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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.

Screenshot 2016-04-20 at 9.08.26 PM

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.

outreach

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.

 

And just as I say I am not going to try any harder, I got a twitter account.  I decided if my library system could finally bite the bullet, so could I.  I did sign up a while back for about a week before it all became too much information and I shut it back down.  I suppose I’ll add a link here when I get around to posting something.  Right now, I am trying to get a hang on what all the @ and # and acronyms mean.  I am not learning this as quickly as I usually do, probably because of the large amount of information that can be packed into 100’s of 140 character tweets.  I might need a tutor.  Luckily I seem to have a lot of friends on there.

I am encouraged with how things are going in Libraryland.  My new manager is fantastic, when I get to see her.  Her response time to email is a bit slow, but I am guessing that has to do with all her moving around.  She is in charge of 4 branches and I have only seen her twice since the beginning of January.  However, my concerns about expanding teen programming at my branch have been allayed and I am very hopeful that I will be able to have another regular monthly program along with a few add ins.  Teen Tech Week is coming up and I am hoping to host a Scratch program.  Our system participated in trying out this program along with a few others around the US.  “Scratch is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web.”  I have tried it out a couple of times and it is a lot of fun and it is easy to create some really cool simple video games and animation videos.  This one is pretty cute, for example (I didn’t see a way to embed the project).

As for a second monthly program (the first being TAG), I am thinking about simple gaming.  I would bring a Wii and we would have table games and snacks.  Just for Teens, although we also talked about having a quarterly all ages gaming day as well.  I have to talk more about that with my children’s librarian.  For future stand alone programs, I was thinking about a Teach an Adult day, where we could have the computer lab and the video games set up and the TAG members could teach adults how to use Facebook and other technologies.  With me as their fearless leader, of course.  It would be a lot like a day at the reference desk.

What am I reading? I finished Reckless by Cornelia Funke and it was a wonderful dark fairy tale.  However, this is listed as a J book and it really shouldn’t be.  The characters are adults and there is nothing light hearted in the story.  It is tragic and dark, sex and attraction is alluded to and the characters are deeply flawed (as people are) and I think this book belonged in the teen section.  /rant

Jacob Reckless lost his father to the mirror years before he learned to follow him to the land beyond, and now he has lost his brother as well.  Will is being taken away before his eyes, a slow casualty of a war they know little about.  The dark fairy has given the Goyl, a race of stone people who are embroiled in a war with humans, the power to turn any human they harm into one of them and Will was injured by one.  Jacob must save him before the stone takes over.

There is love and longing, magic and adventure, all of it dark and brooding.  I think it would be scary for anyone under 12.  The references to fairy tales is distracting from the story–the unexplained premise being that the magical items that Jacob hunts for and some of the characters and circumstances in the alternate world explain Grimm’s fairy tales.  I think a little more introduction to this would have helped.  There are also some parts where the translation is choppy (from the German) which could have been fixed with a little more editing.  Otherwise this book is enchanting and engaging.  Definitely worth the read.