Sunday, February 21, 2021

Pandemic STEM Programming

One of my goals in my new position was to get some STEM programming going as there was very little being done in this system and none at my library. So once I had early literacy covered with both take-home kits and virtual storytimes, I turned my attention to STEM.

Since we serve a lower-income community where many lack internet access at home and are facing even greater economic hardships due to the pandemic, I did not want to assume they had internet access or materials at home. I decided on a hybrid program, combining a video presentation with a take-home kit that would include as many of the materials as possible with basic instructions for the activities, as well as how to access the video presentation of the program on Facebook & YouTube with URL's and QR codes. That way, if they didn't have internet access they could still do the activities.

I targeted elementary aged kids for a few reasons. First, there really was not much being offered for that age range, especially the upper end; preschool was covered with both storytime and take-home early literacy kits, my co-workers have craft and book club programs for teens and adults, and the central teen librarian sends out additional craft kits for teens each month. Central youth services does send out some really basic craft kits for kids, but they really only appeal to the younger kids and exclude all the kids who aren't interested in crafts. Second, the more basic science activities that are appropriate for this age are also more budget-friendly and more easily adapted for take-home kits and virtual programs. And third, this was the same age I did STEM programming for in my previous job, so I had 2 years worth of tried and proven programs I could adapt.

Take & Make DIY Kaleidoscope STEM kit and virtual program

For my first one, I fell back on a tried and true program I've done many times for many different groups in many different settings and it has always been very successful. My "Mirror, Mirror" program is about mirrors and reflection, and the kids make their own simple, but very effective, kaleidoscope out of easily accessible materials. I knew this would be perfect for a take-home kit, and easy to do with basic written instructions. However, if they had access, they would get more in-depth instruction and be able to watch me make one, as well as see a really cool demonstration of a mirascope, on video.

Materials Included In Kit (not all are pictured):

  • cardboard tube
  • 2 pieces of construction paper cut to fit tube (they only need 1, but I wanted to give some choice in color)
  • glue stick
  • tape (wound around a 1" piece of plastic straw)
  • flexible straw, cut to fit tube, with about 1" past the flexible part extending past the end
  • mirrored scrapbook cardstock, cut about 100mm X 112mm and scored into thirds (so there are 3 sections roughly 100mm X 37mm)
  • 2 cardstock circles, 4" in diameter with holes punch in center
  • 4 markers (wanted to be sure they had enough to get decent results in case they didn't have markers at home, but couldn't afford to give out whole sets; crayons don't work well)
1. Fold mirror board along the scored lines so that the mirrored surface faces inward, forming a triangular prism. Tape together, then insert into cardboard tube.

2. Cover cardboard tube with construction paper. [I find it is easiest to first line secure one end with tape, making sure it is aligned, then use the glue stick to apply glue to the underside of the paper, then roll up tightly, and secure the end with a piece of tape along the seam.

3. The kaleidoscope can be decorated as desired at this point, with markers or stickers.

4. Place the section of straw along the seam, with the flexible part extending past the end, and tape in place.

5. Now draw designs on the cardstock circles using markers. It can be random or not, and doesn't necessarily have to be done in detail or carefully, but typically yields good results as long as at least 2-3 colors are used.


6. Place one of the circles on the straw and bend the end to hold in place. Then look through your kaleidoscope while simultaneously turning the paper circle and see the amazing patterns it creates!

Prior to going through the construction of the kaleidoscope, I talked a little about mirrors and reflection, and how this can be used to create some cool effects, and in fact, this was how many special effects for movies were achieved back before more sophisticated technology like CGI was available.

I showed them one really cool effect, using a mirascope. This is a very simple device that creates a really realistic holographic image using two parabolic mirrors, with one inverted on top of the other, and an opening in the center of the top one. When assembled it looks like a flying saucer, and when a very small item is place inside, the curved mirrors produce a multitude of reflections from all sides, which results in a 3-d image of the item being projected through the opening so that it appears to be sitting on a mirror on top of the device. It is super cool, and they are less than $10 from a certain giant online retailer.

I used to have another cool demo for this program, an infinity mirror, but a wire became disconnected inside the switch and I haven't had a chance to repair or replace it.

How It Went

I was a little worried, because I made 30 kits, and did not have anyone register in advance for the program. I decided to just put them out at the desk and offer them to kids in the target age range, or parents with kids in that range. I only gave a few out prior to video program, but did give out the rest afterward. 

I don't know how many watched the video, I think probably not very many, and I did have major problems with audio at the beginning, and had to start over after 8 minutes of trying to figure out and fix the problem, all while live-streaming! But, I did later get some very nice compliments from parents, and I noticed that I had 5 people register for the following month as soon as it was posted, which is encouraging. 

It just takes a while for people to realize when we've started something new, and I didn't get very good publicity this time, plus I don't think many really understand registering in advance or how to do it. It isn't necessary really, but I do like it as a way to gauge how many people are really specifically interested in the program and plan to do it, versus the ones that just happen to be in the building and we offer it to them, and to see if interest grows over time.

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