Time

I’m a few days into my second camp of the summer.  A few weeks ago, a colleague and I did a Sewing camp that ran 3 hours a day for 5 days, and now a different colleague and I are doing a Scratch programming camp that is also 3 hours a day (but this one will just run 4 days because of the July 4th holiday).

These two camps are very different experiences for me.  The sewing camp was a smaller group (13 girls, I think?); the coding camp is 22 kids (mix of boys and girls, but mostly boys).  Both are creating a product, but there’s something very different in creating something you can hold versus something on a screen.  I love both, and enjoy teaching both, but it’s a different kind of experience.  With sewing, you do a lot of ripping out in order to fix mistakes, but you also, at a certain point, are forced to just let it be, and I kind of have a soft spot for projects (my own and others’) with visible flaws.  With coding, there’s always that opportunity to tweak things and see what happens.  Makes it harder for me to feel like something is “done.”  And sometimes those little flaws cause the entire project to fail!

It’s interesting watching the kids in terms of that difference.  Some of our sewing campers had a hard time with even a single wonky stitch, while others were happy to just fly through a project so they could get to the next thing.  Of course, the latter group then learned about how to repair something that has come apart–when you fly through too fast, it doesn’t hold!  We have a few coders who are working deeply on single projects, really trying to match their visions and get things right from the start, and others who embrace the shorter challenges, diving in with lots of code and then debugging until the project works (or abandoning it in favor of something else, but usually persevering!).  There’s no “right” way to do it.  In the end, both approaches lead to an increase in skills, and I can see both in myself, so it’s easy to empathize.  As long as everyone is completing projects and learning, it’s good.

Both groups of kids are remarkably self-motivated and curious and fearless.  Middle schoolers are just the perfect age for this kind of stuff–old enough to take a bit of instruction and run with it, and young enough to embrace the joy of making unselfconciously.  The main difference between the two camps is just number of children.  But also, the helping with coding is more demanding than the help with sewing, or at least more varied.  The kids are in very different places in terms of their previous exposure and skill levels, and also in terms of how complex their projects are.  With sewing, there were variations, but not as extreme.

But, what I am really thinking about right now is time (thus the title of this post).  3 hours a day, and it FLIES.  We have a snack break, but basically, we are going strong that whole time.  I can’t speak for the kids, but my sense is that the time is going by fast for them as well.  When you have a chance to really just settle into a project, whether tangible or digital, you lose track of time.  For me these two weeks, the project is teaching and helping kids troubleshoot (very little time spent doing all-group instruction; the vast majority is one-on-one assistance).  For the kids, it’s of course whatever they are making.  I know we benefit from the fact that these kids are here because presumably they want to be–they have some interest in the topic/skill. But I’m wondering about time. I know that sometimes during the school year, 50 minutes can feel like a long time, but maybe that’s partly because you can’t really settle in.  Once you start to settle in, it’s time to be thinking about when you should give a heads-up for clean-up, or whether you have time to start on or introduce some new thing.  With 3 hours, it just feels so much looser, and in a weird way, that looseness lends itself to kids being far more focused and on-task.  The hardest part of each camp day for me is that last half hour–not because I’m worn out (although I might be!) but because I’m suddenly aware of the clock. Wondering, with each question, whether there’s time to answer it today or if it should wait until tomorrow. Trying to make sure I don’t lose track of time and miss getting the kids to the pickup area. I think the kids become aware of the clock as well–once the few kids who leave a bit early to go to lunch leave, everyone is restless.

What’s interesting is that nobody seems to be watching the clock during those first two and a half hours.  Today I got to school at around 7:30 to start getting ready.  I didn’t look at the clock until the first kid arrived around 8:45, startling me out of whatever I was doing at that moment.  Then I didn’t look at the clock again until 10:45, and the only reason I looked then was because I wondered about snack; none of the kids had asked about having a break, but I guess my internal clock knew it was about that time.

Between 11:30 and 12:00, I can’t even count how many times I looked at the clock.

I don’t think there’s an answer in terms of class times changing, but I do need to reframe my own relationship with the clock.  I think I’ve even posted about this before! But these camps are really highlighting for me what can happen if you aren’t worried or thinking about time.  If I could capture that spirit faster, and teach myself to push the clock out of my mind for longer stretches of the 55-minute class periods we do have, it could be pretty powerful.

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Project Zero Atlanta: Random Thoughts/Impressions/Reflections

So, I went to this conference:  Project Zero Perspectives: Think Create Innovate.  Here are some initial impressions and notes.  If I wait until I have time to really dive in, this will never get done!

Agency by Design.

Agency by Design is a research strand of PZ focused on maker culture.  There were several parts of the conference (speakers and sessions) that hit on this strand, and it is the one I keep coming back to in my mind.  Key ideas:

  • Slow looking in order to see the complexity of parts and how they interact.
  • “Sensitivity to design.” I keep thinking about this.  The idea is that, when we look at an object in the world, we reflect on how it was made and designed, and we encourage kids to slow down and do this same kind of reflection. This is powerful stuff.  “Drawing on interviews, site visits, and observations of student work, AbD formed the hypothesis that fostering young people’s sensitivity to the designed dimension of the world may be a powerful way to increase their sense of agency.”  YES.  If I understand how something works and how it was created, I have more power/agency when it comes to my own creations/designs.
  • “Do It Together” (versus DIY).  Importance of community; standing on the shoulders of giants even when working alone.  Maker culture as not anti-individual, but emphasis on community, no person an island.

Culture of Questions (David Perkins)

David Perkins gave a talk on questions, defining Big Questions and what they do.

Big questions:

  • Are open; reflect insight, action, ethics, opportunity
  • Energize and organize learning
  • Are enduring and universal; can make progress on them, but no easy answers
  • Wonder AT things, not just ABOUT things.

The big takeaway from this for me was, like above, this concept of slowing down and wondering.  Instead of trying to dive in too fast to answers or building, taking time to look at what’s there first, or think about design.

Mindful Looking

I did a shorter session on mindful looking, where we looked at a painting for about 15 minutes, then came up with questions about it, then talked about our questions.  This was that idea of “slow looking” put into practice. It was really interesting to see, not only what questions I came up with myself about the painting when given an opportunity to really look closely, but what questions and observations other folks had.

In thinking about applying this to the Makerspace specifically, I could imagine having kids take apart a common object and look at it silently/mindfully, and then discuss their questions. I see an activity like this leading to some really interesting making.

And those are my thoughts for now!

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Time for Reflection

It’s not accurate to say that I don’t have time to keep up with this blog, time to reflect on what’s going on in the library.  I just don’t take the time, and as I sit here at the end of another school year, I have regrets about that!  I know that regular reflection makes me do my job better; serves as a record of what’s going on; helps me to see and understand more; opens up the possibilities for other ideas/opinions/input.

When I do try to write, after not doing so, I feel all this pressure to make up for lost time.  But I can’t really do that.  So I need to just write what I can.

I went to a Project Zero conference last weekend.  I still haven’t processed it. I need to do some writing just for myself, and then I’ll try to turn that into a blog post.  It was a quietly powerful conference; it will change how I do things, particularly in the Makerspace but also in reading classes and in the library as a whole.  The main thing I took away from it, I think, was the importance of reflection, so that’s why I’m here again, even though I’m not writing about PZ just yet.

Highlights from this past week at school:

When my Tinkering activity was due to meet this week, all but one of my kids were away on a field trip. So Emily (the one kid) and I had a chance to play with Make!Sense sensors by adding to and tweaking a Scratch program. I don’t often get to focus all my attention on one student and one project at a time, and it was very enjoyable! We tested out a variety of sensors (motion, sound, heartbeat, touch, tilt, light, proximity), having them trigger various movements and visual effects on our Scratch project. I am now inspired to spend more time with the Make!Sense materials, and possibly use them this summer in my Scratch camp.

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My school has created a new STEM coordinator position for grades 7-12, and I got to spend some time with the new hire.  He came to observe Makerspace for a bit, and I seriously got chills listening to him chat with some of the kids about possibilities for next year with robotics and other cool engineering kinds of stuff. I had a thought later that night, as I was thinking about the meeting, that while I feel really good about what I’ve been able to do in the library with the Makerspace and how much I’ve learned and will presumably continue to learn about coding and making and whatnot, it will be SO wonderful to have someone who knows a ton more about it and who can meet these kids where they are.  I feel very good about having been able to provide a safe place for these kids, and (I hope) some inspiration and access to materials and guidance. But I know there is a lot I can’t do, and I am looking forward to working with Dan and being both a witness and (I hope) a contributor to the work he will do with these amazing kids. I’m getting chills again just thinking about it.

Finally, books!  I don’t write as much here about books, and I’m not sure why.  Maybe because books aren’t as new to me as the whole making thing is. I did read a good one this week, though–Paper Things by Jennifer Richards Jacobson.  I’m a sucker for a good middle-grade problem novel, and this one delivers.  Ari and her brother Gabe are homeless, and Ari is trying to manage keeping that a secret while dealing with the regular issues of 5th-grade life. I really liked the voice of this novel, and frankly, I liked that it managed to both challenge misconceptions that kid readers might have about homelessness and avoid topics that I’d worry about exposing my younger students to. That can be a tricky balance. I immediately handed it off to Miriam, one of my students who loves those problem novels like I do, and she came back the next day saying she couldn’t put it down.

Now I’m reading a pretty terrible YA zombie novel that I downloaded from the upper school ebook collection while I was away at the conference and wanting something I could read without bothering my roommate with the light, and I’m wishing I’d remembered to bring home something from the new book shelf at school!

One more note: as summer approaches, my own kid is nearing the end of her middle school years.  I think this is making me extra nostalgic and emotional about my job–partly because she will be going to a different school next year, but also, I think, because I’ve enjoyed this odd intersection of my parenting life and my work life, this hyperawareness (thanks to my kid) of what middle school life is like for the kids. I guess that awareness will continue, because once you know what something is like, you pretty much know it, but I am going to lose something of it, I know.  It’s hard to articulate, but it has me feeling a bit tender about the whole thing.

And that, my friends, is that!  Thanks for reading!

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Long Time, No See

I’ve been neglecting this blog!  I am one of those people who, once some time has passed without a post, I feel all this pressure to write a really good post to make up for the absence, and next thing I know, it has been a year.

But I need to get over that and just try to dive back in.

So, some recent highlights from the library (without transitions because I’m too tired!):

I ran circulation statistics last week, to compare with last year.  Last year, we had a huge jump (almost 70%) over the year before, as a result of many things, including having a newly renovated middle school library, and some fabulous promotion of pleasure reading on the part of our English/Reading faculty.  I was curious to see how we were doing this year, and was excited to see another 8% jump over last year.  I’m not really concerned with numbers–I think you learn more from just being in the building and seeing what goes on–but seeing print circulations going up in 2015 is pretty exciting!

On the pleasure reading front, our Library Intern program (created and mostly run by kids; overseen by the eternally patient Mrs. White) continues to thrive.  Before long, there will be more kids who are interns than ones who are not.  The interns help with shelving, reader’s advisory, keeping things organized (our desk drawers have never looked so good; I should have them tackle my personal desk), and lately, having kids vote on names for every item on the desk (e.g., Tucker the stapler; Newt the bobblehead turtle; Patch Wiggle Reed the stuffed monkey, etc.).  We love the energy they bring to the library!

Last week, we had a museum exhibit in the library, thanks to Mrs. Thomas’ class of 5th grade girls.  Mr. Boyd helped the kids during the research portion–they had extensive choice in selecting their ancient history topics, which led to some very impressive projects and a lot of energy and excitement in sharing their learning with each other and visitors to the museum.  I am amazed overall with the level of thinking and creativity in our current 5th grade–give them choice and an opportunity to add their voices to the conversation, then sit back and be blown away by what they come up with.  I have moments where I wish I could be a student in one of those classes, and other moments where I think I would love to teach 5th grade in a future existence.  Every year our students amaze me, but some of the wonderful things going on in the lower school these days (with inquiry- and project-based learning) are really becoming more and more evident with each new crop of 5th graders.

A 5th grade fellow came into the Makerspace yesterday wanting to sew a pillow to give to his mom and dad for Valentine’s Day.  He picked out his fabric yesterday during recess, but we ran out of time before he could start sewing.  Today, he learned to use the sewing machine and sewed most of his pillow during a free period, at the end of which he said, “I can just stay and finish.”  I said, “You have to go to class!” “Well . . . you could write me a note!” Nope, sorry, kid.  But he came back and finished it up with stuffing and final stitches after school, in plenty of time for Valentine’s Day.

We’ve been playing with Google Cardboard during 7th/8th grade recess, and I highly recommend that if you have a compatible phone (which I sadly do not, but a few of the kids do), you buy one of the $8 versions available now on Amazon (marked down from $40; do not pay $40) or build one yourself.  No, it is not educational (thus recess only; it lives on my desk otherwise), but it is definitely a lot of fun.

On a final note, I am just feeling grateful–for the kids, for my colleagues, for our wonderful space.  I am one to make noise about things when they aren’t how I like them to be, and things are never perfect, but I seriously had this moment last week where I looked around at the beautiful chaos of the library and thought, wow, this is exactly what I envision when I think of what I hope for the library to be.  It’s not every minute, and we have plenty of ways in which to grow (and I personally have a LOT of growth to do!), but I’m grateful for where we are and the direction in which we are heading.

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The Groove

It feels like things are finally settling into a sort of groove/routine in the library. A lot of book circulation, and a LOT of activity during recess and study hall times. 5th and 6th grade recess in particular is hopping. Today was a rainy day recess, and the library was packed with kids–reading, beading, sewing, tinkering, and collaborating on projects.

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Playing with Littlebits Synth Kit. This has become very popular lately.

Making bracelets.

Making bracelets.

In my own personal Making, I’ve done a few fun/interesting things lately. First, I got some simple vibration motors and played around with those, making brush bots with my Tinkering activity kids and a few art bots just for the heck of it. I’m trying to find more fun, inexpensive things to make, because once a few kids see something, I end up with a bunch who want to make the same thing. Art bots and brush bots are good for this.

Art bots!

Art bots!

This week, I’ve been testing out our new Hummingbird Robotics Kit.  I ordered this with a handful of kids in mind (not just for them, of course, but I was thinking of a specific group), but I’ve been playing around with it myself to make sure I have all the right software installed and know the essentials of how to work it. I’m using Scratch for the programming piece, and so far, it’s a lot of fun. I have a LONG way to go before I feel at all comfortable, but I’m far enough in to know that it’s a pretty nifty kit.

And that’s the news from the library! Nothing too exciting, but things are rolling right along. . .

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Tinkering/Sewing

I had the second class of Tinkering 101 last week, which also includes several Sewing kids who couldn’t make the time for the Sewing class.

The sewers were working on pencil pouches and a stuffed letter locker decoration.

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She put a tiny magnet inside and then another outside, so the letter sticks on the inside of her locker.

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Pencil pouches in progress!

The Tinkerers were a bit aimless at first, until I pulled out the Littlebits kit, and then they really got busy, particularly with the Bits that involve sound (microphone and synth kit Bits). I gave them headphones, but you can’t connect headphones to the buzzers, unfortunately! At the end of the period, they were talking about plans for what they want to do next session.

One notable moment: the Bits have these little bases that you can use to hold a project together, but one boy was frustrated that there was no way to attach the battery to the base. He mentioned the problem several times, clearly wanting me to fix it, and I was too busy to try to help with it (so just told him he’d have to hold the battery or have the project resting on the table). I just now noticed, uploading these pictures, that he solved the problem by attaching the battery to the base with some tape!  This is a tiny thing, but it’s also an important thing, I think–it gives me something I can point back to with this kid as a time when he figured out a solution on his own. Often in the Makerspace, multiple kids will be asking for help all at the same time (typically the younger kids–the older ones know I’m not much help! ha ha!), but then after having helped whichever one managed to get to me first, I’ll look up and realize that the rest have managed to either solve the issue on their own or found another student to help. Maybe I just need to always look too busy!

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LittleBits synth kit fun.

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LittleBits. Note the red underneath the battery–that’s tape!

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LittleBits experimentation.

My other observation from that class is that the LittleBits are providing these kids with a really nice, safe entry into some basic electronics concepts. I had planned to have them doing something a bit more complicated in that class (building a basic circuit with a photosensor and diode)–still very simple, but requiring a bit more patience, I guess. They were not interested. BUT, I think that once they have played with the Bits for a little longer, they will be curious to know how those Bits are built, and we can step into some of those concepts and projects that involve starting with the basic components. I also look forward to showing them the Arduino Bit and seeing if they are up for trying out some programming!

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Read It Forward!

I read sometime last spring about this idea of Read It Forward programs–in the case I read about, the library planted multiple copies of a single title around campus, with the idea that the books would be read and then passed along to other students, creating a Common Read experience in a more informal, organic way than assigning it. I loved this idea, and then in talking with colleagues multiple times over the summer and this fall, we came up with our own twist on it, described as follows (this is copied from our library blog):

Middle school English and Reading teachers have been asking students to bring in a copy of a book they loved to give away.  The morning announcements this past week included this:

What book made you laugh, cry, or a little of both? What book changed your life? What book would you most like to share with other kids?  Please bring a copy (used or new, doesn’t matter which) of a book you loved and that you are willing to give away, and give it to your English or Reading teacher by October 15.

So, what are we up to?

A few things, actually!

1. First, we want to continue celebrating the Middle School’s love of reading (last year, we did this with Mad Millions).  Our vision is to have every student bring a beloved book to share with other Collegiate students. These books will get a “Read It Forward” sticker for the front, and then as each student reads the book, they will add their name to a list in the back.  After 10 years of working in the library, I know that there is no more powerful recommendation for a book than someone, especially a peer, saying, “I LOVED that book!” With this program, we hope to really encourage this sharing among peers.

2. But it doesn’t stop there!  The most significant aspect of this project will come at the end of the school year. We haven’t yet decided exactly where the books will go (it will depend in part on how many we have! we might need to have multiple recipients!), but we do know that they will go to kids who don’t have the access to great books that our kids have.

Whenever we “weed” books from our library collection (books that we don’t need any more in our collection), we give them away to other schools or to Better World Books. This is important, and I’m confident the books are useful to those who receive them. But it occurred to me that so often, our donations are books that are outdated.  What if we were donating the best books, the ones that are still loved and popular? They don’t have to be shiny new, in perfect condition. They can be worn and well loved! The idea is that, in spite of the condition of the book on the outside, the power comes from the fact that this is a book that a middle school student chose as one of their favorites, one they wanted to share.

Let’s Read It Forward!

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My vision is for every kid to donate a book–right now, that is looking like it might be a bit lofty! But I’m curious to see what does happen, and how it all pans out.

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