Like many libraries, ours has been shifting attention to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), with a bit of art thrown in for fun and creativity (STEAM). We hired Juan Rubio about a year ago to join our Youth and Family Learning team. He is amazing and procures cool gadgets and funding for work hours to cover us learning about the cool gadgets. A few of the things he’s brought us are Geolocative Games, 3D Printing Programming, Little Bits, and Finch Robots.
So far I’ve had training on the Finch robots. We use Samsung Chromebooks with the Snap Extension. You can use the Snap without the Finch and program a Sprite to move around, so it’s worth checking out if you are interested in really basic programming. There are 4 levels of difficulty in Snap, which is useful in teaching. The picture below is level 3, which I find to have the most functionality and easier to use than level 4.
Here’s where I warn you that I have no background in programming aside from a little HTML, CSS and XML. I do understand that the Snap commands represent a more complicated coding language underneath. I’ve even learned how to have the program show some of that language, but I don’t know what it means.
You can still teach Snap/Finches without knowing coding languages. It’s mostly logic once you get the hang of where everything is. You need a Control and a motion command in order to make the Finch do something. You can add operators and sensors and use variables to do more complicated sequences, as you can see above.
Some things were frustrating for me and the students. The Finches didn’t always behave as they should, even when the program was perfect. Sometimes the problem was that a student would have 2 or more programs running at once and they would interfere with each other. Other times the traction on the floor or table wasn’t good for the Finch’s wheels. Sometimes it just didn’t do what you told it to. Especially when it came to the sensors. I was able to turn this into a learning experience where we tried many different things to get the Finch to do what we wanted, trying different inputs and environments. The students learned that sometimes the environment is going to get in the way of what you want to happen.
I’ve had 2 groups of students so far. I do outreach at a local family housing community center, where families are transitioning out of homelessness. It’s long term housing, so they’re fairly stable, at least in having a place to live. The teens that I work with there are mostly girls from ages 11-14. For these classes, I went once a week for 3 weeks and had an hour each time. An hour was not enough and the teens have a lot of things on their plates, but we had a good time and they learned a lot. We’ll have our party in early May and students will be challenged to make their Finches dance, make music and do a light show.
The other program I’ve had was at our branch over Spring Break. It was 3 days long with a party at the end of the 3rd day where they showed off the tricks they’d learned. This group was mostly boys, ages 8-12. They’d all had Scratch before, so understood most of the Snap programming basics. I had to modify the first few curriculum for them, then move quickly to the more advanced workshops.
My next training will be on the Geolocative Games. With that, we’ll create a game that is a digital scavenger hunt. There are a lot of ways to make this game beneficial to the community. One of my colleagues did a project with her service learning group where they researched the history of their neighborhood, then put locations named after iconic people into their game, with information to teach the gamer about the history.
It was a really fun and sometimes frustrating experience. Totally worthwhile. I wouldn’t have been as successful if I hadn’t had a very wonderful coworker at my branch who could help me with the more technical stuff. He is also a very patient and intuitive teacher and I learned a lot having him there to help with the outreach programs.