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Integrating STEM into Library Technology Classes and Youth Programs

Orange County Library System, FL
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Innovation Summary

The Orange County Library System (OCLS) has transformed our spaces into places of doing and making by integrating STEM into our technology programs. As a center for learning and knowledge distribution, the learning process has been formalized with mind-stimulating and fun-filled programs in science, design, electronics, engineering and fabrication.

Innovation Leader: Ormilla Vengersammy, Department Head, Technology and Education Center, vengersammy.ormilla@ocls.info

Problem Statement

OCLS provides traditional technology classes and programs that are geared toward a variety of individuals such as job seekers, students, professionals and lifelong learners. However, it is a challenge to get our youth to attend technology classes and science programs. The Library commits to play an active role in reaching out to the youth to connect their interests with creative technology and to introduce activities that promote 21st century skills. Public schools are experiencing limited budgets for STEM education, thus offering limited after school programming. A press release from Governor Rick Scott’s office shows the number of available online STEM jobs in Florida "remains up sharply over the previous year, with more than 57,488 postings in February 2013." That's a 10.4 percent increase from the same period in 2012. In an effort to strengthen our educational programs, the Library began to integrate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in our offerings by inspiring creativity and innovation in collaborative learning environments. This paradigm shift to incorporate STEM education at OCLS presented a challenge in transforming our teaching and learning practices that were in place for many years. The importance of engaging staff in this shift is ongoing professional development and support in the STEM field. The STEM content provides step-by-step instructions that include setup for the learning environment, concepts, practical examples, hands-on activities and student assessments.

Innovation

Hands-on learning environments using mind-stimulating activities seem to motivate the interest of our youth. Toward that end, the Eggbot was introduced. Students create designs using Inkscape and then watch the Eggbot’s robotic arm draw on 3D objects such as golf balls and ornaments. Soon to follow, the Library offered 3D Design and Printing using AutoDesk’s free 123D software. Students create 3D designs and then observe an object come to life as it prints on a MakerBot 3D printer. We use Snap Circuits to orient students with the basics of electronics. Students work in teams to build and troubleshoot power-driven circuits. Coming soon, students will use K’nex to learn basic engineering concepts which involves constructing models of real world buildings, machines and bridges. Classes are designed using interactive learning and realistic scenarios so students can relate to real world concepts. Instructors use the 5E Learning Model to guide students to Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate their skills. We offer a variety of programs from interactive “edutainment” science shows to hands-on workshops. In the summer of 2012, 400 attended a 4-week series of “Groovy Genetics” workshops. Attendees “played” with architectural concepts using Newspaper Forts and Cardboard Skyscrapers; learned basic chemistry and physics concepts in Science Behind Bubbles; applied math concepts during Add It UP! programs, and expressed their creativity during the LEGO™ competition. Upcoming, the Library will have its first family Science Café, host its first elementary Science Project Expo with OCPS and is working with UCF on developing Science Fair labs to assist youth in developing science projects. Programs are offered during after-school hours and summer months. These educational activities motivate and spark students’ interests.

Progress

There has been definite demonstrated interest among local youth and their caregivers in our science programs and technology classes. Since August 2012, a total of 108 attended 9 Eggbot programs. A father who works in the engineering field attended the program with his two sons and said the program was great and looked forward to seeing other science-based programs offered at the library. In January 2013 when the 3D design and basic electronics classes were offered, there has been a 60% increase in youth attendance. The 3D classes have also captivated the adult audience. A two-part series in 3D design is now offered to adults, with waiting lists in some classes. The basic electronic classes have garnered the attention of nearby schools and youth facilities like the YMCA and Girl Scouts. Additionally, a demonstration was requested by the Project Director of Education at the University of Central Florida for a group of students. Students’ mastery of the essential skills learned is based on their final product constructed and in-class assessments. To further evaluate the learning process, we will survey the participants to ascertain the effectiveness of our instructional materials. This along with student testimonials and verbal feedback will provide us with invaluable information. Our youth programs that have limited seating are often booked “to capacity. In 2012, 6154 youth attended 124 STEM-themed programs, a 56% increase in attendance from the previous year. We will continue to monitor the interest and survey participants to determine the effect on youth learning.