Maker Monday: Electricity

This summer’s Maker Monday programs (for ages 8-18) have included a variety of opportunities to explore and create. During a recent Monday, a gaggle of kids and teens joined us at the library to learn about electricity and play with some new toys. After sharing the Makey Makey with preschoolers during a storytime the previous week, I wanted to include older kids in the fun. Along with the BrushBots we made, the Makey Makey offers a perfect tool for talking about electricity in a way that makes the learning process fun and relevant.

Makey Makey Set Up

Here’s how the program went:

Makey Makey

We began by talking about electricity. We shared how we use electricity and its sources. I introduced them to the tiny, but powerful, world of atoms, protons, electrons, and neutrons. Our discussion included the ideas of neutrality, balance and how energy moves. The conversation also included a static electricity experiment (rubbing balloons on our hair) and the significance of the closed circuit or loop.

Need some videos to refresh your knowledge about electricity? Check out the old School House Rocks electricity video or Bill Nye’s video. Here’s a helpful information sheet that might come in handy also.

At this point, the kids were ready to put their new knowledge to work. None of them had ever seen a Makey Makey before and they were all curious to see what it could do. I showed them this brief video to get them thinking. “How do they do that?” was my favorite comment!

We then spent about 30 minutes testing the conductivity of various items and using the tool to make music and play games as a group. I encouraged the group to throw out any ideas they might have about how the Makey Makey should work. I shared with them the recent study about preschoolers and their ability to figure out tech gadgets more easily than much older college students. The researchers found that the preschoolers didn’t have preconceived ideas of how they should work, making it easier to explore how the machine works. They openly explored what was possible. Engineers and makers often do the same thing I told the group.

As we began to try out the Makey Makey we focused on the basic set up, using just the four alligator clips that turn a banana, or purple play dough, for example, into an arrow key. All the while, I reinforced the idea of the loop or closed circuit. This was the idea I picked as a take home for the group. Here are some of things we tested with the Makey Makey.Testing Conductivity

I explained that we were going to explore the Makey Makey together and then after building BrushBots whoever wanted to play with the Makey Makey again would have time for that. We began with a set of four bananas and then started switching out individual items ending up with alligator clips connected to four different objects. The coolest part of the test was creating a closed circuit with people! We got everyone to stand in a circle, with one person holding the negative (ground) and another person holding one of the positive clips. In between the two was the rest of the group. We were able to play music when we touched hands. We got a few smiles, for sure…

The materials I used for this experiment:
a Makey Makey
computer with USB for accessing video and sites (we projected the websites on the meeting room’s large monitor)
4 bananas, pencils and paper (to test the conductivity of graphite), 4 colors of play dough, large marshmallows, plants/leaves, blocks of wood (smaller the better), aluminum foil, paper clips, each other
a variety of sites for testing the Makey Makey

After playing with the Makey Makey, most of the makers needed a break. The two hour program is long enough to really play with some of these tools and ideas, but a snack helps keep everyone exploring. It worked out perfectly.

BrushBots

We’ve had big crowds attend our Maker Monday programs and most weeks I don’t require registration. This week, I had to change that. I only budgeted for 24 brush bots so kids could take home the bot and keep exploring. I signed up 23 makers, leaving one for an example and back up if any parts broke. I explained how to make a bot and once again talked about electricity and the importance of the close circuit. The makers divided themselves into two groups and got to work at the tables where they found the bot parts. All of the parts are easy to find separately, especially if you’re making a smaller number of bots. For this program I bought two BrushBot party packs that came with stickers and were slightly cheaper than buying them another way.

Once the BrushBots were complete, it was time to race them! One of the regulars to the Maker Monday programs started designing and building the race course out of the cut paper towel tubes I brought along. Other racers quickly jumped in to help. The bots raced on the table between the cut tubes, not inside the tubes.

What we learned: Tape must be added only on the course if it doesn’t cross the track because the bots struggle over the tape. The tubes make a nice border, keeping the bots moving forward. Also, racers should have time to modify their bots during different heats. Our race was pretty informal, but the racers definitely fiddled with their designs to see if they could make it buzz down the track straighter, for example.

BrushBot race course

Materials:
24 bots (2 BrushBot Party Packs)
wire strippers
scissors
cutters
decorating materials
paper towel tubes for side rails
blue tape for finish line

After building the bots, several makers wanted to go back to the Makey Makey which was perfect. Some makers ended up racing and modifying the course, others played with their bots and the rest played tetris with a pencil drawn game controller or piano with marshmallows.
Makey Makey testing
Other librarians are using Makey Makeys also! Check out posts by Liz at Getting Giggles and Amy at The Show Me Librarian.

Affirmative! Robots in Storytime

Today I chose to use a game app in storytime. Yes, I used my iPad…during Screen Free Week. I didn’t do it by accident or in spite of the Kids ipad photoevent. Awhile back before I remembered about the week, I came across another librarian’s storytime plan that was perfect in its own right, but it had the added bonus of a recommended app well-suited to my preschool storytime audience and setting. I put the theme on the schedule for this week and kept on planning. I could have reconfigured the schedule when I realized the significance of the week, but I made a conscious choice to go ahead with it because I think how, and not just how much, we use apps with kids needs attention. How better to model that usage than by including one in storytime?

How did it go? The kids and I talked, read stories, told stories, sang songs, played with the feltboard, built digital robots with the app, then built paper robots, cleaned up, and then played with LEGOs. We had a blast and those amazing kids demonstrated their wide array of early literacy skills and their ability to smoothly migrate from one medium to the next without obvious hesitation.

First off I have to thank Anne Hicks of Anne’s Library Life. Not only did she post her great robot storytime plan for the rest of us to see, but she answered my questions about her experience using an iPad only vs. using an iPad mirrored on a big screen in her library.

My children’s library is lovely, but not particularly suited for using a big screen to mirror what’s on my iPad. Behind the story area is a corner of book shelves leaving no wall space for a safe place to place a monitor without it being precariously set on a cart with cords extending across the floor, just waiting for feet to trip over. The room is also full of windows and we really don’t like to darken them. With such dark winters, we’ll take all of the light we can get in Alaska.

The other reason I wanted to use my iPad only in the storytime, is the fact that this was not advertised as a digital storytime. We do have another meeting room with a large monitor that I’ve used to share an enhanced e-book as part of a special program, but my ultimate plan in storytime is to reflect the intertwined reality that exists in our mixed media lives. Since this was the first time I used interactive digital media in a weekly storytime (instead of a regular e-book), I also didn’t want the screen to be the focus. I felt that using the iPad only (without the monitor) was a more subtle and normalized way to show families how digital technology can be successfully integrated into the activities we all love already. The iPad is one more tool that extends our exploration and fun.

Books

While families arrived, I sang with the kids who came on time. Sometimes we sing Open Shut Them, a popular storytime starter, or a themed song using shakers or other instruments. (I look forward to trying out the rhyme cube Ann and other librarians mention on their blogs!)

robotsEach week, I display books that I am going to include in storytime, as well as a few others, in front of the group. (I often bring out more books than I am going to read during storytime so kids can see related books to read in the library or take home with them.) I have kids use the images and words or letters on the book covers to try and figure out what we are going to talk about. With books like Robots by Mark Bergin (Franklin Watts 2001) it was pretty easy this week. While this book is older, it showed some basic images that were helpful. We used these images to talk about what differentiates a robot from a person. And then we decided to pretend to be robots! With legs, arms, bodies, and heads, we fit the bill.

Once everyone was settled, I installed on/off buttons on every little robot. We practiced our robot movements, our robots sounds, and even learned the robot word for yes, “Affirmative,” which features prominently in the next book, Boy + Bot. Before each book we turned on our listening buttons. We didn’t make them quiet buttons because questions and comments are strongly encouraged in my “interactive” storytimes.boyandbot

Boy + Bot by Ame Dickman with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) was the perfect book for this storytime. The simple text and friendship theme is easily understood and loved by the preschool crowd. The boy and robot meet, become quick friends, and then appreciate how each works after a slight mishap with the robots power button and the boy’s nighttime sleep, both new concepts to the other.

We usually spend some time practicing counting when we use the felt board with activities like this one. I point to each robot as kids interject the number of robots. Kids are usually very enthusiastic about contributing to the counting. (In the storytime at a local childcare center I brought these robots and kids named each of the robots also.)

5 Little Robots FeltFelt Board

Five Noisy Robots
5 noisy robots (make sound effects!) in the toy shop,
Shiny and tall with antennae on the top (hands/arms above head and then hold fingers up as antennae above head).
Along came a girl with a penny one day (walk fingers and then show a penny to the kids).
Bought a noisy robot (make sound effects!) and took it away.
(continue with 4, 3, 2, 1 noisy robots)
Credit: Ann’s Library Life

When all of the robots were purchased, I asked the kids how many were left. Some proclaimed “zero” while others said “none.” We talked about how zero was the number that represented none and then we made the shape of a circle with the fingers of both hands touching and talked about how the number zero, the letter O, and the circle were all the same shape. We then had to make big circles with our arms overhead, the fingers on one hand, and our bodies, of course.

Robot Zombie FrankensteinRobot Zombie Frankenstein by Annette Simon (Candlewick Press, 2012) was the final book I shared. This is a great book to share at storytime, but I have found that reading it definitely needs some prefacing. The elements of friendship, playful competition, and repetition are subtle and preschoolers may need help appreciating them (dialogic reading is key here). I preface the story by telling kids it is a story about two friends who are having a contest. As the story progresses, kids love to guess what costumes the robots will come up with next. Some preschoolers were even able to remember the long list of personas the robots dressed up as throughout the competition.

Song

I’m a little robot, short and strong,
Here are my handles, just turn me on. (put fists on hips for handles, then push your sticker “on/off button”)
When I get all warmed up, watch me go.
Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. (roll forearms and hands around each other fast and slow)
Credit: Ann’s Library Life

App

Robot Lab by Toca Boca (iOS version)robotlab, $2.99
The object of the app is to take junkyard parts and make a robot that can fly. Legs, arms, bodies, and heads are chosen from three options for each piece displayed at the bottom of the screen and dragged to the flashing shape of the robot part to be added. Then the robot is flown by dragging the robot with your finger (directed by up, down, left, and right arrows) through a maze to an overhead magnet. Once the robot is connected to the magnet, it goes through the tester. It comes out the other side and receives the “approved” stamp. There is no sound and no in app advertising. We talked about shapes, colors, directions, body parts, and took turns picking which piece to add. We made two robots before moving on.

I tested out both this app and Bot Garage based on the book Lots of Bots!: A Pop-up Counting Book, but I thought this one worked better for my storytime. The Robot Lab’s simpler screen (image of cardboard box plus three body part choices at a time and the flashing outline of the body part to be added) allowed the kids to focus on one aspect of the new media at a time. We started by adding legs, and were then guided to add the parts one section at a time moving up the body of the robot. They weren’t trying to understand a busy background at the same time as making a choice for which color or shape of part to add. It was easy to see what the object of the game was, especially important when using the smaller screen of an iPad (vs. on a monitor) with a group.

Craft

Paper Robot CraftFor this storytime’s craft we built paper robots. The kids were thrilled to create these little bots inspired by Rebecca at Sturdy for Common Things. I substituted a few pieces and steps because I couldn’t find glitter paper or enough brass fasteners in town for the whole group. Ah, small town living. The changes worked out just fine!

Materials:
metallic (or glittery) cardstock- I cut each 8 1/2 x 11″ piece of card stock into 3 sections and then cut each strip (approximately 8″h x 3 1/3″w) to make a one piece robot with a thinner head and wider body, leaving rectangles used for arms (shorter) and legs (longer) from the bottom for each robot.
brass fasteners (to make movable arms/legs)
glue
foam papers cut into shapes
googly eyes
pipe cleaners for antennas
small hole punch- I let kids/parents punch the holes where arms would be attached with fasteners and on the head for the pipe cleaner antennas.

For kids who still wanted to play together at the library, I offered up my basket of large LEGOs® at the end of storytime. A small group of parents and kids sat and talked together while building robots, trucks, trains, and walls.

What would I do differently with this storytime? I would include more tips for parents about joint media engagement, early literacy, and using apps. I focus on the kids and modeling successful practices during storytime, but I am looking for more strategies for informing parents about the skills, practices, and research without taking away from the storytime experience. Have any tips? I would love to hear them.

Photo of children with the iPad is courtesy of Barrett Web Coordinator, used according to a Creative Commons license.