August 20, 2017

Subscribe to SLJ

33 Winning Back-to-School Ideas

From VR and mystery parties to STEAM projects and life-skills programs, these initiatives ignite curiosity.

Washington teens playing the Kerbal Space Program game launch
a virtual rocket that orbits around the planet Kerbin (right).
Photos courtesy of Jackie Lockwood, King County (WA) Library System

Looking for some new ideas to bring to your library this fall? Check out these inspired and wide-ranging plans from school and public librarians across the country. They’ll be offering everything from virtual reality (VR) experiences and mystery parties to life skills programs and opportunities to give back to their communities.

Spectacular Stem and Steam

1|  Jackie Lockwood, teen services librarian at King County (WA) Library System, will host a tween/teen club based on last year’s success with Kerbal Space Program, “a computer game that allows you to snap together virtual rockets and launch them into space within a highly realistic physics engine.” With the assistance of area high school rocketry club volunteers, Kerbal Space Program Club attendees will keep developing their skills this fall.

A student’s collage self-portrait
Photo by Todd Burleson

2|  Thanks to a California State Library partnership, Erik Berman, youth services librarian and 2017 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, will begin offering VR programming for teens with an Oculus Rift device at the San Jose (CA) Public Library. Berman anticipates collaborating with San Jose State University’s Game Development Club to create program content. “We’re also looking for new ways to use the VR system, such as using sculpting tools for 3-D Pictionary,” says Berman, who notes that VR is a great gateway to “cultural and science programs.”

3|  Highlighting the “A” in STEAM, students at Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka, IL, will embark on a project that “incorporates photography, writing, and developing communication across age groups,” says Todd Burleson, the elementary school’s media specialist and 2016 SLJ School Librarian of the Year. After studying artist David Hockney’s “joiners” photo collages, students will create their own portraits by “using an iPad app, ShakeItPhoto, which makes photos look like Polaroids,” and generate a portrait puzzle composition. Younger kids will use a collage web tool, the Hockneyizer, with one image. “We hope to include every student and staff member and are planning a gallery evening to view the portraits.”

4|  Anastasia Hanneken, school librarian and technology trainer at Indian Mills (NJ) Memorial School, will continue monthly no-tech STEM challenges. She posts a challenge each month, with supplies out and ready for kids. “Students work individually or in small groups” on a 20-minute activity such as bridge building or paper-plate pinball.

One of Genay’s students engineered this bridge after reading
“The Great Bridge-Building Contest” by Bo Zaunders and Roxie Munro.
Courtesy of Tina Genay

5|  “I’m really excited to be getting a small hydroponic garden system for school-wide use,” says Ellen Luca, media specialist at Brookdale School in Bloomfield, NJ. Reflecting the school’s implementation of Next Generation Science Standards, Luca’s media center “is becoming a hub for STEAM-related activities.” Students will plant lettuce and basil, with the goal of making pesto.

6|  Workshop Wednesdays is a new tween program coming to the Grand Rapids (MI) Library, according to youth services librarian Mark Jemerson. “We take STEAM concepts and put them into action,” with activities such as building terrariums from recycled lightbulbs and making magnetic slime with iron oxide powder. He will also emphasize career exploration, “so when we talk about fluid power by building a hydraulic arm, we will also look at what a hydraulic engineer does.”

Burleson’s students will print and assemble prosthetic hands for
children who need them.
Photo by Todd Burleson

7|  Burleson also hopes to start an after-school 3-D design club where students “will help print and assemble prosthetic hands” for kids around the world who need them. Working with plans from Enabling the Future, he’s “excited to have students use our tools to better the world.”

Literacy Connections

8|  Lockwood is exploring a puzzle game developed in partnership with Chris Grabenstein, author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Random House, 2013), and youth services librarians. The game echoes the book’s series of puzzles, presenting clues “associated with each Dewey 100 section. Solving the clue and finding the correct book leads you to a pictogram. Solving that reveals a word. Collecting all 10 words gives you the winning phrase,” she says. “[It’s]a lively way to introduce the Dewey Decimal system.”

9|  Jaime LeRoy, library media specialist at Cross Timbers (TX) Middle School, is looking forward to another year of sneaky library advertising with her Bathroom Book Blurbs, advertisements for popular titles, in student bathrooms, as well as her Potty Mouth newsletter, housed in faculty restrooms, with news about library happenings, new books, tech tips, and more. “I am willing to do whatever it takes to promote the library and its goings-on!” she says.

10|  Cross Timbers is a Title 1 school, “which means we have a high percentage of low-income kids,” says LeRoy. In order to make sure her kids receive the literacy support they need, each year she uses FirstBook to purchase low-cost titles that she gives away at the end of the school year. “For some of my students, these are the first books they have ever owned.”

LeRoy’s student-designed SLACkers
T-shirts embrace nerdiness.
Courtesy of Jaime LeRoy

11|  LeRoy is also looking forward to another year with her SLACkers (Student Library Advisory Committee). This student group, “the biggest club at my campus,” meets twice monthly to “discuss books, work on library decor or programming, and help with fund-raising events. [Here], ‘book nerd’ has a positive connotation.”

12|  Hanneken, who recently genrefied her school library’s fiction collection, is planning an “Around the Library in 180 Days” program. Students will receive a passport “and will be asked to read a book from each genre, including nonfiction and biography.” Prizes await students who complete the genres in their passport.

13|  Using escape room–style tools from Breakout EDU, Missouri school librarian Jeannie Wearing is putting together a mystery party for her Harrisonville High School students. The activity will revolve around Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s book The Naturals (Miramax, 2013). Students who have read it will be invited to participate and solve crimes, like the book’s protagonist, in order to break into a final, locked mystery box.

14|  Burleson’s school will hold its inaugural One School, One Book program. Staff chose a book “that our entire student, teacher, and parent community will read and celebrate”—The World According to Humphrey (Puffin, 2005) by Betty G. Birney. The school will work closely with the organization One School, One Book “to develop a cohesive experience.”

Maker Space Momentum

15|  A $5,000 grant from Lowe’s Toolbox for Education will boost Tina Genay’s maker space. Genay, librarian for Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary in Winchester, VA, plans to buy Bee-Bots with some of the funds. She will employ the programmable robots in a lesson with students based on Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014). “Students will investigate rocks and minerals and will have to program the Bee-Bots to navigate a maze containing rocks and minerals similar to those in the story.”

16|  Continuing explorations in STREAM—that’s STEAM, with an “R” for “reading”—Genay will offer family evenings in the maker space. She will start by reading a story and then will let “parents and students collaborate on a project.”

17|  Hanneken will open a new library maker space, thanks to an Education Foundation grant provided by her school district. iPads, robots, coding tools, LEGOs, and more will be available to students. “Each grade will learn specific engineering skills using maker space items.”

18|  Berman will take advantage of the fidget spinner trend during an upcoming 3-D printing program, where teens will be able to print their own toys.

19|  The Eugene (OR) Public Library’s maker programming goes mobile this fall with its new Maker Van, says Kristen Thorp, youth services manager. “The van provides access to maker projects and equipment to all areas of the community, reaching many [people] who may not be able to get to the library’s maker space.” It will offer a rotating menu of projects and visit schools throughout the year.

20|  Elementary students will have the chance to explore sewing skills with machines at the library’s maker space, says Thorp. They will get to “create their own reusable snack and sandwich bags,” similar to reusable Ziploc baggies.

Collaborative Lessons

Gardner’s students use Ozobot robots while exploring math concepts.
Courtesy of Laura Gardner

21| Laura Gardner, teacher librarian at Dartmouth (MA) Middle School and SLJ 2016 School Librarian of the Year finalist, has been collaborating with the school’s math department using Ozobots. Last year they worked with students to teach the mini-robots how to dance, and this year they will use lessons found on the Ozobot website to explore the concepts of pi and slope.

22|  LeRoy is also excited to share new technology applications with teachers in her school this year. “PhET is an amazing and free program that uses simulations to teach math and science,” she says. “In my school, it will be fantastic for our pre-algebra and biology classes.” She also plans to share BrainPop’s Make a Movie feature with teachers.

23|  Focusing on creating international connections, Genay attended the iEARN conference (iearn.org), emphasizing global learning, this summer. iEARN comprises more than 30,000 schools and organizations in 140-plus countries and hosts over 150 collaborative projects. Last year Genay joined a teddy bear exchange with a school in Iran. “Students documented their journeys in a journal and with a camera,” she says. “I am excited to see what projects will occur this year!”

24|  Lockwood is looking forward to another year of working with middle and high school students through the Newcastle Youth Community Engagement (NYCE) program. The 2016–17 program, centered on family fitness and childhood obesity awareness, culminated with a fun run, during which the library served as a waypoint for participants to gather information and a passport stamp. The partnering organizations will brainstorm a new project idea this fall.

Students receive book bundles as part of New York Public Library’s MYLibraryNYC program.
Photo by NYPL/ Jonathan Blanc

25|  Amie Wright, a 2017 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and manager of school outreach for MyLibraryNYC, the school-public library partnership between New York Public Library (NYPL), Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Library, and the New York City Department of Education, will add new material and programs to enhance the collaboration. Teacher sets will get a boost, with the addition of board games and primary source text bundles.

26|  Wright also looks forward to Banned Books Week as MyLibraryNYC joins forces with publishing houses for a series of author visits. Banned Books Week is “a great opportunity to highlight collections in new and exciting ways—and incorporate social advocacy around the freedom to read,” Wright says.

A curated set of books about cave paintings from the MyLibraryNYC initiative.
Photo by NYPL/ Jonathan Blanc

27|  NYPL and other libraries will participate in a pop-up library at New York Comic Con, held in October, Wright adds. “This nontraditional library outreach is invaluable for highlighting resources and meeting library patrons (or soon-to-be ones) where they are—on the Comic Con floor!”

28|  In partnership with the To College Through College Studio, a college-success program in Grand Rapids, Jemerson will host events covering trans-literacy skills “to help prepare students for life after high school.” He will cover topics from database skills to managing social media, allowing time for workshopping the concepts.

Programming Potpourri

29|  The San Jose Public Library will continue offering a series of Life Skills Academy programs, says Berman. Teens ages 14–19 can attend sessions on topics including “Pizza Is Not a Food Group,” “There Are No Potty Breaks in College,” and “Why You Shouldn’t Have 27 Credit Cards.”

30|  Berman also plans to develop regular outreach programming to area schools during lunch. Teens told him “they’d like us to come to their schools,” he says. Librarians will visit “armed with a bag of snacks—and get to know the teens in their own environment.”

31|  A back-to-school scavenger hunt will enliven the Eugene Public Library, according to Thorp. It’s “a fun opportunity for kids and families to familiarize themselves with library services,” she says. The hunt, which allows participants “to navigate the library’s physical and digital spaces,” is a passive program with prizes for participants.

32|  Interactive book displays “that showcase hot trends” have been a hit at Wearing’s high school, and for the fall, she’s putting together a Wonder Woman display “that will house books with strong female protagonists and heroes.” The presentation will be tied into a donation campaign with Giving the Basics. “Students are encouraged to be heroes to people by bringing in toilet paper,” one of the organization’s most-requested items.

33|  In her new position as media specialist at Falmouth (ME) Elementary School, Amy Reddy will offer the passive program “Once Upon a Time…We Were Your Age, Too!” Teachers and staff will share photos of themselves as kids, with a favorite book. Students will guess their identities, and winners will receive gift cards. At Reddy’s old school, “Students made connections to the teachers and often chose a teacher’s favorite books to read.” Plus, “they realized their teachers were children once, too!”


April Witteveen is teen services librarian for Deschutes (OR) Public Library.

Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Share
Our newest installment of Maker Workshop will feature up-to-the-minute content to help you develop a rich maker program for your school or library. Join us to learn new ways of sparking engagement and hands-on learning directly from experts doing inspiring work that you can emulate, regardless of your library’s size or budget.
Empower Your Community with Coding
Launch a coding program in your library that will promote digital literacy and impact your community. You’ll learn how to run computer programming courses that will introduce your patrons to new career paths and technologies. We’ll explore all facets of building coding programming for your library such as making your case for funding, hosting Code Clubs and Hackathons, and curating free resources and technologies available online.
Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*