Putting Portable STEAM into Action

Winning one of YALSA’s 2014 Teen Tech Week Grants was both professionally and personally rewarding. It was my second foray into grant-writing and I was surprised that my plan for Exploring Arduino and the creation of a portable STEAM lab at my library branch had won. I was also excited to learn something new, something that “my” kids would think was fun, cool, and wanted to learn too. Of course, with any new challenge, there are degrees of success.

The overall challenge was the timeframe – only five weeks between notification that my branch had won and Teen Tech Week. ‘ Purchasing the equipment – three SparkFun Inventor’s kits and three laptops – didn’t go as planned. All the equipment used in my proposal no longer existed and were replaced by more expensive items. The Inventor’s Kits now available were upgraded, simplified, and cost $10 more each; this was a blessing in disguise as I wouldn’t have to solder anything and preparing the kits involved nothing more than taping two pieces together with double-sided tape. The bargain laptops? I now knew the reason they were such a bargain – discontinued for newer, faster models with greater memory capacity, and nearly double the price. So back to the Best Buy website for a laptop that fit my technology and price needs. Success! And, with the financial and logistical help of the Treasurer of my branch’s Friends, three laptops were acquired in record time. The next challenge was having the laptops ready to go which meant a phone call and email to our library system’s IT department. In four days, IT staff loaded anti-virus and administrative software before downloading the open-source Arduino code. The equipment that formed the basis of a portable STEAM lab was ready!

The burning question – was I ready? The short answer was no, not really. So, I picked up one of the shiny new laptops and an Inventor’s Kit with guidebook and parked myself in the Reference Office. When researching Arduino products, I chose the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit because it’s relatively foolproof, making it perfect for beginners of all ages. Both the red board and breadboard are well-marked, but most importantly the guidebook is amazing. It takes you through 15 basic exercises called circuits – with both written directions and a full-color diagram of a successfully executed circuit. I worked through the first three circuits in about an hour. Surely a group of teens with a desire to learn circuitry and a predilection to technology could complete 10 or even all 15 circuits in two hours!

I had planned to have as many as three teens per workstation in a two hour workshop. I was pleased when six teens registered (five boys and one girl), and momentarily disappointed when only three boys attended. In spite of the numbers, the program ended with valuable feedback: no more than two people per workstation, teens are not necessarily faster when learning new things (they completed five to six circuits in about one hour and forty minutes), they were looking forward to a three-part summer workshop (two afternoons of working through all 15 circuits followed by a third afternoon of experimenting with original circuits and programming), and they really liked that I admitted I was not an expert and was learning along with them.

In late May, I had accepted a position at a library in a different county. I had outlined my intended summer calendar, including a modified two-part Arduino workshop – if I could troubleshoot the basic circuits, anyone could. I heard from a former colleague that the Arduino workshops had been held and that the teens in attendance had a good time, a definite indicator of success. That is what Teen Tech Week is all about – getting teens excited about the convergence of technology, experimentation, and libraries.

Caroline Aversano is the Teen Services Librarian at the Jackson Branch of the Ocean County Library. She had been the Young Adult Librarian at the West Windsor Branch of the Mercer County (NJ) Library from March 2009 to May 2014. In 2007, she was awarded an MSLIS from Drexel University and was inducted into the Sigma Chapter of Beta Phi Mu. Caroline has been’ a member of ALA, YALSA, the New Jersey Library Association (NJLA), and NJLA’s Young Adult Services Section since 2007; she was a member of NJLA’s Emerging Leaders Class of 2009. She currently serves on YALSA’s Teen’ Read Week Committee, is in her seventh year of reading for’ NJLA’s Garden State Teen Book Awards, and is in her third year of serving on the NJ Statewide Summer Reading Committee. Caroline had served as a member of YALSA’s Guidelines for Public Libraries and Reader’s Choice Task Forces in 2011-12.

Prior to becoming a librarian, Caroline held a variety of positions including Assistant Vice President – Marketing Communications for a global financial services provider, Sales and Media Relations for collegiate and minor league athletics, and Quality Control/Quality Assurance for a service provider to manufacturers of composites, gemstones, medical devices, plastics, and semiconductors. These previous’ occupations provided Caroline with an eclectic collection of knowledge that is infinitely helpful when staffing the Adult Reference Desk.

 

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