The Science of Rapunzel’s Hair: STEM in the library

Some of us hate it, some of us love it, (almost) all of us are trying to incorporate it one way or another – STEM! (Or STEAM, for those of us keeping track of these things).

I personally fall somewhere in the middle – I think STEM education is very important and appreciate most of us making an effort to ensure that our library programs are diverse and meet multiple goals where we can, but I don’t think it needs to be a part of everything we do. I am fortunate to work for a library where we have some autonomy to explore a wide variety of programming. Still I recognize that while I do think I have done a fair amount of STEM programs – a 3D printing workshop, a Living on Mars engineering design activity, a two-part series on the importance of your brain, to name a few – I could always do more and learn more about how a non-scientific person such as myself can incorporate these important concepts and skills in the children’s department. That’s how I found myself at the Maryland Library Association – Children’s Services Division Southern Conference yesterday (pi day!) to learn about creative STEM programming.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting but oh my goodness I learned so much. Two specific program ideas were presented.

The first program idea I learned about was called “Fairy Tale Engineering” and is the brain child of a librarian with Howard County Libraries, the system that was awarded Library Journal’s 2013 Library of the Year. The concept of fairy tale engineering is both as exceedingly simple as it is clever. Essentially, you work together with the children to discover an engineering problem within a familiar fairy tale – helping the three little pigs build houses you can’t blow down, helping Rapunzel build a strong enough ladder so that her suitors can climb the tower – the possibilities are endless. Then, you work with the children through the engineering process, building and testing a real life prototype. I was impressed by the easy adaptability of this program as well as the creativity. Definitely one I will have to try.

The second presentation, as previewed in the photos above, was about the extensively researched and coordinated STEM Stations project designed by a librarian with Montgomery County Public Library. Essentially, a very dedicated MCPL librarian created 22 different semi-permanent science stations set up at the ends of shelves or on tables throughout the library. Each station had a small poster with an explanation of the scientific concept in theory and practice, coupled with a quick exploration activity the children could try. Essentially, it’s turning your library space into a science playground. I was very excited about this one as well, and since the librarian was kind enough to share her resources with us, I will have to think about incorporating this idea into our own space.

This was my first introduction to a Maryland Library Association training and it was one I was extremely excited to be part of. I definitely look forward to future participation in their events!

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