Tag Team Tech October 2015

Technology Kits

Kelly Czarnecki

There’s something satisfying about programs in a kit. For some, it might be a sigh of relief in knowing that to a degree, someone vetted these pieces and parts to assure a high interest program for teens. For others, the organization of receiving the information in its tidiness is helpful to know how to execute the program. Lastly, it might feel more manageable and less scary to take on the task of facilitating a technology program when it’s packaged and directions and suggestions are even part of the experience.

Technology in a kit is not only just for staff to use at various branches throughout a library system, but for patrons to check out as well. Anything from cake pans to guitars can be checked out, why not technology? Libraries offer a variety of models, including allowing patrons to take the kits home with them just like books or movies as well as to  use them only while in the library for a set amount of time.

Deciding what approach you might want to offer technology is up to you and your organization. We’ll take a look at several factors you might want to consider to help determine what model makes the most sense as well as explore a list of suggested technology for kits throughout this article. First, let’s take a look at how offering technology kits as a service is supportive of helping to engage teens beyond using it for homework or school-related research and why this is important.

Technology Kits Can Empower Teens

There is still a digital divide among teens living in higher-income households and highly educated parents compared to those living in lower income households and less educated parents. The former tend to own more technology devices such as a smartphone, tablet, or computer. This is according to a 2012 Pew Internet and American Life Study access September 15, 2015; http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/April/PewInternet-Teens.aspx.

Allowing technology to be checked out as a kit can provide a more informal way for teens to see how the technology works and to be more comfortable with manipulating it.  Offering opportunities for interest driven experiences rather than a workshop they need to register for or be taught in a formal setting can also help them want to further their knowledge on their own. This doesn’t mean that an adult can’t or wouldn’t be present for support, but informally, opportunities to talk about how to use it can be more empowering and mutual since both are creating, learning, and teaching.

Technology in a kit can also help meet teens no matter where they are. While the kits might not be able to leave the building, there can be mobility in their use which can encourage collaboration with their peers. This model allows for flexibility rather than rigidity in where and how equipment is used albeit with some limitations.

Making technology more accessible can help address the “knowledge gap” which, according to Syracuse University Professor David Lankes, is “the ability to take advantage of certain tools” that can help teens complete their homework, apply for a job, or, eventually, college. According to Lankes, “where there’s a gap in services to help people to get ahead, you often see librarians stepping in to fill the void.” The Digital Shift, accessed September 15, 2015; (http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2014/01/roy-tennant-digital-libraries/mission-librarians-empowerment/).

Technology Kits Aren’t Perfect

As much as we can tout kits to be a great service, they’re not a panacea and can sometimes involve more work in the upkeep and maintenance than offering the same service as a workshop or class. This is one factor that comes in to play when deciding how you want the kits to be used; i.e. only circulating amongst staff who will be facilitating a workshop or allowing patrons to check out at their request.  Keep in mind it could be a combination of both, depending on which kits might lend themselves better to whichever model. Sometimes you just don’t know until you try. Perhaps there’s a kit that you thought would be wildly popular amongst the teens to check out based on the information a few of your regulars gave you, combined with your research and it turns out not to be the case a few months later. Perhaps it would function better as an outreach kit with a partner organization.

Maintenance can mean anything from replacing batteries to inventorying parts. While it might not be necessary to count every single LEGO® piece, you probably want to monitor the important ones that will render the kit useless if they go missing.  Keep in mind that missing doesn’t necessarily mean stolen. I’ve gotten a lot of seemingly extraneous pieces through interoffice mail that staff had later found when they were straightening up a room from the program.

It’s also a good idea to upkeep the kits for general wear and tear and see if some parts need replacing or, perhaps, just a better case to hold the equipment in would give it more mileage. The nature of technology is that it can become outdated sooner than you would prefer. It’s good to periodically inventory its use among staff or patrons and see if there’s a better or updated version available. You might do this by recording its use for a selected duration. Brainstorm with staff and patrons to see if there’s a better use for it as a program or if it just needs to be donated somewhere.

One of the ways to hold staff accountable is by creating a sheet that inventories the major parts. If you’re sending the kit out and have checked that all the parts are being sent out, and the parts are checked when the kit is returned, the chances of something being unaccounted for are going to lessen.

Share your experiences. From successes to learning experiences, you likely have information from which other libraries looking to do something similar could benefit. Post on YALSA blog, the comments section at the end of this article, your library blog, or other related listserv or appropriate social networking group.

Suggestions for Technology Kits

Sphero 

http://www.sphero.com/education
$130
This app-enabled robotic ball allows teens to learn coding skills to program their robot to move, dance, change colors, compete in obstacle courses, etc.  They easily accommodate lesson plans and youth will see the results of their programming instantaneously. Check out what Librarian Colleen Graves is doing (http://colleengraves.org/2015/09/26/sphero-programming-and-blast-classes/) and how she recommends circulating and storing them: http://colleengraves.org/2015/09/19/sphero-logistics-and-circulation/

Little Bits

http://www.littlebits.cc
$99-$199
These electronics have been around for about four years. They snap together with magnets and work as lights, buttons, sensors, or sounds once they form a complete circuit. While there are options for which kit to purchase, a 15% educator’s discount is available. The educator’s guide with lesson plans, storage suggestions, connections to learning standards and other tips and tricks can be found here: http://ow.ly/SM1Xd. Anything from making music to enhancing a super hero (remember last summer’s summer reading theme?) are projects youth can do. Little Bits is recommended for ages 8 and older with activities for youth of all ages. Check out what Library Media Specialist Laura Fleming is doing with Little Bits: http://littlebits.cc/educator-spotlight-laura.

Makey Makey

Makey Makey

 

Makey Makey

Operation

Operation

http://makeymakey.com/
$25-$50
This versatile kit is touted as “an invention kit for everyone.” Users connect everyday objects such as fruits, vegetables, Play-doh, etc. to alligator clips which are then connected to a circuit board and a computer through USB and they’re learning basic programming skills. The site provides lesson plans for everything from math problems to word problems. This kit can get pretty sophisticated–it’s much more than just turning a banana into a keyboard. You can do everything from make your own Operation Game to combining it with Scratch software to make music. Check out this review in School Library Journal this past spring on the Makey Makey: http://ow.ly/SM5VZ.

ReadyANIMATOR

ReadyANIMATORReady ANIMATOR

 

 

http://www.readyanimator.com/
$789 plus cost of iPad
The ReadyANIMATOR uses the Apple iPad to make stop motion animation. Using the free Stop Motion Studio app, users will see results instantaneously. Like most Apple products, the process of taking photos and editing the movie to add sound, duplicate clips, or delete them is pretty intuitive. The base that makes up the ReadyANIMATOR is flexible and easy to secure with a cable and lock. Apps, including iMovie or Veescope allow users to chroma key with the addition of a blue or green screen and add any kind of image or video to use as a background to the story. Ideas are endless and it works well with a wide range of ages. Several libraries use the ReadyANIMATOR in their makerspaces, including Madison Public Library in the Bubbler where they have a dynamic animation program: http://ow.ly/SM7gU.

Arduinos

http://www.sparkfun.com/products/12060
(pronounced like Ar-Dween-Oh)
$100
These mini computers are used for building objects, like robots, wearable technology, and musical instruments. This is recommended for those that have mastered Little Bits and the Makey Makey. Many libraries have them available as kits. Check out what the Fond du Lac Public Library in Wisconsin is doing; http://ow.ly/SM8SJ as well as the East Baton Rouge Parish Library: http://ow.ly/SMca3.

Kits don’t have to break the bank. Libraries, of course, are funded very differently and some have more in their programming budget than others.  Fortunately, there are grants available  (http://makergrants.blogspot.com/ note these are more specific to makerspaces, of which technology kits might be a part). Thinking in terms of supplies for particular projects that can be made into a kit and inexpensively replenished rather than making a larger purchase for a particular device(s) that can allow for various projects to be created is one way to think about the low cost and higher cost options. Initially, the output might be more, but in the long run, the return on investment is large as the larger purchases can get a lot of mileage by engaging teens in multiple projects.

Some Low Cost Projects

Paper Circuits

The main components of this kit are coin cell batteries, copper tape, and LEDs. Teens can create cards and signs by using these tools to create a circuit to turn the light on or tell a story through an interactive book. There’s plenty of information online to get started but a great page with step-by-step instructions and project ideas is here: http://www.makereducation.com/paper-circuits.html.

Art Bots

Art Bots

 

Art Bots

This was a popular project this summer at my library. A few pool noodles, markers for attaching to the bot to draw, and electric toothbrushes from a dollar store to be deconstructed were the major parts needed. Extending the usage of this kit can include contests for whose can draw the longest or most attractive scribble or making their bot look like someone famous or living. For more information, check out this video: http://www.makereducation.com/artbots–scribbling-machines.html.

Programming with Scratch

http://scratch.mit.edu
Many of us have programmed with Scratch or are somewhat familiar with this free open source game design and animation software. Now other electronics such as the Makey Makey can interface with Scratch to make more sophisticated projects. As it is a program that requires an install, if there is too much bureaucracy to get this done for your program, it can also be installed on a flash drive and executed to run from a computer. If you’re not familiar with Scratch, it’s a great way to get children and teens started with computer programming by putting together commands in the form of connecting blocks. Projects can be quite sophisticated.

Technology kits are a great way to maximize your budget and empower teens. If you have already had success with utilizing kits as a service or have any questions or comments, feel free to comment below.

Czarnecki headshot, used with permissionKelly Czarnecki is a teen services librarian in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has written extensively on teens and technology in libraries and teaches online classes for American Library Association. In her spare time she enjoys learning how to grill, watching the Chicago Bulls, and training for her next triathlon.

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