Storytelling, Writing and Computational Thinking

Happy New Year!

2019 was a busy year. I found myself knee-deep in new ideas, exciting projects, the day-to-day of working with kids and their families at the library. As I look back, one of my favorite threads winding through all of it, was digital storytelling and making opportunities for kids and their families to write their own stories using a variety of media, including digital.

Digital Storytelling for Young Children & Their Grownups

In the Spring, five families with children ages 6-8 spent a Saturday morning at the library practicing early computational thinking* skills while creating stories together with ScratchJr. The relaxed and conversation-rich program provided an opportunity for young children and their grownups to learn basic coding together. After a brief introduction to what CT is and how to use the pre-reader friendly, block programming in ScratchJr, each family worked on one computer, co-designing characters, selecting backdrops, experimenting, writing brief dialogue, and animating their short narratives. The low pressure program introduced kids and adults to a new kind of learning media and revealed the expanding array of tools and kinds of learning experiences families can use to support their children’s literacy skills. Families continue to craft stories using ScratchJr. at home or on the library’s iPad digital learning station.

Based on the success of this program, in 2020 I will be offering a 6-week series on computational thinking for preschoolers and their families.

ScratchJr. on the library’s iPad Digital Learning Station. The station includes two headsets and two seats to encourage Joint Media Engagement and ScratchJr. tip cards to help new digital storytellers get started.

From Scratch Coding Camp

This past summer, I lead a 5-day digital storytelling camp for a dozen kids ages 9-12 with the help of Karmen, a community member. Inspired by CS First‘s coding curriculum and Scratch, we gave these authors, illustrators, directors, playwrights, programmers, and voice actors the tools they needed to create animated stories that were funny, complex, and completely unique. We had so much fun creating and learning together. Kids played with story design, character development, dialogue, and genre. The low pressure setting aloud them to apply what they knew about writing, in new ways, to stories that were personally meaningful. They brainstormed, discussed their ideas, storyboarded, explored the technical features of Scratch that would help them animate their stories, and experimented. Mistakes happened, kids got stuck, Karmen and I had to change activity plans daily, but we each applied computational thinking skills and dispositions to the process and found success!

As part of planning, Karmen and I created a paper storyboarding tool (on the right) to help campers plan and organize their stories in Scratch. A paper iteration of different scenes we included in our collaborative demo story is found on the left.

My favorite part of the camp was the successful collaboration displayed in a variety of ways. Collaborating happened side-by-side – one story created by two kids working together over the 5 days on a single computer, by multiple kids on separate computers expanding and altering stories in stages using Scratch’s remixing feature, and as part of real time revisions kids helped Karmen and I make to the story we created for demo purposes and expanded over the length of the camp. On the last day, each creator confidently presented their story to an audience of campers and families who asked thoughtful questions about their process.

Problem solving

FanFic for Teens

While I was working with this younger storytellers, a coworker was meeting with older aspiring FanFic writers who were using computational thinking to crafting new iterations of popular stories they love like the Harry Potter stories. This slightly more traditional writing program incorporated some of the same computational thinking skills – decomposition, algorithm design, pattens recognition – as digital storytelling.

Programming Projected Animations

In October, I attended the Connected Learning Summit in Irvine, CA and one of the personal highlights of the conference was getting the chance to play, in a learning kind of way, with other librarians and educators. The Scratch team co-led a “Playful Projections and Programming‘ session that invited us to create interactive animations using Scratch. It was refreshing to team up and design something just for fun. We weren’t figuring out a lesson plan for a program or class. We were just learning.

While I didn’t go to the session with a library program in mind, I immediately integrated the idea into a regular maker program I host. With a couple of projectors, a few computers, paper, a whiteboard, tape and some markers, kids programmed animations that filled the walls of our meeting room and invited curious onlookers to stop in.

One group expanded and modified the animations I originally created as a demo for the day’s activity (the underwater scene above made with digital fish and paper seaweed) and others worked on brand new animations, including the one below of a basketball player shooting hoops over a unicorn. (The basketball player and ball are digital, the hoop is drawn on a whiteboard and the unicorn is digital enhanced with markers on the whiteboard.)

While this program used coding in Scratch, I never taught coding formally to these kids. I presented the problem – to create an animation using both digital and physical parts – and gave them the tools to solve the problem. Some worked on their own while others worked in pairs. Kids identified what they were trying to do and others, myself or other kids, helped them figure out how to accomplish their goal.

CSEd Week Community Partnership

There are still few opportunities for kids of all ages in our community to dive deep into programming as part of their developing literacy skills. Several of us are developing partnerships to expand the kinds of learning experiences where kids and families can try programming as a tool for self-expression. The most recent one came about during CSEd Week in December. I teamed up with a local elementary school librarian and two of her fellow teachers to introduce digital storytelling to 4th and 5th graders using CS First’s Everyday Hero coding curriculum. The three part project involved brainstorming as a class about what makes a hero, traditional writing activities in class, and animating their heroes while learning some basic coding concepts using Scratch with me.

I lead 5th graders at West Homer Elementary through basic Scratch tasks as they learn how to animate the everyday hero they wrote about in class.

One of the goals of this project included increasing access to both computational thinking and basic coding skills for kids and educators. I also wanted kids who had gained some coding experience at the library to see how coding might be used in other parts of their life, in this case school, and have new avenues for creating reflective, relevant stories. The project was brief, but it was a successful first step towards future partnerships.

A teen near-peer mentor supports two 4th graders creating a program to animate a digital version of the everyday hero they wrote about in class.

In fact, the pilot project has led to a next iteration planned for Spring 2020. We are currently co-designing a combined oral and digital storytelling unit that will take place over multiple days and allow for more exposure to coding with Scratch and computational thinking skills.

*Find out more about computational thinking by searching this site with the computational thinking tag. A team of us are also coauthoring a white paper with the PLA Family Engagement Task Force in 2020 about computational thinking with young children and their families at the library. Sign up for my blog mailing list to hear about the paper release.

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…

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.