Centering Tech Centered Centers

Today’s Contributor: Lisa Richardson is the librarian and Campus Innovation Connector at Walnut Creek ES.

This year was my first year in the library after teaching 2nd grade for four years. I was a bit out of my depth, but knew how I wanted to leverage the library and my time with the students and teachers as a captive audience to introduce tech, databases, and to create meaningful experiences for them that they might not be able to have in the classroom. 

I am a PD junkie. Every time I can learn about something cool and new, I am down to clown. This year, I called on the forces of every PD I had ever attended to make the library fun and dazzling for students and teachers alike. Yes, I did want to impress them all and come out strong as a new librarian. Yes, it worked.

I was looking for a way to have students occupied after they checked out books, something that they would be interested in, and would incentivize them to check out efficiently and not play around in the stacks so they weren’t bored after checkouts. The brilliant Elizabeth Mikeska-Benfield let me observe her library lessons and her maker lessons inspired me to try a rotation of activities.

I started off introducing things to the entire group, one thing at a time. I am not sure if I would recommend this again. I wanted to make sure students understood how to use things, how to not break things, and to establish very clear expectations. I met with success in some ways, but also very staunch failures in others, which I will dwell on for eternity and elaborate on below. 

I created very simple one slide instructions for each new thing I was introducing. I have a terrible memory, so I bulleted Every. Single. Thing. that I wanted to hit on so I could make sure that I didn’t forget to tell them something super duper important. Pictures were a plus because for some things, students needed a bit of inspiration to see what they could create.

Look at this. All cool. Inspirational, even. Just a sample of the possibilities. Make it better.

In introducing things week by week, I thought it would make things more uniform, but- my bad. New librarian. I didn’t know that different grade levels *might* need different activities. I thought that everything could just be adaptable to their age, my instructions would just be excellent and they would obviously be successful. This was not the case. I would not recommend having a full class of prekinder students try and play on the Osmos. My PK son was adept at it, so I felt confident, but honestly, if you don’t have enough games that are intuitive, don’t require independent math and spelling skills, or that don’t give instructions in Spanish (Wow- I know. How could I have not considered this HUGE oversight?) then your lesson will probably meet with some difficulty and maybe just- don’t? Same is true on the opposite end- if games are too easy for the 5th graders, they will get bored and begin plotting for your demise. Don’t give them the time and just have some legos out, something completely unrelated to Osmo that they can work on should they choose. 

Which brings me to my next point- CHOICE! Believe it or not, Elizabeth Mikeska was RIGHT. She set up her “stations” and allowed students to move freely and explore between them. Although this might seem chaotic, students are never bored and are constantly self determining what they will be participating in and with. This leads to less conflict. Do it. 

For determining which centers to have available, I would train them up by introducing maybe two at a time. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things you could incorporate into fun post-checkout centers:

Lincoln LogsOsmoCup Stacking
Play DoughKeva BlocksStrawbees
Marble RunMousebots/BeebotsLegos
SpheroStickletsCardboard Construction
Table Top GamesHour of CodeMakey Makey
Merge CubeMinecraft EDURubik’s Cubes
Wonder Workshop DashMagnatilesPaper Automata

These ideas are adaptable for incorporation into classrooms, libraries, anywhere you have students who sometimes have to wait for their turn in a small group, have some minutes after library checkouts, or anytime you want them to have an opportunity for open ended play with huge potential for self directed educational discovery. Have fun being awesome!! 

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