Instead of Teen Tech Week, my library is participating in NJ Makers Day. It’s a statewide initiative brought about by a grant three years ago, and now it’s a nonprofit dedicated to the spirit of making in New Jersey. It’s approaching fast on March 25, and my library is just about prepared for it. I just recently finished my MLIS at Rutgers, and this is my first full-time library position at Tenafly in New Jersey. I had been involved with Makers Day before as a part timer, so I wanted to involve my new library as well, a first for the town. Along with the children’s librarian here, I’m planning a full day of events for teens, kids, and adults alongside 299 other locations across the state. It’s the biggest NJ Makers Day yet, and I felt it was important to introduce the community to the idea that the library can be involved in making and STEM education.
Our community is education focused, and I’m already planning more STEM for teens in the future, but this was a way for the library to get started with relative ease. Thanks to the foundation running the program, our library was able to borrow a Finch robot to begin teaching tweens and teens to code using Scratch. Many of the teens who have come into my introductory classes are already familiar with the coding language, but are fascinated that they can use it to make the Finch robot (who I’ve already named Atticus and will be sad to lose) move around, even drawing circles when a marker is attached. I brought him to the middle school library, hoping to entice any student staying after to finish homework, and had several takers who had never seen anything quite like him before.
Njmakersday.org, the organization’s website, even provides a press kit, promotional tools, and webinars leading up to Makers Day to ensure that each location is prepared with great programs and publicity. These programs encourage librarians to emphasize their roles as educators, and support critical thinking and problem solving while at the library. Programs for the day don’t even need to be as high tech as a robot, and many other libraries are holding low-tech projects. At our own library, the teens are coding with the Finch robot but also learning to use the buttonmaker, while children aged 10 and under can make paper balancing robots. With Atticus, I’m teaching teens only the basics about moving him around, offering suggestions and helpful hints, and seeing where they can take him. This is the basis of self-supported learning and this sort of open sandbox learning will be invaluable to them in the future.
I don’t know if other states have similar initiatives to NJ Makers Day, but a statewide initiative for more STEM learning can never be a bad thing. STEM learning is more than just learning about tech, but exploring the world in a way that allows the teen to create their own questions and seek their own answers.