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.

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.

Homer’s Great Reading Adventure, part 2: The Data

Now that we are a few weeks beyond the end of summer reading, my library’s tech specialist and I have playing with the data side of the Great Reading Adventure (GRA). (See more about our first summer using GRA here.) The numbers are valuable, not just for data geeks, but also for those interested in the financial side of things, local school staff and administrators, and those of us involved in the summer program’s long term plans. The numbers aren’t the whole picture, but they will help us paint a clearer, more expansive one.

For each piece of data we’ve looked at so far, I’ve explained it below, mentioned who it interests, and posed questions as a result of seeing the info in a new, detailed way.

Summer@HPL 2016 Overview image

City of Homer Population: 5,310 Library Service Area: 12,000+/-

The Data

For families, the Great Reading Adventure digital log was the one and only place to register for the 2016 summer program. Once registered, they recorded reading minutes for the reading challenge in the digital log. (Note: We did offer a one page log, for families who wanted to log time online only periodically, at the library for example.) Additionally, families used the platform for a few other things.

  • The GRA was one of several places they could find details about events (in addition to the library’s online calendar, etc.). We did not use it for event registration since most events did not require registration. (We used a web form on our library’s site in those cases.)
  • All registered family members could earn digital badges for specific amounts of reading time and when they entered secret codes found around town at events.
  • Participants could message the two of us managing the GRA with questions about the digital log, about the summer program, or library services in general.

As I mentioned, we used the GRA, in part, for the data! So here’s what we have learned so far:

    • We were able to look at the number of kids and teens who registered for the reading challenge and picked up at least one prize versus kids and teens who registered, but didn’t participate at all. Interestingly, almost every child and teen who logged time and picked up the first prize was hooked and kept participating.

      Who: This info is helpful for me, the one who plans the budget and buys prizes, etc. It’s also helpful for the library director and the Friends of the Library, the main funder of the summer program.

      Questions: Why didn’t some children, teens, or adults participate after registering? How many prizes do we need to buy for 2017? Can we incorporate more digital badges into the prize schedule, replacing some of the physical prizes and saving money?

    • Many kids and teens self-reported their school affiliation at registration which let us share some general data with schools about numbers of kids participating, total minutes logged, etc. (More on the school connection later.)

      Who: Obviously this is of interest to school administrators who want to support summer learning, but also to both me and the library director.

      Questions: Are we reaching families at schools with low participation? If not, why?

    • We analyzed the number of kids, teens, and adults registered in total and when they registered. This was important for knowing when and where to focus our outreach, marketing, and money. I have traditionally attended multiple Spring community events, intending to register lots of families. Last year I finally admitted that attending these events has value, but the registration numbers at these events are not an indicator of how many families will ultimately register or attend events. Now I had proof that I was right! This data is already helping guide our plans for 2017. The increase in family participation, the consistent number of child participants, and high general success with the digital log supported our decision to move from paper to digital.

      Who: This information is most valuable to me as the person who does all of the outreach and makes the overall decisions about the summer program. It is also useful to general library staff and families who might have questions about the switch from the traditional paper log booklet (for kids) and archaic digital log (for teens and adults) to the robust digital log for all ages.

      Questions: How can we make the digital log even easier for families to use, even with limited internet access? Can we have a designated logging station? Will the app in development meet more families’ needs?

    • We integrated the GRA digital badges into our summer program and were able to identify which badges were most popular- those accessed using secret codes posted at city parks as part of a community-wide scavenger hunt. This part of the summer program was even more of a hit than we thought it would be.

      The posted secret codes advertised the summer program to passersby and made a connection with the city’s parks and rec department staff and program.

      2016 SummerHPL Bishop's beach Secret Code image

      2016 SummerHPL Bishop’s Beach Secret Code

      Some families collected secret codes at all of our library events also, but that part of the program is still in its infancy and will be developed more for next year.

      The scavenger hunt aspect of the secret codes was a nice, but unexpected, segue into Pokémon GO fever which hit the country and our community at the tail end of the summer program. Families hunted for codes and completed a Maker Club-made scavenger hunt in the library and then started playing Pokemon Go with us at the library and around town. It all made for an active summer!

      Who: This information was useful mostly for me, as the program manager. Other staff and city employees are also interested.

      Questions: How do we develop more opportunities to engage the community in the summer program beyond the library’s walls? How do we harness the attention these secret codes received to include more families in the reading challenge and the summer program in general?

Summer Reading 2016, It’s a Wrap!

This past Saturday we finished up the 2016 summer reading and learning program. The 10 week program included the reading challenge and 53 programs designed to support families’ reading and learning as well as help them connect with the library in positive ways. The new digital log we’re using, the Great Reading Adventure, is giving us more data to pour over in the weeks to come, but in the meantime, I can report the summer was a success! Whole families participated more than ever, many new-to-the-library families enjoyed our variety of informal learning programs for the first time, and we were able to capitalize on the warm weather and encourage families to explore and play at city parks by planting summer reading secret codes around town.

Summer@HPL Ice Cream Celebration Sticky Wall image

Beginning of the Summer@HPL Ice Cream Celebration Sticky Wall

The Ice Cream Celebration we hold for kids at the end of each summer program was telling of this year’s success. Even with a smaller number of attendees than last year, the experience families had at the event was extremely positive. We replaced several carnival games with maker type activities (think LEGO building, play dough challenges and Harry Potter wand making) so the balance between prize winning and creative play was more even. Kids were happy and busy, instead of desperately running from game to game in search of more little plastic doo-dads, and they still left with a few prizes, free books, and bellies full of ice cream. We’re fostering lifelong learning and ‘making’ from an early age!

I’m shifting gears slightly and attending the Language Development and Family Engagement in the Digital Age Institute in DC this week, but I’ll share more stats from the summer reading and learning program, as well as final assessment of our Great Reading Adventure experience, when I return.