New STEAM Library: Hands-On and Minds-On

Picture this. Pairs of children are clustered around iPads, chattering about the robot they are programming. “Let’s make it spin four times and then back up!” and “How do we make it go in a zig-zag, and then stop and have the police car lights go off?”  From one table to the next, children are using drag and drop coding to program their tiny robots, which go zigging and zagging, reversing and lighting up, filling the children with delight when they watch their robot carry out the commands they’ve programmed into it. Gasps are heard as one falls to the floor. Quickly, one child shares an idea for revising the code and they get back to work. 

Later on, first graders, with guidance from their teachers, place paper arches between two columns created from wooden blocks to explore the support structures of different bridge designs. They lay a piece of paper across the arch so it extends from one tower to the other and stack cubes on top of the paper to test the strength of this bridge compared to the beam bridge they just built and tested. As their arches bend under the increasing weight, they carefully add another cube and then another, documenting the number it can hold before it collapses. It does, spilling over onto the tabletop to the excitement of the children who are recording the data. “Thirty three!” “That’s almost twice as many as before!” Across the room, two children pore over an information book about bridges, learning the different parts of a suspension bridge and what holds it up.

At the same time, a couple of third graders wander in, looking for an extra copy of The Sea of Monsters. “We read The Lightning Thief and we want to read the second one in the series.” The STEAM Librarian helps them find the book they need. “You’re going to love this,” she whispers to them, “You have to come talk with me about it when you finish.” And they head back to class. 

Later, a class of children gather in the meeting area with their classroom teacher and the STEAM librarian. Having studied colonial Philadelphia for the last few months, they are discussing plans for a project that will help them effectively teach others what they've learned about daily life in Philadelphia during that time period. They go back and forth between painting murals and building a model out of cardboard and paper mache, debating the advantages each medium would offer them. They decide to do both. They then get busy listing and charting the learning they’ll need to do in order to make it accurate and informative, and the resources they’ll need for their research. They head off to scour the library shelves and, with the support of the teachers, their search yields two healthy stacks of books that the STEAM librarian offers to check out for them and bring to their room.

This is the vision for our new STEAM library and the teaching and learning that will happen there. It’s a development in the lower school at Friends Select that we’re really excited about. Think library, but not library as usual - an enhanced space for innovation, deep thinking and experimentation. Hands-on, and definitely minds-on. Led by Allison Frick, our new STEAM librarian, it will be both an extension of what’s going on in the classrooms as well as an opportunity to integrate that learning with areas like coding, engineering and robotics. When parents visit our FSS classrooms, we often hear them say, “I wish I had learned this way!” We are sure that when you visit our new STEAM library this fall, you won’t want to leave.