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).

4 Ways to be Part of #HourofCode 2015 at my Library

Happy #HourofCode week!

For my library, this week is an anniversary. One year ago I began incorporating coding into our programs for kids and teens. Being able to code is a 21st century skill and fun, so the library is a natural place to offer opportunities to try coding and resources to take learning one step further. Coding lets kids and teens create media, instead of just consume it, which gives them a new platform for storytelling. Coding, and even hacking, also allows them to understand, actively participate in and help shape community conversations, many of which happen in the digital environment.

For those of you who may still be a little fearful of dabbling in code, just go for it! Use the idea of designing kid/teen programming as an excuse to learn a new skill. Be a lifelong learner! The basics are easy for most and the results are worth it.

So what am I doing this week? There are 4 ways to be part of the Hour of Code at my library:

  • Design a basic video game at the weekly Maker Club on Thursday, Dec 10, 3:30-5:30 (for ages 10-13) (We’ll be using Scratch, the Code.org tutorials, coding apps on our iPads, a Made w/Code tutorial featuring character from the movie Inside and Out. (We’ll also introduce kids to our new programmable Sphero balls at the Maker Club next week when we’ll integrate building with LEGOs to make challenge courses for the balls.)
  • Try Code.org’s Minecraft or Star Wars online coding tutorials loaded on the Kids’ Room computers. We’ve added icons next to the icons for Minecraft on the computers’ desktops in attempt to attract our afterschool Minecrafters. These free tutorials – and more – can also be accessed from anywhere HERE.
  • Create digital stories with code and the new PBSKIDS/ScratchJr app on the mounted iPad in our Kids’ Room (recommended for ages 5-8). This app is available for many tablets.
  • Check out a book on coding or programming to take home. We’ve created a list of the coding books for kids and teens that we have in our collection.

Planning a coding program and need help getting started? Check out this webinar on the #HourofCode I recently presented with my friend Daniel Cornwall at the Alaska State Library.

We’ve also created links on our website to other free resources that kids, teens and adults can explore on their own. They include:

hour-of-code-logo
codeacademy
google-made-with-code-logo-250x100
khan_academy
scratch_cat-250x77
codehs-250x99
edx-logo-250x100

Hour of Code: Coding for Girls

Intro to Coding for GirlsOn Saturday, I hosted a program which was part of the International Hour of Code Week (aka Computer Science Week) at my library. If you didn’t host a coding program during the celebratory week, or haven’t ever, I highly suggest you do it this week, next week or any time. The tools built for the event are available year round. Here’s why you should join the movement to get kids coding: The program combined kid appeal and learning of valuable computer skills, as well as motivated kids to create, not just consume, digital media in an informal learning environment. In less than two hours, kids were creating their own digital stories, images or tools. On top of all that, it was just plain fun.

I’ve hosted several tech related programs at our library and I regularly integrate digital media into others, even storytime. So, a coding program was a natural next step. The smart people involved with the Hour of Code make the process of introducing the concept of coding to kids pretty simple so I had the tools I needed. But how would I customize my program to meet the needs of 8-12 year old kids in my community?

I started by looking at who attended the tech programs at our library, at local schools and around town. What was already out there? What did kids want? What kids were already getting access to essential computer science (not just digital literacy) skills? What was missing? Where were the gaps? After doing some research, I started also asking where are the girls?

While the Digital Divide in terms of access is decreasing in many parts of the US, thanks in part to digital media in schools and libraries, the digital divide in terms of participation (also known as the participation or opportunity gap) is wide. (Daugherty, 2014) The participation gap involves knowing how to use the digital tool effectively to participate in, and define, our digital world.

Nationwide, girls are significantly underrepresented in Computer Science education and IT jobs. Locally, the situation is similar. Few girlsparticipate in tech-specific programs at the library and in local schools in any great numbers (outside of events sponsored by the Girl Scouts), yet knowing how to code opens up many more opportunities to create, learn, build and participate. They do however come to other programs at the library in large numbers. I had a gut feeling about why there was such a difference in girls’  attendance at the different types of programs, but I decided to do some research. After all, I wanted girls to come to the program, and more importantly, get a taste of coding and what they could do with it. After all, diversity fosters innovation.

The Research
I found excellent research results in the report, Girls in IT: The Facts, created by the National Center for Women and Information Technology and funded in part by the National Science Foundation. I also found the Made With Code site, part of the Google Initiative to create opportunities that inspire girls to code and explore Computer Science. The report Google published, Women Who Choose Computer Science- What Really Matters, discusses what influences girls who choose to learn about coding and pursue Computer Science.

Designing a Program for Girls
At the library we try to offer programs for everyone. We host storytimes for preschoolers, sponsor events for teens, coordinate an adult book club, lead a LEGO club for kids 7-12, share stories and crafts with remote neighbors in our outreach storytimes and deliver books to homebound patrons. We both design programs for our regular patrons and those who are infrequent or first time visitors. I like to think of this as providing equal access to information while also providing equitable service. Each patron needs something a bit different. I saw the girls coding program as one of many ways we connect community members with information.

There were some fundamental decisions I made to attract girls to this program.

  • Made the program for girls only so no girl was the “only girl” (along with an adult they wanted to bring to encourage joint media engagement and get adults coding too)
  • Lead the program myself, a female mentor
  • Featured nontraditional coding tutorials that include girl characters and female mentors
  • Paired girls together so the learning process was collaborative
  • Created a lab type of environment so each team could work at their own pace and have several opportunities to explore a tool deeply or move to another one, depending on their interest and expertise
  • Fostered the social aspect of the program- the opening activity we did together got girls talking and gave everyone a chance to to get to know each other in a fun way

Yes, most of these individual program elements could easily apply to any program, and will when I repeat the Intro to Coding program for boys and girls in February. But, in combination, it created a program environment that research shows makes girls feel more comfortable and supported so I decided to try it.

The Program: Made w/Code: Intro to Coding for Girls

Equipment
While I led the program myself, I definitely needed help from the intrepid IT department and a couple of coworkers. I also needed quite a list of equipment for the event and things like secure wifi in the room we were using for faster access.

  • Laptop and large monitor for viewing initial mentor videos
  • Supplies for making peanut butter and jelly sandwich (see below)
  • 10 iPads with Hour of Code apps preloaded (App List: Intro to Coding for Girls Program Tools)
  • 5 laptops
  • Router for boosted wifi to run tutorials
  • Splitters and headphones (1 splitter and 2 headsets for each computer)
  • Take home sheets with coding resources
  • Paper and pencils for writing notes
  • Snacks

Program Plan (2 hours)

  • Introductions (5 min)
  • What is Coding/Programming (5 min)
  • Why a Program for Girls (5 min)
  • P, B & J- Coding Unplugged* (10 min)
  • Nontraditional Mentors/ Coding and the Arts: Made w/Code video about Miral Kotb & ILuminate (see video above) (5 min)
  • Tutorials from the Hour of Code: Frozen or Angry Birds (in teams) (45-60 min)
  • Break (5-10 min)
  • Coding Apps (5 min intro)
  • Free Time (15 min)
  • Share-What the Girls Had to Say (5 min)
  • Clean Up

*To better explain the concept of programming and demonstrate what code is, I pretended to be a highly evolved robot that they would program to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, based on this classic lesson plan. I laid out the supplies in front of me (jar of peanut butter, jar of jelly, bag of sliced bread, knife, plate) and then had the girls tell me what to do- the very specific instructions that make up a program. There were times when I obviously didn’t understand and they had to debug the program. It was hilarious and effective!

What the Girls Had to Say
9 girls and 4 adults attended the program- the perfect number. I didn’t have girls pre-register and it turned out to be the right fit anyway. The next program will require registration and I’ll target the same number because I’ll be leading the program solo again. Here are some of the comments girls had for me:

  • When is the next program?
  • The dance video with all of the lights was cool!
  • I don’t get to play on an iPad. I loved the apps and getting to play the app I wanted.
  • I liked the variety of apps and tutorials, so we all found something we liked.
  • The Peanut Butter & Jelly game was fun!

My Thoughts
The program went very well in general. The group was the right size and the girls meshed well. They were comfortable together. It was wonderful to see parents and grandparents learning and exploring alongside their girls. I loved the cooperative spirit and the real interest the girls had, several of whom I had never seen at a library program before.

My biggest issues? They were technology-related, of course right? Some of the issues can be fixed for next time, some are issues with Alaska’s broadband. Having unplugged tricks up my sleeve was very helpful.

Community Response
This article about the program appeared in a local paper.

I co-presented this webinar, Hour of Code: All Year Long, for Alaskan librarians interested in finding out about the Hour of Code and the Intro to Coding for Girls program at our library.

While we received a lot of interest in and positive comments about the program, one parent contacted me to complain that her son could not attend and challenged my decision to hold a girls only program. In all regards, the program created lots of conversation in the community.

 

Daugherty, Lindsay, Dossani, Rafiq, Johnson, Erin-Elizabeth, and Oguz, Mustafa. “Using Early Childhood Education to Bridge the Digital Divide.” Rand Corporation.  2014. accessed at: http://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE119.html