Guest Post: Libraries Connecting to Nature

For the first time, Never Shushed is featuring a guest post! Please welcome Gay Mohrbacher from WGBH, the creators of valuable digital content that supports literacy and learning for children and their families.

Libraries are active participants in the ongoing movement to get families outside and connected with nature. Many house regional natural history collections; others host kids nature clubs, offer community garden registries, loan outdoor equipment, or develop collections on sustainability themes. They also offer families programming and information about resources for outdoor learning.

A free resource that librarians and families can both use to actively explore nature comes from the PBS KIDS multimedia project, Plum Landing. The website, designed for children ages 6 to 9, stars a plum-shaped alien and her human friends who teach kids about the biodiversity of different ecosystems through games and short animated and live-action videos, but also gets them outside to investigate and experience, and then publicly share documentation from their local surroundings. 

For librarians, there are educational resources for settings like afterschool or week-long vacation programs. The free curriculum provides collections of hands-on science activities paired with media—animations, videos, games, photo apps, and more—arranged in thematic sequence and aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards.  

In an activity called Seed Spot! children learn how plants spread seeds to give their offspring the space and resources to grow. To start, kids can watch a 2.5-minute animated video about wearing fuzzy socks outdoors to collect seeds on the ground—then they head outdoors on a scavenger hunt for different kinds of plants and seeds. There are extension ideas and an online game called Seed Racer to continue the learning about how seeds are dispersed.

Librarians can:

  • Choose from a collection of children’s activities designed to support outdoor exploration. Activities range from 10 to 40 minutes long, are low cost/low prep, and can be led by any informal educator, no matter their educational background. There are short animated videos to introduce the activity, or you can skip the video and dive right in. 
  • Use the Educator Tip videos to learn tried-and-true best practices in leading outdoor science exploration. The videos are hosted by Jessie Scott, a longtime outdoor educator with the U.S. Forest Service.
  • Print out and offer any of the self-guided activities for families to do themselves—these are available in English and Spanish. For example, you could encourage families to try the Build a Watershed activity in which kids and parents build a very simple model of a landscape to see how water droplets flow and how the shape of the land helps collect water.
  • Introduce the free Outdoor Family Fun with Plum App, (available for iOS, Android, and Amazon devices), which helps families build a habit of nature exploration. Whenever they open the app, families receive new “missions” asking them to find, count, photograph, and talk about things like birds, clouds, bugs, or shadows. Each mission includes a call to action, a tool for the mission (like a counter), and tips. To encourage parents to use the app on a repeated basis, new missions and achievements unlock as families progress. In all, there are 150+ unique missions to explore the local environment.

Kids who spend time exploring outdoors feel more connected to plants and animals and come to better understand the need to take care of the planet. Research shows that regularly doing outdoor activities boosts mental and physical health. Plum Landing’s kid-tested activities make it fun and easy to explore outdoors—with very little prep and no expensive materials. Visit Plum Landing online to begin your explorations: pbskids.org/plumlanding

About the author:

Gay Mohrbacher coordinates educational outreach for the children’s environmental science initiative, PLUM LANDING, produced by WGBH, Boston’s PBS station. WGBH is recognized as a national leader in producing media-based resources to support learning and teaching. A top priority is serving under-resourced children and working with national partners and local communities to overcome barriers to educational success. 

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.

#CSed Week 2018 is here!

Computer Science Education Week is December 3-8!

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.

Want to know more about the connection between CT and early literacy? Join Paula Langsam (DC Public Libraries) and I for a free webinar on Tuesday, December 4th called Thinking Sideways: Computational Thinking and Early Literacy. It is hosted by the Public Library Association. (Registration required.) 

Here are some of the activities I will be including in CSed Week 2018:

Looking for program ideas and other resources? The Libraries Ready to Code collection (aka toolkit) is now live!

Media Literacy Week: Girls Learning to Code at the Library

It’s Media Literacy Week (November 5-9)! How are you helping youth in your community learn how to access, analyze, evaluate, COMMUNICATE and CREATE using a variety of media formats? 

Girls learn how to solder with the help of a teen mentor at the Girls Get IT! NCWIT camp. (Ages 9-12)

Two high school girls from my community are in the process of applying for NCWIT’s annual Aspirations Award. The award “honors women in grades 9 through 12 who are active and interested in computing and technology, and encourages them to pursue their passions.” Many young women, from all 50 states and US Territories, apply each year so two might not seem remarkable. But, in my community it is another step in the right direction.

While not new, the fact that women are underrepresented in the tech world and STEM professions, especially in leadership roles, still persists. In rural communities, jobs in tech-related fields, and many types of STEM professions, seem out of reach or are never introduced as an option, especially to girls. At my library and many others, girls are often out numbered by boys in maker programs, LEGO clubs, and robotics teams. The goal of these programs is to provide access to learning opportunities that introduce and strengthen Computational Thinking (CT) skills and computer science knowledge, yet a significant number of kids are still missing from the picture. Populations of kids still think these programs, and the associated skills, are for others. How much do we really talk with kids and teens, including girls, about the important role computer science now plays in business, government, and our/their personal lives, beyond “screen time?”

Makers2Mentors, our Libraries Ready to Code project, aimed to change that. What if kids and teens in our community had new opportunities to become comfortable not just using digital media on a superficial level, but digging deeper to understand how computers work and using digital tools to express themselves and make their voices heard?

Girls learn the basics of 3D design with the help of a teen mentor at the Girls Get IT! NCWIT camp. (Ages 9-12)

Over time I have connected the idea of learning how to code to learning how a book works. If we teach young children the fundamental concepts that will later fuel them as readers and writers, which we do in storytime and in other experiences, why can’t we prepare kids and teens to control digital information, creating and manipulating the medium, just as authors and creators have done with paper formats?

One of the goals we set for the Makers2Mentors project was to provide CT and CS learning experiences specifically for girls. We want more girls to learn CT and CS skills, and be prepared to think critically about information in all its forms, so we wanted to encourage their participating in all of the M2M programs. I also recognized that I needed to reach out to girls in targeted ways. In some cases, this meant integrating CS and CT into traditional library programs like storytime to reach girls before extreme gender stereotypes about STEM get a foot hold. I also led a coding program for girls and their moms (or grandmothers, aunts, grown-up female friends), partnered with the local Girl Scouts to provide a girl scout overnight for area troops featuring robotics and CT activities, and hosted a camp for girls, led by visiting CS college students, that introduced girls to new skills as they explored computer hardware and software.

Reaching underrepresented populations requires creativity and doing things differently. Obviously, if a group isn’t coming to the current programs or using the library space now, something needs to change. New partnerships, unique program designs and flexibility are essential. Sometimes opportunities to provide learning experiences come in unexpected ways.

Girls and their families are excited about making a space for girls’ voices in the digital world, even those from a faraway place like Homer, Alaska.

Teen mentors are recognized for their service and interest during the reading of the 2018 National Library Week proclamation at a City Council meeting.

Key to the success of many of the M2M programs was the empowerment of teen mentors who helped fill leadership gaps often found in small communities like mine. Many of these mentors were girls, and in fact, several of the girls who acted as mentors became interested in learning about CT/CS as they mentored. They got involved not because of their tech experience, but because they like mentoring. So, I capitalized on their valuable leadership skills and ended up providing CT/CS training sessions that became ‘programs’ in and of themselves. They learned about CT and CS and helped other girls (and boys) gain new skills also. Over the course of the year long grant period, more girls were interested in both the girl specific programs and general events.

Here are some images highlighting girls in the library’s M2M programs.

Girls make cardboard automata at an afterschool Maker Club.
A girl programs Ozobots with markers at a Maker Club session.
Two girls, with their moms, make the robot Dash move during a coding program. (Ages 8-12)
Girls and moms work in teams to program Dash & Dot robots.
Young girls, and a teen mentor, learn coding basics with Dash and Dot at the Girl Scouts overnight held last winter. (ages 5-11)
A teen mentor preps materials for a LEGO Lab featuring LEGO WeDo.
Girls Get IT! camp was a little fun…

Take the Survey! Young Children, New Media and Libraries 2018

Have you taken the Young Children, New Media and Libraries 2018 Survey yet? If not, you have until August 31 to share your thoughts about, and experiences with, new media in your library work with young children.

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.

Who is behind the survey?

Dr. Katie Campana (Kent State University), Liz Mills (University of Washington), Dr. Marianne Martens (Kent State University) and I are conducting the survey in partnership with the ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children.

You can find out more about the 2014 findings, and find a link to the current survey, here. 2018 survey findings will be shared widely.