As the saying goes, life is not about the destination, but the journey. I thought it might be helpful to track our journey as we begin to prepare for a summer that will highlight our new initiative – KidsMake @MC-NPL. This summer we will be doing a lot of programming with school-age kids (preschoolers, too!) that is rooted in the makerspace movement. Makerspaces are creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. The makerspace movement is closely aligned with a philosophy of education known as inquiry-based learning.
The concept of inquiry-based learning can be expressed by the old adage,
“Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.”
In the Children’s Department at MC-NPL, we want to become Facilitators rather than Presenters. We want to encourage children to ask questions, experiment, and use this knowledge to form more questions. We’re not getting rid of our traditional story times or throwing out our books <horror!>, but we are changing our approach and presentation of programming to reflect our respect for the hands-on approach of inquiry-based learning in a makerspace environment.
When I first heard about makerspaces in libraries, I was NOT thrilled. In fact, my first thoughts were “What do they want us to do now?” and “Seriously? Soldering irons in the library?” And besides, they weren’t talking about kids. This was stuff for adults and teens. Makerspaces around the country were great opportunities for communities to come together and learn from each other, but kids were only allowed above a certain age and only if they were accompanied by an adult.
So why the big change? Did I drink the Kool-Aid, you ask?
Since I began working in libraries, I have been frustrated to see the lack of creativity in school age kids. Even preschoolers want to know “How do I do it?” and are proud to say “Look, Miss Tracee! Mine looks just like yours!” Rather than discovering for themselves or wanting to create something that is unique, they have a belief that there is one right way. It is either right or wrong. This is most evident when we give school age kids art materials and ask them to create something. Anything they want. They all ask, “What do I do?”
Why public libraries? Because we can! Creativity and risk-taking are not valued in the current educational climate of teaching-to-the-test. Don’t get me wrong, there are teachers who are doing great things. STEM and the Common Core may actually help (I know – feelings about the Common Core run the gamut). Public libraries, however, have no curriculum. We focus on early literacy, of course, but I think we are doing a disservice to our communities if we don’t provide more open-ended, discovery, learning-by-doing opportunities. Inquiry-based learning.
Soon I began to see some of the larger libraries presenting on the topic. Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh (CLP) has a fabulous Super Science @ Your Library program at many of its branches. Free Library of Philadelphia’s Maker Jawn Initiative began a project called Design It * Make It * Share It, providing maker programming for youth in four of its North Philadelphia branches. The American Library Association (ALA) started an interactive website for libraries with suggestions for makerspace projects, Make It @ Your Library. I went to presentations and participated in webinars. Soon I was finding it difficult to justify NOT including some sort of makerspace programming at MC-NPL.
Another factor in the decision to take the plunge now? The Summer Reading theme for 2014 is science-based Fizz, Boom, Read! We already have quite a bit of experience at MC-NPL providing hands-on learning in our preschool programming. Our Get Ready for Kindergarten! series includes six week sessions of Play and Learn, Science Explorers, and Math Mania. A long-standing partnership with Glaxo-Smith Kline has provided hands-on science workshops for school-aged kids in the public libraries of eastern Pennsylvania through Science in the Summer. These workshops, however, are limited in size, short in duration, and taught by science teachers, not library staff. Surely we can provide more?
I started researching the maker movement. MAKE magazine; Instructables; Robotics competitions (for high schoolers). A little more digging led to some makerspace programs specifically tailored to children which included: Curiosity Hacked; Junior FIRST LEGO® League; Maker Camp; MAKESHOP® at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. I learned that a Delaware County library, Middletown Free Library, was a Maker Camp affiliate in summer 2013. Even better, they had recently received an LSTA grant for $30,000 and were getting ready to open their own makerspace – CreateSpace @MFL. Visited CreateSpace@MFL and became more determined than ever.
No, we did not (yet) apply for and receive a $30,000.00 LSTA grant, so our equipment will not include 3-D printers or a digital media lab (again, yet). We do, however, have $2,500.00 of grant money that has been earmarked for equipment and materials. Some of this equipment is technology-based, but not all. Inquiry-based learning is not about technology. The goal of inquiry-based learning in a makerspace environment (as I see it, anyway) is process-oriented: get them to tinker, think, invent, and create.
(More info about Equipment and Materials as they are purchased)
So here we are. We are completely re-vamping our Summer Reading Program for 2014 at MC-NPL. We have programs scheduled for school-aged kids Monday through Thursday afternoons and every Saturday for the eight weeks of Fizz, Boom, Read! Programming will include the following: Artsy Kids, Crafty Kids, Nature Crafts, Build!, Tech Club, and Mad Scientists.
The blog will be a way for me to keep a record of our journey. Stay tuned as we share information, research, and resources. Come and tinker, think, invent, and create with us this summer!
Tracee Yawger, M.L.S.
Head of Children’s Services
Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library
1001 Powell Street
Norristown, PA 19401