The buzzword of the day is STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Working in collaboration with schools to provide programming that complements the curriculum, libraries are providing STEM programs in addition to the literacy programs they have provided for years. For many librarians, it can seem daunting to prepare and execute a STEM program because it uses the opposite side of the brain—we tend to be people who use the right side of the brain which controls creativity and arts however, with STEM we need to rely on the left side which controls logic, science, and math. Although this can seem scary for some, fear not! There are some simple tips to follow to make STEM programming simple and painless.
- Resources- Remember you are not recreating the wheel. There are a multitude of resources available to you to help you in the planning process. You can search the web for specific program ideas or to get a jumping off point for something you are interested in. Pinterest is a great place to find STEM programs that are tried and true. You are not in this alone. There are others out there who are experimenting with STEM just like you are.
- EXPERIMENTING- remember that science is all about experimentation. Your teens may not like one of the programs that you were super excited about and that, in itself, is a learning experience. You may not succeed with every program and that’s ok. You may complete an experiment as part of a program and it totally bombs. (I know, I have been there!) And when your teens see that happen, you may feel like a failure. But guess what? That isn’t a failure! That, my friends, is science! Ask them why they think it failed. What can you do differently to make it succeed and try again. Discuss hypotheses. Push the fact that science is all about trial and error. When the teens see that you are ok with the experiment not working, then they will learn that it is ok for things to go wrong. What a great learning lesson for them to take with them into school and into life.
- Meet the teens where they are- What are your teens into? Do they like technology? Find some robotics or coding programs that will interest them. There are many programs on the web like code.org and scratch.mit.edu that offer ideas and programming for free. All you need is access to a computer. If your teens enjoy working with their hands and you have the budget available, consider purchasing some MakeyMakey Kits or some Snap Circuits boards. These are great ways to allow them to see the connections between how things are out together and how they work…and what kid wouldn’t want to see how they can turn a banana into a piano? LEGOS and MineCraft are also great ways to incorporate engineering ideas into your programming that most kids love! If you think about it, you are probably already doing some STEM programs, you just don’t know it.
- Add some art- STEAM has become a popular expansion to STEM. With the addition of art activities and ideas, you can entice a new group of teens to join the fun. You would be surprised how many ways you can add art to science programs. One of my most successful STEAM programs was on Bubble Art. We discussed the properties of bubbles (shape, tension, color, etc). I encouraged the teens to experiment with different household objects to create bubbles such as straws, pipe cleaners, string, etc. Teens were then allowed to add paint to the bubble solution and create bubble art by blowing bubbles at white paper and watching the patterns created when the bubbles popped. It was an educational and fun program that everyone enjoyed and can recreate easily at home! Think outside the box and you can see how many other STEM programs can incorporate an artistic aspect. Teens love having something to take home with them when the program ends.
- Take the stress out of it- While you are still presenting a program, remember that you don’t have to know everything. Let the teens know that it is a learning experience for you, too! If they see that you are fallible and that it can be fun to explore new ideas, they will be excited to try them along with you. Be prepared and know what you are doing going in to the program, but don’t feel so stressed and overwhelmed that you have to be an expert. Have fun with it! If you do, then they will too. Remember that while it is a learning experience, the teens spend the majority of their day in school with rigid curriculum expectations. Allow them to move at their own pace, explore, and enjoy!
If you haven’t ventured into the STE(A)M realm of programming yet because you think to yourself “I am NOT a scientist”, don’t let that hold you back. This type of programming is a great way to get involved with your teens, explore, and have a lot of fun. By providing the resources, the space, and yourself, you allow the teens an opportunity to try new things in an environment that is safe and less structured than the school environment. You may worry that teens won’t be interested in STEM programs because they are too scholastic but you will be surprised! Teens love getting their hands dirty and their minds on new ideas. Take a deep breath and remember to have fun with it.
What are your most successful STE(A)M programs?