Friday, July 13, 2018

A New Chapter Begins....

I'm excited to say, this week I started a new job! 

For the last three years I have worked in the Outreach Services department providing early literacy programming to preschoolers in daycares and schools all around the city, averaging about 12 sessions per week (with a 20 hour work week), plus providing early literacy training to childcare workers at 2 events each year, doing some school-aged STEAM programming in the summers, and working at the children's service desk in our main downtown library one afternoon a week.

There were a lot of things that were great about this job, I had a great manager who had a very collaborative management style and was open to others' ideas and let me try new things. As a result, I got a great deal of programming experience in a relatively short time, vastly increased my knowledge of picture books, authors, and illustrators, and gained experience presenting. It was great for the the first two years, but approaching the end of my third year I was starting to burn out. I LOVE doing preschool storytime, but found it too much of a good thing to be doing so much of that, and not much of anything else, plus it was putting serious strain on my vocal cords.

I found I really missed working in a children's department and having a wider variety of duties, being able to form deeper, more long-term relationships with the kids and families, and each day being a little different. So when a position opened up in the children's department in the branch that was closest to my home, where my previous supervisor was now the branch manager, I knew it was time for a change!

So now I am a Library Associate in the Children's Department of one of our busiest branches, and it's going to be quite a change. I will be doing far fewer storytimes, just one family storytime a month at least initially. I will also be doing a school-age STEAM program once a month, and probably some other programs as I get settled in. Right now everyone is still in summer reading survival mode, and regular programming will resume in September. Much of my job will be customer service, including RA and reference, which I have really missed.

The schedule is a little weird, as it's all over the place: 1 morning, 2 afternoons, and 1 evening; plus one weekend a month, but in the long run I think it will be a good thing, as I will see a broad cross-section of patrons and activity, and it will give opportunities for a broad range of programming for various ages. It has been super busy so far, but it's a good busy, and makes the shift go by fast! Just as I've always heard, branch life is very different from working at the main library downtown! It's a whole new world....with a shorter commute! 😉

Next week I'll share the storytime plan that helped get me the job 😊.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Sink or Float? - Buoyancy STEAM Program

My department was asked by one of our clients to provide a program that might somehow tie in with their topic of the week, which was the Titanic, and "Sink or Float?" seemed like an obvious place to start.

My first thought was to have them test various items, then to compare the same material in different forms, such as a flat piece of aluminum foil versus a crumpled piece, versus a folded piece and experiment with folding and shaping the same piece of aluminum foil to see if it could hold more weight. I also wanted to do the same thing with clay, comparing how a ball would float or sink, versus a flattened piece, verses a piece molded into a more boat-like shape and seeing if it would hold weight as described on the Playdough to Plato blog. 

These activities would let them observe how both density and water-displacement affected buoyancy. I then envisioned them using this knowledge in designing and building their own boat using provided materials and seeing whose could hold the most weight. However, we ended up going a different route because of very limited time to plan and gather supplies, and we found out the kids were going to be on the younger side this year. So, instead we made use of several Lakeshore kits we already had on hand, and supplemented with a few other items.

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Age: 5-10 (most of our participants were around 8)

Budget: $20 for up to 10 participants, plus $75 for optional, reusable STEM kits.

Sink or float, float or sink, buoyancy, STEAM, STEM program


  • *Lakeshore kits are entirely optional, and used for convenience as we already owned them. They can mostly be replicated with items you may have on hand or can obtain easily, but do have some nice activity suggestions.

1. Using several of the items from the first kit and other items, let the kids each take a turn dropping things in the water to observe if they will float or sink, AFTER they first examine them, consider size and weight, and make predictions.

Coke vs Diet Coke Sink or Float2. Make predictions and then test the Coke vs. Diet Coke. We expected that the Coke would sink and the Diet Coke would float, as led to believe by internet videos, but we did not find that to be the case.

However, there is a very slight, but definite difference. The regular Coke does not sink, but floats just at the surface, while the Diet Coke floated about 1 cm above the surface (we used the 6 oz mini cans).

Key Lime vs. Lime Sink or Float, Float or Sink3. Then compare the two types of lime and the lemon side by side after encouraging participants to make predictions. This is one internet tip that did hold up in our test! 

The kids will likely expect them to be the same, or that the larger lime might sink and the smaller one float, but it's the Key lime that is actually more dense and will sink. [Fun Fact: The "regular" Persian lime is actually a cross between the Key lime and lemon.]

Sink or Float, Float or Sink, Buoyancy4. Place a flat piece of aluminum foil in the water and observe it floats (mostly due to surface tension). Ask them to predict what will happen if you crumple it up (it will still float because of trapped air, i.e. lower density). Then ask them to predict what it will do if you fold up an identical piece (several times until very small).

Float or Sink, Sink or Float, Buoyancy5. Then, fold up the sides of another identical piece and then show that it can hold more weight and remain floating than a flat piece due to water displacement; this is why ships that weigh many tons and are made of steel can float. 

(In this test, the flat piece could hold the weight of 16 pennies without sinking, while the piece folded into a boat-shape could hold 26 pennies without sinking.)

6. If you have a waterproof, oil-based clay, try different shapes: ball, flat "raft", boat-shaped.

Float or Sink, Sink or Float, Buoyancy
7. Try a couple of the suggested activities in the Lakeshore STEM Science Station kit. For example, put one of the plastic boats in the water, then let the kids take turns adding the little plastic "jewels" to see how many it could hold before it sank. The kids will likely instinctively distribute them evenly.

8. Repeat, but add jewels to just one side of the boat and observe how it holds fewer when the weight is distributed unevenly.

9. Discuss the observed results and how size, weight, density, shape, and weight distribution affect buoyancy.

We then got out the Design & Play STEAM Boat kit and let each kid put together their own boat, of their own design, then tested them in a large, shallow tub of water to see how they would sail. The kids could make adjustment to their design if desired, and then we had a sailboat race.
How It Went

It went pretty well, and even though "Sink or Float" is a basic activity that is often done with kids as young as 3, they really seemed to enjoy it, especially with some of the unexpected outcomes. I was disappointed that the Coke (more dense because of all the sugar) vs. Diet Coke did not work as dramatically as internet videos would suggest; perhaps the larger 12oz cans would work better?

I wish I had realized we had the "STEM Science Station" kit earlier, and had time to look it over more carefully. It goes beyond the simple "Sink or Float" activities, and involves more critical thinking. However, it is a little pricey, though, so I'm not sure I would buy it if we didn't already have it on hand. The activities could be replicated fairly easily, though.

The Design & Play kits were a little too simplistic I thought, and involved really very little creativity and design input from the kids. Everyone got an identical styrofoam hull, then there were tall and short masts, two sizes of sails, flags, and small styro blocks they could add and arrange however they wanted. The masts did not really fit securely into the foam, either, and kept falling over. But it did give them something to make and take home.

If I were to do it again, I would have them each experiment with shaping the foil and clay to see who could come up with a boat that would hold the most weight, and for older kids, give them an assortment of building materials and let them design and build their own boats from scratch. The engineering class at the local high school has a competition each year where teams build boats out of nothing but cardboard and duct tape, and then they take them to the local pool and race them. It's amazing how well some of them work!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Flannel Friday - Two Little Sharks

Here is the second of my new shark felt/flannel props: felt shark finger puppets to do a take-off on the classic "Two Little Blackbirds" rhyme.

I was inspired by Sunflower Storytime's blog post, but I wanted the rhyme to use contrasting terms, so I just used her first verse, with modification, then made up the remaining verses myself. 

I used the same pattern from Repeat Crafter Me for the puppets, though scaled them down slightly. They are simply glued together about 3/4 of the way around the edges, leaving a portion of the bottom open. Of course, you can sew them if you prefer, but I don't have the time or patience for that.

Two Little Sharks, shark finger-puppets, shark fingerplay

Two Little White Sharks

Two little white sharks, swimming in the sea,
One named Leo, and the other named Lee.
Swim away Leo; swim away Lee.
(move around behind back)
Come back Leo, come back Lee.
(bring back around to the front)

Two little white sharks, swimming above the shells,
One named Whisper, and the other named Yell.
Swim away Whisper (say in whisper),
Swim away Yell (say loudly).
Come back Whisper (say in whisper),
Come back Yell (say loudly).

Two little white sharks, swimming down below,
One named Fast, and the other named Slow.
Swim away Fast (move behind back quickly),
Swim away Slow (move behind back slowly).
Come back Fast (bring back around quickly),
Come back Slow (bring around slowly).

Two little white sharks, swimming around the pier,
One named Far, and the other named Near.
Swim away Far (hold far behind back),
Swim away Near (hold close behind back).
Come back Far (hold away in front of body),
Come back Near (bring around front close to body).

For more felt & flannel ideas and tips, check out the Flannel Friday Facebook group and Pinterest Boards! To share your flannel, submit via the Flannel Friday Tumblr. For complete information and all the details, visit the main Flannel Friday website.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Perfect Storytime

Today was continuation of the "Library Day" theme I've been doing all month, but my storytime today was one of those rare, amazing storytimes that is just perfect, where the kids are completely engaged the whole time, and love every story and song that you do.

This is a special group to start with, as it is the classroom where I first developed my storytime skills as a volunteer while I was working as a page at the library. At the time I was caught in a catch-22: I needed program experience to advance, but as a page I was not allowed to do programs at work. I was fortunate to find a volunteer opportunity at this nearby daycare, and after 9 months I finally got promoted to the position I currently hold. So in addition to being grateful, I've been working with this same classroom for about 4 years now. It's been a different group of kids each year, but the same teachers.

We started with our welcome song, then I introduced the theme by asking them if they remembered where I worked. It took a few guesses and additional prompting, but someone finally came up with the library. We talked about all the different things to do at the library, then sang our story song.

Library Day Storytime
I started with my favorite library-themed storytime book, Froggy Goes To The Library by Jonathon London and Frank Remkiewicz. Froggy is always well-liked by kids, and I like the humorous way this story teaches appropriate library behavior, and shows such exuberant enthusiasm for reading and storytime. The kids laugh at his forgetting to get dressed, ewwww at his breakfast of home flies and ketchup, and love joining in Froggy's silly song and dance, which we all did together.

Library Day storytimeAfter discussing using your inside voice in the library and how libraries are fairly quiet most of the time, I told them I knew a story about a day the library was NOT quiet at all, and let's find out why. 

Then we read Zachariah Ohora's The NOT So Quiet Library. Oskar and Theodore's quiet day at the library is interrupted by a gigantic 5-headed monster! They convince the monster that books aren't for eating, but then the monster wants to eat them instead! What will they do? Age-appropriate drama with a happy ending, and of course Ohora's wonderful illustrations (I just love his style!).

We followed that up with Laurie Berkner's "These Are My Glasses", which has proven to be popular with all the kids.

Library Day Storytime
Then we finished up with Brian Won's latest in his "Hooray!" series, Hooray for Books! I'll be honest, I don't think it's his best work, and don't find it as engaging as Hooray for Hat!, but the kids still seem to like it pretty well. 

Turtle can't find his favorite book. Did he loan it to one of his friends? One by one he asks the other animals until finally he finds the bottom of Lion's huge stack. Kids will like cheering "Hooray for books!" each time, and predicting where Turtle's book will turn up.

After that we sang our closing song and ended with passing out stickers.

How It Went

As I said, this turned out to be one of those rare, perfect storytimes. I'd like to think I always do a good job reading, but this time I felt like I absolutely nailed each book. And the kids were so engaged, seemingly hanging on every word, and I mean all of the kids! This is so rare, but particularly for this group who has been the most difficult class to keep engaged out of the four I've had here. They're good kids, but have always been a challenge and required the most engaging books, and even on a good day there's always lots of wiggling and getting distracted. But today, they were ALL quiet, still and listening! It was just amazing! They liked all of the books and the song, but I think The NOT So Quiet Library had them riveted in suspense.

While this was a wonderful storytime, it was also rather bittersweet. As I've said, this group has always been special, and after initially volunteering I was able to fold them into my outreach storytime program when I got my current position 3 years ago. But, now I'm about to transfer to the children's department in the suburban branch closest to my home, and I had planned on letting go of this storytime and letting my replacement in Outreach continue with it. However, after today I'm seriously having second thoughts and trying to think of some way to keep doing it at least once a month, even if I have to go back to doing it on my own time as a volunteer, especially since at least initially my new job will only have 1 family (mostly toddlers) storytime a month.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Electrical Conductivity - STEAM Program

Last year my boss bought these really cool gadgets from Lakeshore, called "Light & Sound Touch Circuits" that I used to demonstrate completing/interrupting a circuit as part of my "Paper Circuits" and "DoodleBots 2.0" programs last summer. At the end, the kids had a few minutes of free time to play around with the Touch Circuits, and they loved them so much, I knew right away I wanted to build an entire program around them.

I realized they provided a very simple and kid-friendly way to test electrical conductivity of different materials that would be safe for even the youngest kids, and I thought that would be a good program that would suit a fairly wide range of ages and abilities, involve making observations, analyzing data, drawing conclusions, then testing their conclusions.

Recommended Ages: 5-10 

Recommended Group Size: limited by number of Touch Circuits, but no more than 24

Time: 45 minutes

Budget: $25 for each Touch Circuit, the rest is negligible

Touch circuits, electrical conductivity for kids

  • Lakeshore Light & Sound Touch Circuits, ideally 1 for every 2 kids - $25 ea
    (there are other ways to test conductivity, but this is probably the easiest and most kid friendly)
  • Variety of metallic household items (we used copper tape, aluminum foil, coins, wire, paper clips, coated paper clips, key rings, pipe cleaners)
  • Variety of non-metal household items (we used popsicle sticks, straws, yarn, paper strips, cotton swabs)
  • Water in small open container
  • Green leaves, blades of grass, stems (must be fresh)
  • Dry leaves, grass, twigs
  • Data recording sheet 
  • Pencils

  1. Divide students into pairs (no larger than groups of 4), and give each group a Touch Circuit, set of materials to be tested (pre-sorted into ziplock bags), and small dish of water. Give each person a pencil and data recording sheet.

  2. First, each person records their prediction on their data recording sheet, then two people work together to test each item, taking turns if there are more than 2 per group.

  3. To test, one person holds one end of the Touch Circuit with one hand, and touches one end/side of the material to be tested with the other. If the material is conductive, the Touch Circuit will light up and make sounds (the sound feature can be turned off if desired). Make sure each person has good contact with the test material, and that they do not touch the other person.

  4. After about 6-8 items have been testing (making sure they have done a mixture of both conductive and non-conductive materials), have them stop and look over their results to that point carefully and see if they observe a pattern in their data that leads them to a conclusion (hopefully they will recognize that metals are conductive while non-metals generally aren't).

  5. Instruct them to use the knowledge gained from the first series to help them make more accurate predictions on the remaining items tested. Encourage them to test other materials in their classroom.

  6. For the water, have each child put one finger in the water, but do not touch. Explain that while water is not a metal, it does contain charged particles from the minerals dissolved in it and the auto-ionization of the water into charged hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Explain this is why you do not swim during a thunderstorm!

    *Also, it is a MYTH that pure water will not conduct electricity! While it may not have dissolved minerals, water still auto-ionizes at a constant rate, so will always have
    charged hydrogen and oxygen molecules, thus can and WILL conduct electricity!

  7. Discuss the results and their observations and conclusions, then give them free time to play around with the Touch Circuits.

How It Went

It went pretty well, except that the kids went through it much faster than I expected (they were almost all at the higher end of the age range this time). I made the mistake of putting the supplies out on the tables (with the exception of the Touch Circuits) in advance, so when the kids came in and sat down, they were distracted by the stuff and weren't really listening to my instructions.

At first some of them rolled their eyes, thinking this was going to be lame, but when I pulled out the first Touch Circuit, the faces of those who remembered them from last year lit up. I had expected them to take a little more time to think about their predictions and do the testing, but most of them raced through it (I realized later it was because this day camp is very laid back and unstructured and they are allowed to play video games and watch TV during free time). I also instructed them to stop at the end of the front page, so we could discuss the results and patterns before proceeding, and many didn't follow that instruction and got ahead.

I deliberately threw in a couple of tricky or surprising items, like plain versus uncoated paper clips, and pipe cleaners. The coated paper clips will not conduct electricity despite being made of metal because the colored coating acts as an insulator. Similarly, the chenille on the pipe cleaners can act as a barrier, and one must either squeeze very firmly or touch the end to be sure to contact the metal core. I was impressed that some of them figured those things out on their own. They were almost all surprised that water was conductive, and that the leaves and grass were conductive.

Afterward, I let them have about 15 minutes to play around with the Touch Circuits, and they had a blast seeing what kind of crazy circuits they could make, and linking several together. We turned off the lights so they could really see the lights and colors. Here is a short video clip to see them in action, but it comes with a caution for those who may have seizure disorders due to the brightly flashing lights:

And here is a quick and dirty video demonstrating how the Touch Circuit can be used to test conductivity: