Partnering with Libraries

Happy National Library Week! We love libraries and working with them, and thought we’d take the chance to celebrate some by talking about some of our partnerships with libraries.

We’ve been working with the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) for some years now, and in the past year we’ve also started working more regularly with both the Chicago Public Library and Orlando Public Library to share the Curiosity Machine with local communities. In Chicago we began with a summer-long pilot program last year, and just last week we finished up the first round of Curious Sessions run by teen volunteers from Afterschool Matters!

After School Matters Volunteer hosting a Curiosity Course

This is all very exciting—and if you caught some of the articles from this week about the enduring popularity of libraries (or regularly frequent your own local library), this diversity of library programming likely won’t be a surprise.

In particular, we’ve been continually impressed by the LAPL’s investment in presenting STEM content to their patrons, so when they invited us to share the Curiosity Machine as part of their “Full STEAM ahead grant” we happily accepted. We were asked to run a couple of Curiosity Courses as well as offer a Professional Development session for their librarians, and this February, we had the pleasure of hosting 40 librarians from all over Los Angeles in our studio.

Our goals were to introduce the librarians to the Curiosity Machine, the learning philosophy behind it, and how to use it at their local branches. We started with a brief presentation about Iridescent and the Curiosity Machine and how our learning philosophy guides our work and then moved into hands-on design challenges, so that librarians would get to experience these challenges and the Engineering Design Processes for themselves.

But we were also experimenting…
We talk the talk of curiosity, creativity, persistence, and imagination when sharing the Curiosity Machine with partners, but we also make sure to apply that to our own work…so for this PD session we tested out two ways of facilitating use of the Curiosity Machine. For the first Design Challenge, we asked the group to jump in and start building. We didn’t expose them to the Engineering Design Process, Fixed versus Growth Mindsets, and Divergent versus Convergent questions (the cornerstone of our learning philosophy)—we just explained the challenge and asked them to leap into it.

Our session facilitator, Ben, invited the librarians to ask questions they thought they might ask a child during the building process. By and large, the questions they provided were very convergent—or conceptual.

Additionally, the group kept requesting descriptions of the scientific concepts being addressed in the task—expressing frustration and self-doubt about ability to teach concepts without being an expert in the subject area.

We took this comment seriously—both as a point of evaluation of the information we provide on the Curiosity Machine and to those we train to use it, and as a key point in that day’s session. At this point in the session we explained that while concepts are important, facilitators of the Curiosity Machine did not need an extensive science or engineering background. And then we demonstrated how, by introducing the Engineering Design Process (multiple iterations, curiosity, creativity and persistence), fixed versus growth mindsets, and the difference between divergent and convergent questions. As the librarians understood that the aim of building was in large part to encourage children to develop a growth mindset, they really embraced the challenge of developing divergent questions to ask during the process, as well as the Engineering Design Process.

We then ran a second Design Challenge, and guided the librarians through an “asking good questions” worksheet, directly addressing the need to develop divergent questions and facilitate a growth mindset.

As previously noted, with this in mind, and coupled with an understanding of the Engineering Design Process, the librarians embraced the challenge. In a post-survey, most librarians had very positive things to say and indicated interest in presenting a CM activity at their site (we also provided every librarian with a Curiosity Machine starter-kit and log-in info, to make this as easy as possible).

It was a successful event, and it was great to see participants so invested and to see them come around to the challenges with the additional information about mindsets, divergent questions, and the aims of the Engineering Design Process. It was a pleasure—and it taught us a few lessons about how to present the Curiosity Machine to future partners and families. We’re considering the best way to present information on the new version of the Curiosity Machine site—and how much information to provide to inspire confidence in users. Science is intimidating, and including more complete descriptions of the concepts being addressed might help partners overcome trepidations about using the Curiosity Machine. People love our programs when we run them, but in encouraging people to present the material and use the platform on their own, we need to address their requests for more support (in the form of concept and content information), and figure out the best ways to provide that. This session was valuable in bringing that to the forefront of our thoughts about further PD sessions and Curiosity Machine use and showing us ways to improve what we’re sharing and how we share it.

…on a final note, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that one of the suggestions the LA librarians provided and requested was a reading list. Of course. It is a great idea, and in the meantime, there are suggestions for further reading (at various reading levels) in both of our Making Machines Books.

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