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During my first stint as an elementary school librarian in the mid-1990s, I stumbled upon the magic of learning centers. Centers, which allow students to choose from a variety of activities, empower students to be masters of their own learning in a small-group setting while you take on the role of a facilitator.
Flash forward to present day. Librarians are encouraged to help students to create digital products that engage them in critical thinking, collaboration and authentic real-world problem-solving.
One way to do this is by creating makerspaces in our school libraries. While stand-alone makerspaces in a flexible library space is ideal, makerspaces incorporated into a fixed library schedule through learning centers is often a much more manageable approach.
Creating centers requires quite a bit of front loading, but all that up-front work pays off fast, resulting in a smooth running, well-oiled machine of a library.
When creating centers, you need to consider the curricular purpose behind each center, the skills you want to teach, the supplies you’ll need, the procedure for student access and the relevant ISTE Standards to address. Here are a few themes to get you started:
1. Set up a coding area
It goes without saying that coding is now an essential skill and that demand for coding skills will only continue to grow.
The possibilities for librarians to collaborate on coding projects with teachers in all subject areas are enormous and exciting. For example, Tynker’s Homophones STEM Kit empowers students to make a fun storytelling game where the player has to choose the correct homophone to advance the story. The Scratch website allows students to create interactive games to demonstrate knowledge of historical figures, events, science, literature and more. Or students can use this Codesters Hour of Code activity to explore all four quadrants of the coordinate plane.
Some coding sites and apps I have used with my K-5 students include:
• Code.org Hour of Code activities
• Scratch Jr.
• Made with Code
• Khan Academy Hour of Code
• Tynker Hour of Code
• OSMO Coding Family
2. Offer green screen activities
A green screen center is surprisingly easy and relatively inexpensive to set up. All you need is a green plastic tablecloth from your local discount store and a green screen kit with lights that you can find online. Here are a few of the green screen activities that I’ve done in the library that were a big hit:
Have students in grades K-5 create their own READ posters based on the American Library Association’s celebrity posters.
Teach students about proportions with this “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” activity using a green screen. Students find images and use a two-step process to shrink their own image. It’s fun to see where a child’s imagination will take them – swallowed by a great white shark, playing soccer with their favorite LEGO characters or riding on the back of an eagle.
Take family pictures in the green screen room with a backdrop image made to correspond with the schoolwide event. This activity gets parents into the library and imprints a positive image of the library in their minds. They can even share the photo on social media. And once you get them into the library, let students show them how to use the green screen and other technologies. That way parents are more likely to support and advocate for edtech.
3. Offer a variety of tech and non-tech activities
There is almost no limit to the kinds of activities learning centers can offer. You can incorporate technology or not. Let students work individually or in pairs or groups. here are a few ideas:
Augmented and virtual reality center
Help students bring constellations to life, visualize 3D geometry, explore animal habitats or learn about the plight of refugees by visiting a Syrian camp using augmented and virtual reality apps.
Introduce students to a variety of print and ebook resources so they’ll always know how to find a good book.
Allow free play or introduce structured games to teach a particular set of skills.
Demonstrate how to use Google Tools, Apps and Experiments, such as Slides, Spreadsheets, Drawing, Chrome Music Lab, BookTrack Classroom and more.
Introduce students to district databases and teach media literacy and basic research skills.
Use KEVA Planks, LEGOs, cardboard, duct tape and other building materials that incorporate the basic engineering concepts of gears, levers, pulleys and stress and strain of structures.
Nikki D. Robertson is a veteran educator, school librarian, instructional technology facilitator, author of Connected Librarians: Tap Social Media to Enhance Professional Development and Student Learning. Follow her on Twitter @nikkidrobertson. This is an updated version of a post originally published June 17, 2019.