From time to time the ASL at the McPherson branch has a project idea that she wants to share with the kids.  In order to keep from having to many projects going at once which would distract the kids I offer to help out.  It’s important to get and give help where you can, especially when working in under-served regions when it’s common to get no help at all as money is spread so thin and honestly there are a lot of places in this city that need help. Many places depend on unpaid volunteers to piece programs together.  This has been a top of discussion we’ve been having here in Philadelphia when our MCM’s get together due to our uniqueness within the MakerEd program. Okay, I just got myself off topic a bit, but wanted to share a little bit of the way things go.

So the project was to make marionette puppets out of cardboard, string, popsicle sticks, and markers. It was a fun project to have the kids make and there was quite a bit of excitement about making them. A template was made that each kid would trace out onto the cardboard and then cut out first. (As I’ve mentioned previously it is truly astonishing to find so many individuals with no idea how to use scissors. You might be able to use scissors upside-down and backwards to some basic level of success when using regular pieces of Xerox paper, but when cutting cardboard or shapes it’s pretty important that the scissors are held properly in order to not only to ensure cutting evenly, but also safety! Anyway…)

The next step was to place holes in the proper spots on the puppet pieces and string them up.  The hole-punch we had before broke so this was another challenge. Making good sized holes in the cardboard to string yarn through using scissors without ripping the pieces to shreds made me really miss that hole-punch!

The marionette control-armature was made by lashing two popsicle sticks together. Once all the pieces were properly strung up the where they needed to be we connected them to the control-armature. At that point the decorating could truly get underway!

There were quite a few fun designs the kids were coming up with. One of the kids was excitedly making his puppet into his favorite pop singer. He made us guess who he was going to make.  It took a while running down the list of all the different pop singers we all thought it might be. Eventually it simply became a process of elimination. We were running out of pop singers! But finally we guess correctly: Beyonce. And he had her dancing around like crazy when he was all done. Definitely the most enthusiastic of the whole group!

Not all of the puppets turned out quite as had been expected in the beginning, but everyone who tried had a good time and was happy no matter what the results.

Electric Library Land

So I finally brought out the squishy circuit project.  As expected it was a big hit with all the kids (even the ones who have been too cool to participate).

After explaining the basic concept of how the thing works and what will cause a short circuit the kids went off trying to find different ways to make it work as well as trying to find as many ways to short circuit the thing as humanly possible!  I was glad to see the willingness to see what the materials could do. I tried to be as hands off as possible, only instructing that the play-doh not be thrown (but it happened anyway) and that the play-doh not leave the table (but it happened anyway).

They hooked the play-doh directly up to the battery, hooked up the LED directly to the battery, put the circuits on their faces (believe me, I tried to get them to stop although I shared their enthusiasm for trying different things).  One girl made two bracelets, one kid encased his fingers with the play-doh and lit the LED that way.  The range of ideas was great, and the excitement lasted all day.

But after working with bits and pieces of cardboard, tape, markers, etc, I was really happy to work on a project that took about a minute to clean up afterward.  This was the perfect thing to lead into the Connected Messages mural project we’re getting started with here in Philadelphia as it involves teaching the basics of simple circuitry.

Post-it Note Benny

Having never done anything like this before I was interested to see how it’d all turn out.  The kids and I (along with a few library staff) discussed what kind of image we should try out for a post-it note mural.  We wanted to have something either Philadelphia related or Library related.  So in the end we went with an image of Benjamin Franklin which seemed to fit both criteria.

Getting kids interested in working on this project was really easy as it mainly had to do with sticking post-its done in a particular order or taping the post-its in place (something we had to do since they really don’t stick very well to giant post-it pad sheets…I don’t understand that either).  As I was busy gridding out the big sheets the kids were working furiously slapping down the colored squares. I was surprised at how quickly the whole thing came together.

A lot of people kept wandering over asking what we were making and what it was supposed to look like.  Some of them simply said “cool design” believing it to be an abstract pattern.  Unfortunately the only place the mural would fit in our space you couldn’t get very far back to see the whole thing come together easily.  But I soon realized that there was a security mirror hanging on the opposite wall which made it very easy to see.  It was fun to have people say “what is it?” and have the kids tell them “look in the mirror behind you!” The resulting “Woooooow” was pretty satisfying.

[as an aside there was one kid who kept coming and going throughout the project repeating “making me one!” over and over!]

Dream-Catchers at McPherson

This past Monday we made dream-catchers. Myself, along with two other library workers rallied some kids together to catch some dreams…or at least pass the time making in good company.

Sometimes it’s easy to capture that first kid who is looking to try out some creativity. On other days it takes some convincing.  On this particular day I had to do some encouragement tug-o-war!  There was a boy who seemed pretty into the idea of making dream catchers, but another kid was fairly determined to have him to himself to play cards.  But as the boy was already intrigued by what I was proposing it wasn’t much harder than dangling string in front of a kitten to get him to join in.

He got right to work making symbols (lions) and decorations for his dream catcher.  I was really happy to see that he was motivated to learn how to make different things and try it himself.  Self-esteem is generally a really big problem I’ve been confronting in the participants at my site but this guy had self-esteem to spare!

After a little while we had several more kids join in as well as one high school graduate who, though not very talkative, was having fun hanging out and making a dream catcher of his own.  After each one was completed we hung them up on the walls amongst the many other pieces of art we’ve been making this summer. We’re pretty close to running out of room!

This was a fun, simple project that was well received by everybody involved.  Next up will be two different mural projects that I’m really excited about. Stay tuned.

Made to Fail…in a good way!

So this project turned out to be much more successful than I had originally thought.  The idea was to use the tons of cardboard pieces I have to construct towers and see how tall they could become without any tape or glue.  One of the other Philly MCM’s (Brittany) was visiting my library branch and assisted with the kids who came along. It was great having a helping hand. We started to supervise two competing groups of kids. There was a lot of laughing and pretending to blow each other’s towers over, but it was pretty exciting.Read more

Mind-Maps at McPherson Square

I have one short day at the library each week that I try to fill with a fun project that the kids can get into quickly. So I thought mind-maps would do the trick. The basic idea is to draw the outline of a head (either straight-on or in profile) and fill it with all of the things that are important to you. I thought it would be a good chance to see the kids express themselves and to learn a bit about them personally.Read more