Partnering for Possibilities: NHS Media Center, Gwinnett County Public Library, 3D Printing, and More

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The grand finale to Teen Tech Week 2014 was the first step in a partnership (more details later in this post!) between our media center and our friends from the Gwinnett County Public Library.  Training Manager Christopher Baker, Information Technology Director Michael Casey, and Grayson Assistant Branch Manager Steve Thomas joined us for three lunch/guided study periods to introduce 3D printing to our teens.   Christina Gangwisch, Public Services Librarian from our neighboring Peachtree Corners branch, was also part of the festivities and provided students information on getting a public library card as well as details about the library’s eBook collection and activities for teens.   Armed with the library 3D Makerbot Replicator 2 printer, enthusiasm, and lots of 3D artifacts created on the printer to share with students, the three facilitated small group, 1:1, and large group conversations with 59 of our NHS teens!  Steve joined my colleague Jennifer Lund and I as co-learners with the teens (we’re all newbies to 3D printing)  while Michael and Chris wowed all of us with their artful expertise and interaction with our students.   It was a day marked by joy, curiosity, wonder, and excitement as nearly every teen who attended saw the 3D printer in action for the first time.  The conversations were organic, and we appreciate how responsive Michael and Chris were to the learning needs and interests of our students.

We were especially excited that most of our core group who attended our other Teen Tech Week sessions earlier in the week not only attended the 3D session, but several of them invited friends—the result was a vibrant cross-section of students who got to see the possibilities for both the public library as well as our own.   One of the participants, Brianna, shared this reflection:

The 3D printer was really cool.  When I first saw it, it was making a small robot.  There were other things like a small owl which was really cool because it looked like an actual owl.  Watching the 3D printer make stuff was an amazing experience.  I hope to see it make stuff again in the future at the public library because I really liked watching designs people created get made.  I also hope to come up with with a design of my own to be with the 3D printer.”

Another student, Nanier, offered these reactions to the day:

The 3D printing machine was an awesome thing to see at work.  I think that if the school had one, it would be really cool because we could use it to do prototypes for a project.  So I would really like for there to be one, or for us to do or help to get one.

In addition to getting student responses to our day of collaborative learning, I also asked our GCPL colleagues to share their reflections.  Michael Casey wrote:

As this was the first time that we’ve taken the printer anywhere, I was surprised by almost everything. I liked that we attracted what appeared to be lots of different types of students. There were some real science/tech kids there but there appeared to also be some students who never really heard of 3D printing but were curious. It was fun, in talking with them, to see and hear their thought processes regarding the possibilities of 3D printing. Many immediately jumped to far larger projects — biological matter, complex part production, etc. I’m hoping that a few kids went home and went online to learn a bit more about the possibilities.  It’s always great to be able to connect the theoretical with the practical and, in this case, the tactile. We were able to talk about very complex printing uses (human organs, etc) and also hand out small items that were made with a real 3D printer — a pedestrian version of the more complex printers, true, but still an actual 3D printer that has a cousin out there who may eventually save lives.

Chris Baker also found the student’s excitement energizing for him:

I had an awesome time demoing the MakerBot and talking with everyone who stopped by to watch the MakerBot do its thing! As Michael mentioned in his message, it was great to have such a diversity of students involved and interested in the session! My favorite takeaway from the session revolves around the reception the MakerBot received from the students vs. the reception it often receives from adults; there was a total lack of cynicism regarding the MakerBot with the teens on Friday! I’m defining cynicism very softly here because the MakerBot always receives a warm reception, but often with adult audiences, it comes with a few leading questions that belie underlying feelings of cynicism and/or fear, i.e. “Aren’t people using 3D printers to make weapons?” or in a smaller way, “I wouldn’t even know where to start with this thing”. Not only did the students seem amazed by the technology, they also seemed amazed by the possibility! Thanks again for this opportunity for feedback; Friday’s session was one of the most inspiring and encouraging sessions I’ve been a part of in some time!

Steve Thomas’s reflections very much echo the participatory practices from our colleagues in museums as he views the opportunity to be a co-learner and to take the students’ learning experiences as “grist” for next steps in designing learning experiences:

As I’m still in the early stages of learning about 3D printing myself, I was delighted to see how the students’ eyes lit up with the potential for the technology; it will be fun learning with them at this summer’s MakerCamp. Even the quietest students had good questions about how the MakerBot worked, wanting to learn more about its potential applications but also about how the underlying technology worked. The future is coming fast and I’m excited to be part of the effort to collaborate with our public schools to usher in this new service. The lessons we are learning from this initial partnership will help shape how we use the 3D printer and other new technologies with the rest of our community.

We all feel confident that this three hour investment in our students has ignited interest for many of our teens in 3D printing and design and will be a bridge to additional learning opportunities co-fostered by NHS and GCPL.  So what are our next steps from this initial day of ideation and immersion? What might those opportunities be?

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The Partnership

The partnership between NHS and GCPL was born out of an initial conversation between Michael and me when we realized very quickly that we have a shared interest in participatory learning and services.  Together we spearheaded an initial core team that includes ourselves, Chris, Steve, Events and Outreach Manager Amy Billings, my fellow NHS librarian Jen Lund, Robotics Team sponsor Joe Floyd, NHS LSTC (Local School Technology Coordinator) Victoria Dodd, and science teacher Alix Hardy. We’ve had a series of three meetings and numerous conversations since early December that have culminated in these first steps that we hope will lead to additional and organic work as we learn together and from our students.

Pilot 1: Beginning Small:

The first is a small -scale program between the public library and our Norcross HS Robotics Club. This will be a series of four visits to the club after school this spring with both staff from the public library and NHS Media Center participating/facilitating an hour or ninety-minute session of ideating, designing, doing, and learning.  The club will  use various software like Tinkercad to create objects on the 3D printer and participating club members will share their knowledge (existing and growing) with the library staff so we can together learn various software applications beyond the basic two we currently understand. This series is designed to be a learning opportunity for us as the librarians as much as the students.

Pilot 2:  Summer Maker Camp at the Public Library

Final details are still being fine tuned, but here is an overview of how we will scale the first pilot into a larger participatory experience:

  • Norcross HS Media Center will host  A “Tech Petting Zoo”  celebration and sharing day in the library with the 3D printer and Makey Makey kits to encourage students to participate in the upcoming Maker Camp. This event will be co-facilitated by NHS MC staff and GCPL staff; students who participated in the Robotics Club may also help facilitate during the day.
  • A four session Summer Maker Camp at the Peachtree Corners branch (Monday to Thursday) will take place in early June. Over these four days,  a mix of high school and library staff will introduce camp makers to the various software applications, offer training, and offer library resources (PCs, Chromebooks, etc) for the students to use, in-branch, in designing their objects. We would begin printing the objects in the final session.  Robotics Club members interesting in serving as co-mentors may also help facilitate during these four days.
  • The closing community event for participants, family, and friends, probably the following Monday or Tuesday, will be a celebration of learning and students will be recognized for their work and unique talents they’ve demonstrated.  
  • We hope to broadcast (via a live video feed) the actual printing of the objects and learning activities to share our learning with the larger community and perhaps even invite vetted experts to participate in the conversations for learning as we create and make.   Students will also help staff capture the experience through other forms of multimedia such as Instagram and Vine.

We are all excited by these seed ideas and cannot wait to see what grows from these collaborative learning opportunities.  While we see eBook creation/publishing, web design, and composing practices as future potential areas of partnership, we also are eager to see how student interests may inspire additional sustained projects.  We hope to work together as a team so that the learning spaces between the school library, classroom, and public library are seamless spheres of learning that overlap and inform each other in rich, robust, and equitable ways.  I think there is much potential for us to explore how we can frame our collaborative work through a lens of connected learning, and we all look forward to forging these pathways to many kinds of learning!

Library as Makerspace: Creating and Nurturing Communities of Teen Writers

Original photograph by Buffy Hamilton

As part of our makerspace initiative this year (please see this blog post and this slidedeck here) and inspired by the work of the Sacramento Public Libraryone of my focal points is thinking about ways the library can support creating communities of readers and writers who are crafting and composing texts (and I use the term text rather liberally).  The Sacramento Public Library Winter 2012 “Write at iStreet Press” writing and publishing catalog offers a model of what the library as a makerspace for constructing texts looks like in a community through the public library.  Possible topics I’m interested in offering as “lunch and learn” sessions or after-school sessions could include (but are not limited to!):

  • Creative writing (memoirs, poetry, short stories, novels) and writer’s craft
  • Self publishing options (print as well as eBook/eInk)
  • Academic writing 
  • Digital and/or multimodal composition
  • Multigenre writing
  • Storytelling

While our library program has integrated pieces of these topics in the context of curricular study and collaboration with teachers for class projects over the last few years, I would love for The Unquiet Library to offer a dedicated space (physical and virtual) for more informal learning that would give students more latitude and agency in choice and topics for writing.  I see the library giving our student writing community a place where our teens could create, share, wonder, and experiment.   

While I feel comfortable in leading some of these workshops that I envision, I know we need the expertise and wisdom of our local and global community to help us connect our students with teaching artists (in the spirit of Sacramento Public Library’s iStreet Press writing program) and mentors (see the wonderful Chicago Public Library YOUMedia). Right now I’m in the early stages of reaching out to peers both near and far in my personal learning network to find people in our school community and the Atlanta/north Georgia area who could help facilitate these kinds of writing workshops; I’m also open to using Google Hangouts or Skype if there are mentors from afar who would be interested in facilitating and interacting through virtual means.   Additionally, I’d like to explore how our library could partner with other community groups and organizations (see this inspiration list from UC Davis Continuing Education); I think it would also be fun to collaborate with teen writing groups through other school and public libraries to extend the makerspace writing community!  As we grow the makerspace, I also see us tapping into our students’ talents and enlisting their help in serving as teaching artists and mentors to their peers.  I am hopeful that our makerspace writing community will create, share, and publish texts (individually as well as with peers) in a variety of genres that are personally meaningful to them.

I look forward to sharing with you our journey of this endeavor to make The Unquiet Library a true “incubator” for teen writers.  What suggestions or ideas do you have for the library as a makerspace for young authors and writers who want to craft their art in a variety of genres and modes?

*author’s note:  I’m delighted to share that this entry is cross-posted at National Writing Project’s Digital Is*

Teen Content Creators: Can We Please Ask Them to Do More Than Take Notes and Write Single Paragraphs?

According to the  Pew Internet and American Life Project Teen Content Creators report, the most common form of writing in school is taking notes in class.   Don’t get me wrong–taking notes is a valuable skill to support learning, but it bothers me that this is the dominant form of writing on a daily basis for teens.  If you look at slide eight in the presentation, other forms of writing are identified, including essays, shorter forms of writing, lab reports, creative writing, multimedia, journal writing, notes/letters to others, computer programs, and music/lyrics.

For the last five months, I have been thinking much more about an emphasis on content creation in my library.  In reflecting on the implications  of this report (I encourage you to look at the full report/presentation), these are my initial question:

  • how we can as librarians help support and expand the possibilities for  the traditional forms of writing teens are required to create in school?
  • What kinds of experiences can we provide for them through collaborative projects with teachers as well as independently driven, library initiated learning experiences to nurture, legitimize, and publish other forms of writing?
  • How can we apply the findings of this report to our instructional design in our library programs and our collaboration efforts with classroom teachers?
  • How do these findings inform my efforts to take an inquiry stance on information literacy and to posit transliteracy an essential literacy?

While I feel I have made some forward strides in applying these ideas to my work with my Media 21 project, I know I will be thinking more deeply about these questions and ways to better support and more actively publish multiple and varied forms of content creation from students.

You can view all the reports and research related to teens from the Pew Internet and American Life Project by visiting this portal.  Video and program information from The Power of Youth Voice:  What Kids Learn When They Create With Digital Media, the forum where this report and other related research were shared on November 18, 2009, can be found by visiting this site.

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What Makes a Library a Library? Teens Share Their Musings

Yesterday, I was moved by Sarah Houghton-Jan’s post in which she asked, “What makes a library a library?”  I am in the process of collecting responses from librarians near and far, but I also felt it was important to throw this question out to my teens and hear their thoughts.  In this first volume of responses, I found it fascinating these eleven students primarily focused on relationships, experiences, atmosphere, and library as place.  I will be collecting additional responses tomorrow and sharing those via video as well.

I’m also working on pulling together the responses from my adults peers near and far; I’m looking forward to seeing how their responses may either mirror and/or differ from the teens’ responses!

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Teacher, Leave that Social Network Alone?

While reading danah boyd’s post, “some thoughts on technophilia”, I felt mixed emotions.  I wholeheartedly agree with her assertion that there are no digital natives; boyd points out, “Just because many of today’s youth are growing up in a society dripping with technology does not mean that they inherently know how to use it. They don’t”;  just because they may have grown up around digital media doesn’t mean all students have an intuitive knowledge of it.   In addition, more students than you might suspect have little or no access to technology in their homes.

However, boyd then shifts the conversation to the use of social networking tools/social media with students for educational purposes.  These statements stopped me cold:

Putting Facebook or MySpace into the classroom can create a severe cognitive collision as teens try to work out the shift in contexts. Most problematically, when teens are forced to navigate Friending in an educational setting, painful dramas occur because who you’re polite to in school may be very different than who you socialize with at home. Using technology that ruptures social norms in the classroom can be socially and educationally harmful.

These statements, especially “Using technology that ruptures social norms in the classroom can be socially and educationally harmful”, are troubling to me.  I am not sure how offering students the opportunity to use social networking as a learning tool can be harmful. I personally think it is more harmful to NOT provide students the opportunity to see how they can use social media and social networking to collaborate with others, to create a personal learning network, and to learn how to harness these tools for learning.  In addition, how are students to learn how to negotiate private and public/professional worlds if they are not taught?  Are they to just be left alone to figure it out themselves when they graduate from college or go into the workworld?    If learning is social, then it seems only logical to tap into the power of social worlds for knowledge building.

In addition, teens may be eager to explore the use of social worlds as part of a larger “ecosystem of learning.” My Media 21 students participated in this anonymous poll this week:

While this is admittedly a small polling group, it does reflect an interest in at least trying a tool like Facebook as a means for information and knowledge sharing for class projects.

boyd also has this to say about social networking:

Along the same lines, keep in mind that the technology that you adore may hold no interest for your students. They don’t use del.icio.us or Second Life or Ning or Twitter as a part of their everyday practices. And the ways that they use Facebook and MySpace and YouTube are quite different than the ways in which you do.

Perhaps the reason students don’t use these tools as part of their daily practice is because they have never heard of the tools or because they have never the had the opportunity to fully explore how these social media tools can be used.   In our exploration of social media during the first three weeks of Media 21, my 10th grade students have expressed that they had no idea about these tools, or if they had heard of them, they didn’t realize how they could use these social media tools for learning.   Now they are intrigued and want to know more about ways they could use these tools to enhance their learning experiences.

In addition, many teens may not be aware of these tools because school filtering policies block their access to these learning tools; in addition, students’ opportunities to discover and use these tools have been limited because many teachers are just now discovering ways to integrate these tools into classroom life.  At the beginning of this week, one of my students posed this question:  “” I wonder why I have not heard about or used some of these Learning 2.0 tools before now?”

Our AASL Standards for 21 st Century Learners (American Association of School Librarians) call upon librarians to teach students ““Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information” (Skill 4.1.7).  How are we to teach students the information gathering and sharing power of tools like delicious or a Ning if we they aren’t at least given the opportunity to try them or participate in these networks in an educational setting where they can receive guidance and and advice on utilizing these networks from experienced others?  How are we to create connected students if we don’t integrate social media and social networking as elements of learning networks and as tools for discourse in our learning communities with our students?

I believe there is another digital divide building in addition to the one of access to technology that boyd discusses:  it is the digital divide of those who are and those who are not being taught how to harness the power of social networking to enhance their knowledge whether it be for personal or school based information seeking needs.    I feel a responsibility to expose my students to the learning potential that lies within the tools; at the end of the day, they can ultimately choose which tools work for them.

In a few weeks, my students will be sharing what they have to say about this issue.  Until then, what do you all think?  I welcome your constructive feedback and ideas!