Teen Tech Week: Playing with Failure

The theme for this year’s Teen Tech Week is “Libraries are for Creating,” and an important aspect of creativity is failure and the ability to embrace trying something new to see what happens. Programs based around improv games and experimenting with recording video can give teen and youth patrons an opportunity for low-risk creation.

Improv games are built around the idea of testing something out, and that there’s no right way to do anything, which helps youth patrons try without a fear of failure. The Improv Encyclopedia is a resource with a range of improv activities, from working with random objects to tongue twisters. A game that I’ve found loosens up any group is Zip-Zap-Zoom or Zip-Zap-Zop, where energy is passed around the group by pointing with your hands. It requires paying attention, doesn’t need a lot of space or a large group, and is perfect for creating an atmosphere of fun.

When the teens are ready, they can improvise in front of a green screen and record their performances for editing. A green screen is a solid background that, used with technology, allows users to digitally edit the backgrounds of their videos, giving them the chance to experiment with effects, time constraints, and other ideas. A fun and simple prompt is to improvise an advertisement for a made-up product or something within the community. This gives teens a goal that invites ideas that are off the beaten path. Then teens can use editing software on their videos to test out variations on their ideas before choosing what they see as their end result. Bringing improv performance into the library allows for teen patrons to take risks without a fear of failure.

In the more physical world of the makerspace, tinkering provides a way to get familiar with failure. Teens can tinker with a piece of technology that’s not working, such as an older computer or appliance, to see how it works without the pressure to make it perfect.  This allows them to better understand the hows and whys of technology, just as improv invites understanding the hows and whys of emotion and physicality. Another way to welcome improvised play is to use simple and complex construction tools like LEGO or K’Nex to construct without a specific goal in mind. The Steam Factory Makerspace is one example of a place that encourages patrons to have fun and fail in their STEAM programming. YALSA’s STEAM toolkit provides suggestions for other projects for youth and teens to create and construct in the library and makerspace.

For more Teen Tech Week resources, visit http://teentechweek.ning.com/.

Kate Keith-Fitzgerald is a freelance fact-checker and substitute teacher at Cambridge Friends School. She sees libraries as bridges between communities and writes about fandom and libraries at nurturingstories.wordpress.com


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