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Ready to Code with Feathered Friends

The guest post below is by Governor Mifflin (Shillington, Penn.) High School Librarian Kristin Brumbauch, a member of the Libraries Ready to Code cohort. (Check out the cohort’s newly-released beta Collection and give us your feedback!)

Can a coding program get youth connected with backyard nature?

Absolutely! For our Libraries Ready to Code project the Governor Mifflin School District tested a district-wide collaborative model, called Feathered Friends. We used concepts from connected learning, design thinking and computational thinking (CT) with our Middle School and High School student engineers to create an authentic learning experience.

We wanted our secondary students to identify and solve problems through technology, just like engineers in the real world. That meant we needed to find some clients with a “problem” that was accessible and relevant. That’s where our elementary schools came in. Some elementary classrooms participate, as citizen scientists in Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch. The students observe weather conditions and count birds visiting feeders just outside the classroom. Librarians and teachers saw this project as an opportunity to bring the elementary students (the clients) together with middle school and high school students (the engineers) for a multi-age collaborative learning experience.

We began with separate presentations for the engineers and the clients. The engineers learned about the design thinking process, starting with building empathy and gathering detailed information about the client’s needs through interviews. With our clients we used CT concepts like decomposition to break down the job of citizen scientist into smaller parts. Then we brought everyone together for a series of meetings. At these meetings the elementary school clients talked about their ideas and asked questions about the tools they could use to make them more effective citizen scientists.

Next, we recruited expert volunteers among parents and community members through a district-wide e-mail blast and social media postings. These volunteers acted as mentors and facilitators to the engineers as they found patterns among the client ideas. This helped the engineers decide on three products to make: a motion-sensing camera focused on a bird feeder, a game to help students learn to identify bird species, and a website to share their findings with the community.

The engineers, with some guidance from our mentors, worked through the winter (despite many snow days!)  prototyping, testing and improving their designs. We opened the library after school from 3:00-9:00 p.m. once a week for students to work at their own pace, seek help from mentors and problem-solve over pizza.

As our Spring Product Show approached, our engineers dove in, even working on their projects at home. Both our engineers and our clients were delighted to see and test the products like the “Birdhouse Empire” game. Students also showcased other skills, like 3D printing, that our engineers learned in order to build a housing for the Raspberry Pi-based motion sensor and camera. The engineers even continued to make small improvements to their projects throughout the day of the showcase as different classes visited and gave feedback.

All of the students experienced a unique and authentic collaboration, exploring CT literacies, and becoming more aware of the Feathered Friends in our backyard.

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Marijke Visser

Marijke Visser is the associate director and senior policy advocate at the American Library Association’s Washington Office. She is involved in all stages of Libraries Ready to Code, E-rate, and Connect Home projects. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Peace and Global Studies/Sociology and Anthropology from Earlham College in Indiana. Before joining the ALA in 2009, Marijke earned her master’s in Library and Information Science from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

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