This month’s blog post features guest blogger Kristin Brumbach. Kristin helped to curate resources, developed content, and piloted strategies for coding as part of the Ready to Code (RTC) project. Kristin is the librarian at the Governor Mifflin High school in Shillington, Pennsylvania. Kristin collaborated with other educators and librarians to implement a citizen science program that engaged K-12 students in the design thinking process.
Design thinking is a problem-solving process. It has a five-step process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, n.d.). Challenges are addressed through a humanistic approach that encourages designers to think of the needs of others. Similarly, citizen science relates to problem-solving as well:
In citizen science, the public participates voluntarily in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems in ways that may include formulating research questions, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems. (CitizenScience.gov, 2019)
The title of the innovative program was Mifflin’s Feathered Friends. While the program required students to be eager to learn, students only needed a limited knowledge of coding. You can learn more about the work of libraries for the Ready to Code project in the report “Ready to Code: Connecting Youth to CS Opportunity Through Libraries” (Braun and Visser, 2017). There was is another article about the project in American Libraries (Dankowski, 2018).
The Mifflin’s Feather Friends Program
You might think that kids coding in school would keep them inside, alone, and staring at screens. But, our Ready to Code program, Mifflin’s Feathered Friends, sent student outdoors and collaborating with peers. We had an ambitious vision of a program that combined computational thinking, multi-age collaboration, and citizen science. The key to bringing all these elements together was creating an authentic experience centered on the client-engineer relationship.
Governor Mifflin School District’s six school buildings are located in Pennsylvania where chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, and woodpeckers like to spend their winters. Our elementary school innovations teachers participate with students in an annual backyard bird count. With Ready to Code, we were able to harness our elementary students’ role as citizen scientists. They thought about their jobs as bird counters and how technology could make them more effective. That’s where our secondary students came in. We gave lessons about the Design Thinking process and interviewing clients to our students in grades 7-12, who were involved in an after-school coding club. We brought all our students together so that the engineers could interview their clients to empathize, ask questions, and gather information about the kind of technology they needed as citizen scientists.
After gathering all the clients’ ideas, the student engineers returned to the library after school to figure out what was possible and how to go about making solutions to fit their clients’ needs. They decided to build a motion-sensing camera, a game that teaches players facts about local birds, and a website where our citizen scientists could post their findings.
Then the work began. Our budding engineers needed help to complete their projects. They needed skills like using a 3D printer, designing games, coding in Python and Swift, and setting up a website. We recruited volunteers from the community who had professional experience in technology and engineering. These volunteers mentored and guided our engineers through prototyping, testing, and yes, even through failing and trying again.
We went through the iterative process many times through the cold days of winter and early spring. But with the power of pizza and the promise of warmer weather to come, our engineers pushed ahead and improved their designs. They were ready in time for a Feathered Friends Product Show in early May.
During the product show, our clients visited the high school library and our engineers proudly displayed their work and the skills they learned all year. They introduced the elementary students to coding with an unplugged activity and demonstrated their 3D printer skills. They showed off the autonomous vehicles they built to learn about how to use infrared sensors. Then they showed other students how to play their game “Birdhouse Empire.” Students were able to zoom in on the location of a bird feeder at their school using the Feathered Friend’s website. We were also able to have a local wildlife expert come and share some more information about the birds in our area.
Our engineers’ pride in showing off their work was evident as they demonstrated what they learned and accomplished during the show, and so was the clients’ glee at seeing their ideas come to life. The authentic experience gave students a taste of how design thinking and computational thinking are part of a real-world situation. By working with peers, our secondary students exercised empathy and teamwork to get the job done.
As librarians and teachers, we faced a lot of challenges from recruiting and retaining students, to rescheduling around inclement weather. It was nerve-wracking not to have readily available textbook answers and not to know if students would complete their projects in time for the show. We learned a lot from this iteration of our Ready to Code program. While Feathered Friends may be a once in a lifetime experience, authentic opportunities to find problems and solve them is one that students will see again both in school and in their future endeavors.
Braun, L. and Visser, M. 2017. Ready to code: Connecting youth to CS opportunity through libraries. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/sites/ala.org.advocacy/files/content/pp/Ready_To_Code_Report_FINAL.pdf
Citizenscience.gov. 2019 About Citizenscience.gov. Retrieved from https://www.citizenscience.gov/about/#
Dankowski, T. 2018. Connected learning meets computational thinking: What the Ready to Code initiative looks like in libraries. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/connected-learning-meets-computational-thinking/
Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. (n.d.). An introduction to design thinking process guide. Retrieved from https://dschool-old.stanford.edu/sandbox/groups/designresources/wiki/36873/attachments/74b3d/ModeGuideBOOTCAMP2010L.pdf
Author: Daniella Smith
Daniella Smith, PhD. is a former school and public librarian. She is currently the Hazel Harvey Peace Professor in Children’s Library Services at the University of North Texas.