April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Supporting Students with STEM Programming at the Library | Tech Tidbits

Students at Silver Creek (CO) High School designing a program for their maker space’s NAO robot.

The beauty of libraries utilizing STEM projects is that students are learning about real-world problems, asking questions, and then looking at creative solutions to reduce, or perhaps even resolve, these problems. Through these types of projects, my students have been learning to creatively work together to gain skills in science and engineering while working to solve challenges in their own communities and sometimes even the world.

In libraries, our students have always sought strong, reliable resources and safe spaces to learn and grow, but so many libraries are refocusing. In addition to excellent support for classroom teachers, we are providing unique programming and opportunities for our students. I have recently been inspired to start a Makerspace Club. My students and I are seeking strong and challenging projects that have authentic roots. We continue to find that when students pursue their own interests and take ownership of their own learning, their achievement soars.

The club is using community partnerships to explore different possibilities and challenges. We invited insightful speakers from our local maker space, Tinkermill, and our district Innovations Center, as well as searching online for local connections and great online resources like Philio-Engineering. We discovered several opportunities that our students wanted to pursue, and the students took the initiative to learn more about these unique projects.

One of the projects our library maker space students discovered is the NAO robot challenge which will be held for the first time in the United States, right in our hometown of Longmont, CO. In this contest, students work collaboratively on a variety of STEM-type topics as they program the cute, 58-cm tall humanoid NAO robot to compete in four different interactive contests. My students are programming and testing it constantly in preparation for the June 27th presentation.

No access to robots? We were encouraged by Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, CO, and Riverview High School in New Brunswick, Canada, and joined them in participating in the One Million Lights project. In this philanthropic adventure, the mission is to provide rechargeable solar lights for those in need around the world. Thanks to inspiration from a video from Preston MS, an existing club at my school, Peace and Service for Africa, is now working on providing rechargeable flashlights for a school in Kenya. It is an extensive endeavor in which the participants redesign and print a 3-D model which also has electrical parts that students also design, solder, and assemble. The main focus is providing light for the children in Kenya who will share feedback on our design.

From what we’ve seen, the more collaborative and authentic the projects are, no matter how big or small, the bigger impact it has on the students. The teens are driven by questions: What happens if we try this? What are the different ways we can modify the design? How can we get faster feedback from Kenya? What’s most exciting is that the students are self-motivated to find out the answers to these questions.

Budgets are always challenging, but the more you share what your students are doing with your community at large, the more funding you are likely to receive. For example, Preston received a grant from the device case creator, Otterbox, to help fund their One Million Lights project.

Summer vacation is fast approaching and at schools across the country, students and teachers are starting to feel the pinch. Teachers are cranky with the loss of class time due to mandatory spring testing, and end-of-year calendars are jammed with final events. For libraries, this may be the busiest time of the year, with textbook check in, contests and celebrations, not to mention inventories and summer shutdown.

Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? Of course you are, but this is the best time to lay the groundwork for the fall. Start researching grants and set a goal to add a 3-D printer to the resources you provide students and staff. Start talking to students and inviting them to join activities in your library—maybe even a maker space club. Line up speakers from your community for September. Then challenge students to brainstorm projects they’d be interested in tackling. Let students’ interests be your guide, and the rest will fall into place.


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Phil Goerner About Phil Goerner

Phil Goerner is the teacher librarian and tech innovator at Silver Creek High School in Longmont, CO. He can be found on Twitter @pgoerner. Phil is also an adjunct professor with University of Colorado at Denver in the School Library and Instructional Leadership program.

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