STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is more important than ever, with related occupations growing at an unprecedented rate and technological innovation the leading focus of many industries across the world. Albany Public Libary wants to give their younger patrons the opportunity to learn more about STEM in fun and creative ways, offering many different programs across its branches.
One new STEM program made possible thanks to APL Foundation donors is the popular LEGO WeDo Workshop: Children aged 6-12 learn fundamental computational and engineering skills in an enjoyable way with Legos! Led by local librarian Sarah Stanwicks, the program has just ended a successful run in October. (Sign up is now open for the next series of workshops in January.) She recently sat down with us to tell us more….
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I live in Albany with my husband (who’s also a librarian), 2 young sons, and our rambunctious pug. We’ve been here for almost 11 years now. I grew up just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, and am still a Midwesterner-at-heart.
How long have you worked at the library and why did you choose to work in this profession?
I’ve worked as a Youth Services Librarian at APL for 10 years. Before this I was the Map & Geospatial Data Librarian at the University of Connecticut for almost 3 years, which was my first ‘real’ library job after graduate school. I’d never planned on being a librarian – I thought I was going to be a cartographer as it’s what I studied in college. After I received my Bachelor’s degree I decided to go to graduate school for geography, but didn’t get accepted into the program. While working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a librarian friend there thought that going into library science would be a good fit for me as I seemed extremely organized and detail oriented. I gave it a shot and loved it! My original focus was academic libraries (I was hoping to work in a map, geography, or science library after graduation) but I found it wasn’t a good fit for me. I really wanted to work with children. After moving to NY I was finally afforded the opportunity, and I couldn’t be happier.
What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy working with patrons of all ages: babies, children, teens, and adults. One of my favorite parts of my job is probably Toddler Storytime. I run this every Friday morning, and have done for almost 10 years. I love how excited the kids get to come and hear books and sing together. It’s really neat to see the younger siblings of past story-timers come through too.
“I really wanted to work with children. After moving to NY I was finally afforded the opportunity, and I couldn’t be happier”
The program we’re talking about today is the LEGO WeDo Workshop, what inspired you to come up with such a unique and fun idea?
As a department, we want to meet the coding/STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) needs of every age level. We have Codergarten for children 3-5, LEGO WeDo for children 6-12, Tween Coders for children 9-12, and Minecraft Mayhem for children 6-14. We’ve also established a FIRST LEGO League Jr. team, made up of 6 children aged 6-8. The team will present at an expo at the University at Albany in December.
What is the aim of the program?
The aim of the program is to introduce students to computational thinking and engineering principles in a fun way.
Can you tell us more about the details of the workshop, so what do participants do in each session?
The first series of the LEGO WeDo program was in October, and it lasted 4 weeks. The class had 8 students broken up into pairs, as we have 4 kits and 4 iPads (iPads are used to code the projects). The first 2 weeks students were shown specific projects that they were all to finish at their own pace. They did this using the detailed building and coding instructions found on the LEGO Education app. The third week they were allowed to choose a project on their own to build and code. The final week they were to take the coding lessons they’d learned over the past 3 weeks and design, build, and code a robot/machine on their own. Each week students had time to ask questions and present what they’d created to the rest of the class. There were opportunities for larger group collaboration too.
Why do you think STEM programs are important to the library?
STEM programs are important to have in libraries because they foster life-long learning and give children an introduction to the future and possible professions.
“The final week they were to take the coding lessons they’d learned over the past 3 weeks and design, build, and code a robot/machine on their own”
What do you hope the participants have got/will get from joining?
I hope they got an understanding of the concepts of coding, logic, and collaboration. They were able to experience the social aspect of the program as well, which allowed them to explore working together with other children.
Can you sum up the program in three words?
Creative, exciting, and challenging.
Were you a fan of LEGO when you were younger? Do you think you would have enjoyed a WeDo kit?
I didn’t have LEGO when I was younger. My younger brother did, but at that point I probably thought I was too old for them. Obviously now I know there’s no age limit to LEGO, I for instance think they’re awesome! I don’t remember being interested in building things; instead I preferred to play house, school, library, and the piano. However if iPads were around, my guess is I would’ve found a LEGO WeDo kit pretty cool!
“They were able to experience the social aspect of the program as well, which allowed them to explore working together with other children”
Are you involved in any other upcoming programs you want to tell us about?
This program was a great success so I’ll be running it again in January, but it’ll be shortened to 3 weeks with each meeting lasting 1 hour. I’m also involved in our monthly 1st Saturday for Families program, which is geared towards children aged 0-7. It’s a program I began with a past colleague to give families something fun and exciting to do the first Saturday of each month. I’m very excited for January’s 1st Saturday program, as it will be the program’s 5th Birthday!
How do you come up with ideas for programs?
Coming up with new programs can be done in many different ways. Often it’s done by just talking with others in our department, or finding out about successful programs held at other libraries. It makes sense to take something that has worked for others and adapt it to work for the children and teens of Albany. We read blogs, sign-up for newsletters, and search Pinterest for new and exciting ideas. Sometimes they don’t work – but that’s ok – and sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised by how successful a program is. That’s always the best outcome.
If the LEGO WeDo Workshop sounds like something your kids would like to take part in, sign up for January as soon as possible.
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