyboard app), and Kasey Aderhold (IRIS).

Staffing: Myself and one local high school mentor with previous programming and game design experience

Successes:

  • We received notice about LRtC participation and the grant award at the end of October. The grant funding was needed to move ahead with <HPLCode> as planned so up until then, the program was only tentative. We were able to go ahead with the dates and got to work with last minute advertising. We attracted several kids (4-7), all who had not participated in formal library programs before. The group size actually allowed for me to work out some of the planning bugs as we proceeded with the program plan. it was a prototype. For example, the kids were on the younger end of the range and less experienced with maker projects and coding in general. We spread out the CS concepts over the 7-week program and spent more time with each concept than initially anticipated.
  • The majority of the small group, which grew from 4 to 7,  participated each week and continued with the follow up program after the Winter Break (<HPLCode> Lab), allowing for deeper exploration and practice of CS concepts.
  • I found a high school student to help with the program who will continue to act as a teen mentor during the Makers2Mentors initiative. His participation continues a legacy of integrating high school students interested in STEM careers as leaders for youth programming. These mentors help us extend program reach and support their growth as young adults.
  • While we started the program using Code.org’s App Lab and Game Lab (remixing pre-made apps and creating choose your own adventure apps) because of the nice selection of associated video tutorials found in the various curriculum, kids ultimately wanted to use Scratch for their projects. That was fine with me because one of the program’s intended outcomes was to get input from the participating kids and offer them the opportunity to help mold this prototype program and the next iteration. I was clear from the beginning that this program was an experiment and I needed their help defining it.
  • I introduced a Mini Design Challenge during the 6th and 7th week of the <HPLCode> portion of the program to spark project ideas using the resources we had available. Kids loved this and immediately got to work. They helped define the must-have elements for the challenge projects.
  • The program’s teen mentor entered and won the Congressional App Challenge for Alaska after I connected with him initially about helping <HPLCode> and then sent him info about the national challenge.
  • An issue with access to Scratch (see below) initiated a conversation about digital citizenship, respectful participation in the Scratch community and responsible game design.
  • Interviews with CS professionals introduced kids to ‘start ups’, the different jobs available in the world of CS, and online communities like GitHub where they can participate and develop their skills beyond the library program, even in communities outside the traditional tech hubs.

The circled portion of the image shows the elements of the challenge kids defined.

Challenges:

  • The code.org curriculum options beyond Hour of Code are extensive, but I couldn’t quite find one that fit my age range, length of program, topics and learning environment exactly. They seem best suited for a classroom experience where kids are with the educator everyday or meet regularly over a long period. All of the curriculum included the concepts I wanted to introduce but they were taught amidst other concepts or ideas (how the internet works, for example) that I didn’t have time to include.
  • The program attracted less kids than I had hoped and only 1 or 2 girls, depending on the week. Beyond gender, the program did attract a diverse group of kids all of whom had not participated in library programs before. (I am offering a Girls Code one-off program in February to try a different approach to connecting girls with CS/CT. I am also working with the local Girl Scouts troops on an overnight event for girls related to the new badges focused on CS and robotics.)
  • The kids had minimal coding experience and had not participated in the library’s maker programs, in particular, so they were less familiar with CT in practice, with me or the other kids. It took some time to get comfortable with each other and figure out their interests and experience.
  • The kids who attended were younger than I had anticipated (11-12 mostly) and either had a project in mind that was beyond the resources we had available or had no project in mind. We developed the Mini Design Challenge for week 6 and 7 to address this (see above.)
  • We weren’t able to order and receive the Chromebooks until 4 weeks into the program (because of a funding delay), so we had to borrow Chromebooks from another city department for the first part of the program.
  • When the kids wanted to switch to Scratch, we discovered that our library’s IP address had been blocked by Scratch for violations of the Scratch Community Guidelines. City IT staff helped us with a temporary solution between program sessions while we contacted the Scratch team about the issue. We discovered that someone using our public computers or wifi had posted ‘flirtatious’ and inappropriate comments about a project and once blocked had tried to create a new account with the same email. We worked with the Scratch team to get our address unblocked and discussed the guidelines and digital citizenship at <HPLCode> the following week.
  • The teen mentor has programming experience, but wasn’t comfortable talking in front of the group formally, I discovered after we started the program. I was initially expecting him to co-teach with me, filling in my knowledge gaps, but that didn’t work out. Towards the end of the 7 weeks, we finally figured out what role was a good fit for him and he worked best as a near peer mentor. He was happy with that, but it meant more work for me learning and preparing for each session. I will have clearer job descriptions and expectations in the future.
  • The teen mentor has CS experience, but is less comfortable with CT concepts (decomposition, for example) and skills which was interesting and a bit surprising. He was reluctant to use Javascript or Blockly, for example. After I figured that out, I gave him tasks to help reinforce those ideas. I also gave him parameters for tasks that were real-world related, for example ideas for the mini-design challenge that required a certain programming language, a specific tool, addressed a problem, etc.

In January when school was back in session, we began phase 2 of this program, <HPLCode> Lab. The idea behind this portion of the program was to offer kids equipment, space and support to continue working on their mini design challenge or try something new. Other kids were welcome to join if they had some coding experience. More on this piece when it finishes in early February.

Makers2Mentors logo in black and white

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.

Summer, 2017: Two Teen Successes

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m assessing the 2017 summer program in bits and pieces as time allows. Here are a couple of successes to share.

Teen Scratch Ticket Challenge

We connected with a wide variety of teens this summer with the help of scratch tickets, of all things. The idea is borrowed from the genius, Kat at the 5 Min Librarian. In May, I read her post about the Scratch Ticket Challenge and thought it was a great idea. (Read her post to find out the tech details. I followed her lead and used her template with little variation.) Using the tickets was a last minute addition, but her description seemed easy enough to pull off in my small library as a pilot and I was looking for something new to spice up the teen summer reading/learning experience. (I’ll post more about the passive challenges we also had success with soon.) Ultimately the goal is to encourage teens to keep reading all summer and if a method other than the traditional “keep track of reading” works, why not try it?

We offered every teen who checked out a book or audiobook in the physical library a scratch ticket (1 ticket per day, maximum) which either got them a prize from the candy drawer, the surprise prize drawer or no prize in which case their ticket was entered into the grand prize drawing at the end of the summer. It was easy to keep track of the number of tickets printed for statistical purposes and my coworkers found it easy to manage. They loved giving out the tickets to unsuspecting teens!

Not only did we connect with teens who don’t want to keep track of their reading (in a digital or paper log) yet still read all summer and checked out books from the library, we also caught the attention of teens who are not regularly represented in program attendance; for example, teens who live remotely and visit the library sporadically or those who have limited family support. Our teen participation went from 24 last year to 83 this year. Most of the increase was thanks to teens who were not registered for the reading challenge. The teens who loved the scratch ticket game the most were on the younger end, 12-14. Why? My guess, after looking at the names of these kids, is because they recently graduated from the kids’ reading challenge and like the idea of participating in a game type program. I also saw lots of names I had never seen in any library program ever. Some teens participated both in the game and in the official reading challenge so they were entered into the 2 grand prize drawings multiple times.

What I like about this scratch ticket idea is that it meets teens who are reading where they, or at least some of they, are- at the circ desk checking books out. Teens were pleasantly surprised so to be offered a scratch ticket! Next year we plan to continue some version of the scratch ticket game; using it to both “reward” regular users and attract more teens to the library.

DIY Virtual Reality Goggles

Teen making DIY VR Goggles

Our DIY Virtual Reality Goggles program for teens was another successful teen program, but not in the usual stats sort of way. On a spreadsheet, it might not seem like a win compared with other programs I host. It was one of those programs that required a decent amount of planning time and didn’t see significant numbers. It’s beauty lay in the conversation that unfurled during the 2 hour program, in the confidence that filled the teen makers and in the new interests the project sparked.

Imagine 4 teenage boys crafting and chatting about a variety of topics for two hours and you’ll get an idea of what happened. (The cardboard goggles require measuring, cutting and gluing cardboard from shoeboxes or pizza boxes, plus fitting lens and other materials.) Yes, we talked about Virtual Reality, we briefly tested out the goggles at the end and I gave them a list of VR apps (see below) to try at home, but mostly they wanted to “hang out, mess around and geek out” (HOMAGO), as they say.  Eryn, the teen mentor who has helped me for the last two years with everything from the maker club to storytime, and I were amazed.

If you have teenagers and you drive them in a car much, you can imagine the kind of conversation that rolled out over the two hours. When teens are in the right space with the right group and at the right time, they talk about everything in such an uninhibited way. There was nothing shocking revealed, just a group of boys, plus Eryn and I, tinkering and talking. The kids who didn’t know each other, verbally danced around topics until they found common ground. When one didn’t know what the other was talking about, the group filled him in. Eryn and I were enveloped into the conversations without hesitation.

After two hours, we eventually had to “kick them out”  and finish cleaning up. For most of the four, the goggles they made were considered a prototype and the templates they took home will be used to make the next, more polished pair. This was a program that capitalized on the allure of new media, got teens making and learning, provided access to a new technology and connected teens with each other. Win. Win.

The funniest quote? “We’re actually going to make VR goggles? I thought we were just going to watch a video about them.”

DIY VR Goggle template and cardboard laid out on table

Materials (planned for 8-10, plus 2 extras):
lightweight cardboard (from shoe boxes or pizza boxes)
2-3 X-acto knives, used at a “precision” station to avoid sharp tools being lost amongst the cardboard remains
metal rulers to help make folds clean
scissors capable of cutting cardboard, enough for each teen to have a pair
glue stick and white glue
45mm focal length biconvex plastic lenses (see template link below for details)
velcro
rubber band
table coverings to protect surface
*We didn’t use the copper tape button. It works just as well to use tap the phone screen with a finger. (See template instructions.)
Instructables template and instructions

And here are the VR apps I shared with the group of teens:

Summer, 2017! No wait, Fall!

dead pink salmon on rocky beach

It’s officially Fall here in Homer, Alaska. I know that because of the yellows, oranges and reds that dot the landscape, the dead and dying salmon whose bodies lie on local stream-sides and because of the darkness, the elusive darkness that we trade each August for the long, fun-filled days of summer.

Every year I plan to spend August reflecting on the summer programs, assessing what worked and what needs to be modified in the future. I also dream of having a couple of weeks to plan the months ahead. Once again, the reflection has been squeezed between program planning and hosting, grant writing, leading trainings and webinars, desk time and reviewing Caldecott submissions. Hours of reflection are a figment of my imagination. You know what I mean.

One thing I do know is the summer was a good one in so many ways. Not every aspect of our summer learning program went as planned or had the outcomes we intended, but overall we succeeded.

  • Kids, teens and families kept reading, learning, playing and creating all summer long and they often did them together.
  • Families found support at the library.
  • We continued to find ways to fill learning voids in our community.
  • We provided supported access for a diverse audience of kids to all sorts of media.
  • I mentored another young woman who graduated from the local high school and spent one last summer mentoring younger kids in a variety of programs before heading off to MIT. (I’m so proud and sad to see her go.)
  • We grew positive community partnerships.

I’ll share my reflections on specific aspects of the summer program in following posts.