Blogger School-Age Programs and Service Committee

New Approaches to Virtual STEM Programs for Kids

When Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) closed to the public nearly a year ago, children’s librarians scrambled to adapt programming to the virtual world. Library Lab STEM programs began with a cooking demonstration showing the chemical reactions in Snickerdoodle cookies and expanded to a variety of science and coding experiments. 

Jess Harwick, Children’s Librarian at the McKinley Park Branch, set up live programs on Brooklyn Public Library’s Family Facebook page. She explains it was “remarkably low tech – I only had access to my smartphone, so I’d prop it up on a stack of books and go live from there…. I was [eventually] able to get a stand and a ring light, which allows for the videos to look more professional. One benefit of going live is that it doesn’t require any editing, and it feels more like an in-person program.”

For Jess, the goal was to use household products or craft supplies that most families would have in their homes already. She also wanted to come up with multiple ways of doing each experiment or craft, so kids and parents would have an opportunity to make adjustments if they didn’t have all the materials. 

Danielle Winter, Children’s Librarian at the Kensington Branch, found that “the biggest challenge is accepting mistakes will happen and engineering is tedious, but this is like the science happening in a lab, or in a classroom. It’s a process. I also want children to understand there is more than one way to create a roller coaster and more than one way to create a ship that carries 100 pennies. Their projects may look different from mine, and that’s great! Too often, children worry about getting the right answer, but there are many ways to get it right once you know the basics of construction.” To view Danielle’s Library Lab Cargo Experiment, click here Cargo Experiment

Josh Goldstein, Children’s Librarian at the Coney Island Branch, recommends selecting activities that offer fun educational value. He did several trials before launching a program where he showed Physical vs. Chemical Changes. “In the physical change experiment, I extract the carbon dioxide from the soda, inserting Mentos candy and collecting the carbon dioxide released in a balloon. Then transferring the carbon dioxide to an empty pitcher or soda bottle, I pour the gas onto a lit candle, extinguishing the flame. The goal of the activity is to get participants to realize that this reaction constitutes a physical change. Since the gas revealed at the end was carbon dioxide (being that it extinguished the flame) and this already existed within the soda, that means the Mentos merely caused the gas to be extracted from the soda rather than being produced as a result of a chemical change.”  

Josh recorded the program on Zoom, edited it with Wondershare Filmora9, and set up the video as a Facebook Premier. To view the program, click here.

Leah Golubchick, Coordinator, Youth Education Initiatives and Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program (BCAP) offered a series of science programs for middle schoolers with a focus on digitally native programs. She found that having a laptop or computer is easier for students to participate in since programs take place live on Zoom. Four recent programs focused on coding, astronomy, using Dungeons and Dragons to create explore fantasy characters and animal traits, and learning how computer scientists are teaching computers to see through machine learning.    

If your programming budget allows, Leah recommends hiring informal science educators through museums and science centers or working with science centers like New York City-based Skill Mill, and Dazzling Discoveries

It’s extremely rewarding to work with the children and provide a fun science experience. Jess was delighted when parents shared that “their kids spent a rainy afternoon doing one of my projects, and that they had fun doing it…. Any distraction that we can share with our patrons right now is worth it.”

This post addresses the ALSC Core Competency:  III Programming Skills.

Kimberly Grad is the Co-chair of the School Age Programs and Services Committee.  At Brooklyn Public Library, she is the Coordinator of School Age Services.  She is also a member of the Newbery 100th Anniversary Task Force and the 2022 Newbery Award selection Committee.

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