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.

Feltboard Algorithms in Storytime

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.

#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!

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.