Librarians are a special breed. We’re focused on our communities, and want to fully engage them in what we offer. Many of you are actively promoting digital literacy in your communities: look at other posts on the ALSC blog if you need confirmation. So I am asking you to take all of those skills you honed in the process of getting your program started: seeking funding, selecting materials, and promoting that program until you can’t talk anymore, to now ask for more. You need to be doing science based programming in your library.
Because it’s a very logical step to take after focusing on digital literacy.
What did you think would happen when your community became digitally fluent?
Science programming that builds on top of digital literacy should be your next step.
I attended the Early Childhood Summit in April of this year and listened to Director after CEO after the Governor of Massachusetts say the same thing. We need more children interested in science. This wasn’t a science summit! That’s later this year! But that’s pretty much all we talked about all day long. Why? Because all of these people understand that children become 18 year olds making life decisions about colleges and careers and we will need them to be interested in science. National Grid helped fund STEM kits that the Boston Children’s Museum provides to libraries, museums, and Coordinated Family and Community Engagement (CFCE) programs. Why? To promote science. National Grid realizes if they invest in children now, they will actually have a workforce later. They identified a great partner – the Boston Children’s Museum is celebrating their 100th year and was recently awarded Race to the Top funds. And they clearly work with children. And know other places that work with children.
Science science science. So let’s get started.
Yes, preschoolers need to be doing more science. Preschool science can easily be mixed into traditional story time. Use a color wheel, have building blocks available, do simple demonstrations with water and objects that float or sink but all of the time talk about the science behind it! Increase their vocabulary! Hand out manipulatives! Smell things, blow bubbles, use flashlights! It’s easy to mix into a program, and I bet you can find the scientific answers to all of these things in your library’s collection. Make it part of your program planning. Too often, I think, Children’s librarians use the old standby to promote fine motor skills and dexterity: craft time. Change it up! There are TONS of other activities you could be doing. I’ve had tremendous feedback from our Preschool STEM programs. Parents are clamoring to know when we’ll hold them again.
Lego products are awesome. Kids love them, parents love them, and everybody seems to be super aware that they are fun and educational toys. It’s kind of a no brainer. So I purchased the Lego Education Simple Machines Getting Started Package to run programs with children in grades 1 and 2. It comes with a teacher’s guide that you can use! Why make extra work by coming up with original lessons? I was very happy with the Lego lessons. And kids are used to Lego instructions. Over 7 weeks, we learned all about gears, pulleys, wheels and axels, inclined planes, and levers by doing hands-on projects in teams. We built these things. We predicted what happened, we thought critically about the design, and we observed everything and we talked about it all. Together, we built a foundation for understanding basic physical science concepts. By playing with Lego products in a structured way.
Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of administering an LSTA/IMLS Science is Everywhere grant. (Technically, it’s a grant I inherited, but my predecessor has good instincts, and I’m thrilled I still work with her.) For me, that meant doing a lot of STEM programming for children in grades 3-5. That age when kids, especially girls, really start to drop off science. Together we dissected owl pellets and talked about bones, digestion, and the lives of owls. We learned about acidity and basicity and then tested the pH of household items using homemade red cabbage indicator which smells as bad as it sounds. We learned about solar power and how cars are engineered when we built our own solar cars. We used MakeyMakeys and a hand crank generator to learn about circuits and what materials conduct electricity. And when those kids were playing Flash Flash Revolution (a freebie version of DDR) with their MakeyMakeys, carrots, and aluminum foil, I called in all of their parents and half of the library staff in the building to come watch because I was so proud of them.
This stuff isn’t easy, and it does require a lot of planning and organization. But the information and the resources to plan programs like these are available. A lot of the time (drumroll please) it’s literally sitting on the shelves in your collection, or is something you can purchase with your book budget. Most of the physical materials are already available in your community. The ones that aren’t you can buy online – seriously, I had owl pellets shipped from Washington. Don’t have much money to spend? You can build geodesic domes out of straws and pipe cleaners, which is pretty affordable. And you don’t need to be a scientist! My scientific background includes going to Camp REACH (engineering overnight camp for girls) at WPI when I was 12 years old, and taking Biology my freshmen year at college. You CAN do this.
So how does digital literacy fit into my rant about science?
I think of it this way.
When we were using computers, it was clear which participants were comfortable using a computer as a piece of equipment. Library laptops seldom resemble home computers: it was easy to tell which kids understood what keys or commands meant versus kids who only know how to use their home computers. So there’s that: regular computer literacy.
Then, every time somebody asked me a question that I couldn’t answer, I sent them someplace they could get an answer. Like the library catalog computer, or a library provided database… usually on a computer, sometimes a tablet. Occasionally I brought in ipads so we could look stuff up together in real time and add value to the discussion we were having.
In the near future I’m hoping to get some more awesome stuff: soldering kits, raspberry pis, electrically conductive paint, and littlebits to name a few. But guess what? Kids who are not digitally literate will have a harder time in these programs. I’m so happy you’re focused on early digital literacy. Keep doing it! But realize it needs to lead somewhere, and follow through with your community. Science programs add value to the foundation you’re already building. So do it! It will be the most amazing decision.
Today’s guest blogger is Emily Miranda. Emily currently oversees the Children’s Department at the Watertown Free Public Library. She has an MS from Simmons College, believes excellent customer service will save the world, and once worked in a special library that had a bathroom larger and nicer than any apartment she will ever live in.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
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