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Giving STEM the Home Team Advantage

March 14, 2016

March 14, 2016

By Elizabeth A. Chase

Frisco Public Library

In sports, it’s generally accepted that the home team has an advantage.

So, in a city defined by its love of both sports and educational opportunities, the obvious play is to give Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) the “home team” advantage by providing hands-on learning opportunities at home.

Pictured: Sports fans on Frisco Library’s staff. (All photos courtesy of Frisco Public Library.)

And that’s exactly what we did at the Frisco Public Library with a $41,613.00 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act (2016).

Pictured: Texas State Librarian Mark Smith, Chairman of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) Michael Waters, and TSLAC Commissioner Lynwood Givens present a check to Mayor Pro Tem John Keating and the Frisco City Council.

We started with a slam dunk by adding to a favored home team collection of 25 STEM backpacks. Designed for kindergarten through fifth-grade students, the contents for each backpack are researched and compiled by a youth services librarian. Each contains three to four books, a DVD, an interactive object, factual inserts, and a write-on/wipe off quiz. The collection now contains 90 backpacks on 15 different themes.

Pictured: STEM backpack themes: buoyancy, bugs, Earth, electricity, five senses, forensics, habitats & biomes, the human body, magnetism, measurement, Outer Space, probability, simple machines, and weather.

In January, our brand-new collection of maker kits started hitting the court. The maker kits allow self-directed learners to explore and innovate at home. Primarily targeted to students grade six  to adults, each maker kit includes hardware, suggested project instructions, and extended learning opportunities. Adult services librarians developed Quick Start guides to help users explore each kit. The collection currently contains 72 circulating maker kits with another 11 for staff use in classes and outreach. By the time March Madness ends, 80 maker kits will be available for check out.

Pictured: Maker kit themes: Dash and Dot Robot, Scribbler Robot, Sparki Robot, Raspberry Pi: Minecraft Edition, Arduino littleBits, Raspberry Pi, Internet of Things, Arduino Uno, synth circuits, circuits, snap circuits, Wacom tablet: Manga Edition, Wacom tablet, 3Doodler, PC/Mac 3D scanner, iPad 3D scanner, digitize video, and Go Pro.

Enthusiastic fans celebrated by rushing the court. Every STEM backpack and maker kit is checked out or on hold within two days of being made available. After initial release, the only way to get in on the game is to place a hold.

Pictured: STEM backpacks on hold for eager fans.

It’s too early in the season to predict outcomes, but so far performance statistics are promising. Of those who responded to a survey included in the STEM backpacks and maker kits, 86 percent rated them as ‘valuable’ or ‘very valuable’. Of those surveyed about STEM backpacks, 96 percent reported that their student learned. The same percentage of maker kit survey respondents said they were inspired to explore and learn more.

Pictured: Frisco Library survey also serves as 'Fan mail.'

Available for use at home, hands-on STEM technologies, conveniently packaged with related resources, are proving to be a winning combination for the library and its members.

Elizabeth A. Chase is senior librarian at the Frisco Public Library.