This past summer was the first time my branch had been fully staffed in years. To celebrate, my branch head, Juanita Vega DeJoseph, and I decided that we were going to offer programs 5 days a week during summer reading. It was an ambitious goal, but we knew the neighborhood would appreciate it. We also knew that our staff was up to the challenge. Friday programming has always been a bit of a coin toss for me. A lot of children are in the area, but many leave to visit the shores of New Jersey with their families. I decided to create “Science Fair Fridays;” it would be hands-on science experiments, but because the audience would be smaller, I would have the opportunity to interact for longer time periods with each child.
Learning about density, we found that LEGO blocks are denser than alcohol, almost as dense as water, and less dense than dishwashing liquid and corn syrup..
Once I had my programming idea, I had to find the experiments we would perform. Our summer reading normally runs for eight weeks, but due to the holiday schedule, I only had to plan 6 experiments. The challenge was that they needed to be relatively simple, inexpensive, and easily performed within 45 minutes to an hour. Because we have an open-door policy, they had to be accessible to everyone from Pre-K through 6th grade. They also had to be fun. This was no easy task. Thankfully, I had three tricks up my sleeve: Pinterest, YouTube, and amazing colleagues.
Admittedly, I came late to the Pinterest game. The information on the site varies in informative value, but if you’re willing to spend some time examining the pages, it really becomes a treasure trove of useful advice and suggestions. If you haven’t signed up for a Pinterest page, I highly suggest that you do – it’s worth it, especially for all of the, “Wait… I had an idea about this. Where did I see it?” moments.
YouTube was equally helpful and showed experiments in real-time. (The pages could also be pinned! Thank you, Pinterest!)
We learned about catalysts when we created Elephant’s toothpaste.
I sent out emails to my colleagues in the Free Library about the program. Other savvy librarians were also doing science-related programs, so their advice and council was invaluable to me. I’m very lucky to work for a collaborative system. If you can get an email group going, do it! Other great collaborative forums include Facebook pages and LinkedIn. Besides help with brainstorming, it also gives you a good idea of what your colleagues are doing. (And imitation is the highest form of flattery, isn’t it?)
Hands on science is exciting!
Our first Science Fair Friday fell on the weekend of ALA. I was on a committee, so I had to attend. My branch head was also out that day. Thankfully, I’m fortunate enough to have a head Library Assistant, Natalie Walker, who was willing to take on the challenge of running the program. We started with Oobleck because it’s relatively simple and connected both science (viscosity) and literature (Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss). Here’s a table of our programs. We also developed handouts which were given to the kids each week.
||Layering liquids and dropping items into the liquids to test their density.
||Creating Elephant’s Toothpaste.
||A guest speaker came into talk about germination and sprout seeds.
||Extinguishing flames with carbon dioxide.
||Creating invisible ink with lemon juice and heat .
The first week, in which I was expecting a group of 5-10 due to shore visits, we had over 30 kids. What?!?! I was happy that so many children came, but that changed how we were going to run the program.
During that next week, families and camp groups called the library to see if we were going to be offering Science Fair Fridays each week. While initially I planned to connect the science projects to a book or story, I realized that this would make the program too long. Instead of aiming for 30 to 45 minutes per experiment, we could reduce that to 20 to 30 minutes and offer two sessions in the time allotted.
The programs were a little hectic, but everyone had a lot of fun!
I was initially annoyed at eliminating the story component; I believed that we should connect to the books in our collection as much as possible. Discussing it with colleagues, they helped remind me that the children could still connect with our collections: Book displays in the room on the topic would lead interested parties into the nonfiction section and our science experiment books. Without the book component, the programs were still a success. A grandmother told our branch head that she had as much fun as the kids. The programs were clearly a success!
Natalie Walker (our head Library Assistant) helps a child with the experiment. While learning about gases, we let the kids play with fire. Yeah, we’re awesome!
In retrospect we should have assigned a photographer to each class. At the time, my Library Assistant 2 and I used our cell phones to take pictures when we thought about it. Assigning this job to a volunteer would have ensured that we would have pictures from each week. This is definitely a repeat program – I can’t wait for summer reading so we can do it again!
(All pictures courtesy of guest blogger)
Our guest blogger today is Christopher Brown. Chris is a librarian for the Wadsworth Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. He received is MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2005 and his MA from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2013. His current books obsessions are The Sittin’ Up by Shelia P. Moses, the Green Knowe series by Lucy M. Boston, and Leah Wilcox’s Waking Beauty. He’s probably book talking at least one of these titles right now.
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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