Getting Started with Creative Learning in your Public Library
Our PLIX Kits are designed to make it easy for librarians to offer creative learning programs to their patrons.
The Public Library Innovation Exchange (a.k.a. PLIX) began collaborating with public libraries in 2017. Since then, we’ve grown into a community of librarians and MIT Media Lab researchers who strive to integrate the ideas of creative learning into their library programs and facilitation practice. Together, this community is developing new creative STEAM learning experiences — based on MIT Media Lab research and designed for the public library setting. Today, we are excited to announce the launch of our first PLIX Kits!
These PLIX kits are designed to make it easy for librarians to get started offering creative learning programs in their libraries. Each kit includes workshop materials, example projects, zines that introduce core concepts to participants, troubleshooting tips, ideas for activity prompts, and creative learning facilitation techniques to support librarians as they build their facilitation practice.
As more librarians are asked to lead educational programs with emerging technologies, we think it’s important not just to get technology into the hands of patrons, but to cultivate an environment for patrons to experiment and create with technology. We think of our PLIX Kits as care packages for our librarian collaborators who are striving to make this vision a reality in their libraries.
Below you can learn more about our first two PLIX Kits: a paper circuits kit and a Scratch + micro:bit kit. All of our kit materials are openly documented on our website. We’ll be sending a limited number of each kit out to our community, but we also encourage you to gather supplies to make your own!
The Paper Circuits Kit
This kit is inspired by inspired by Jie Qi’s work from the High-Low Tech group at the MIT Media Lab. We love paper circuits because patrons can bring their passions and ideas into their creations, and they learn some basic circuitry along the way! This activity lends itself to a kit well; it’s easy to set up and the materials are cheap, which lets you run workshops repeatedly (important for practicing facilitation techniques!). There are also tons of online resources for inspiration and guidance (e.g. Chibitronics.com, The Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio). We know that many librarians are already familiar with paper circuits, and no matter your level of experience, this kit is a great way for new facilitators of creative learning to get started.
This kit contains the basic materials needed for running a 10-person workshop (e.g. copper tape, LEDs, batteries, colorful paper, binder clips), a troubleshooting guide, example projects, copies of our paper circuits zine for patrons, a letter to the librarian, and a copy of our PLIX Facilitation Techniques guide. You can get the detailed materials list and downloadable resources from our PLIX Activity Repository!
Some facilitation techniques you can practice with this kit include:
- Celebrate the learning process, not just the finished product. Don’t forget to celebrate the messy journey of creative learning with your participants. Try check-ins and share-outs to reflect on the learning process with your patrons. When patrons are stuck, ask them clarifying questions about their ideas or process, and give suggestions instead of directions.
- Remember: Facilitation is a practice. Don’t stress about being “good at it” right away. Becoming a creative learning facilitator will be a continuous process of trying, reflecting, and iterating. Remember to allow ~10 minutes for self-reflection after each workshop you facilitate.
The Scratch+micro:bit Kit
This kit is inspired by the work of one of our PLIX residency exchange teams. Last year, Media Lab graduate student Kreg Hanning worked with Jordan Morris and Cecil Decker — two librarians from Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina — to create activities that introduced physical electronics as a medium for creative expression.
We love the combination of storytelling and making that emerge from this activity. This kit contains two micro:bit Go’s, Scratch Coding Cards, alligator test leads, copies of our Scratch+micro:bit zine for patrons, a letter to the librarian, and a copy of our PLIX Facilitation Techniques guide. If you’re using this kit, you’ll also need access to a few laptops (with Mac or Windows OS, plus Bluetooth), and we encourage you to get a collection of dollar store objects (or other items you have lying around!) The detailed materials list and downloadable resources for this kit are all available on our PLIX Activity Repository.
Some facilitation techniques you can practice with this kit include:
- Don’t touch the tools! Avoid grabbing the tools when a patron asks for help. Instead, ask questions or suggest possible next steps for the patron to implement themselves. If you do need to hold the tools to explain something, make sure to have the patron try that step again on their own.
- Encourage peer learning. Encourage patrons working next to each other to support one another. Avoid positioning yourself as the only person in the room with answers. Everyone in the room has something to teach and learn — including the facilitator! Don’t be afraid to work together with a patron to figure something out.
How to use these kits
There is no one right way to use these kits!!! They are not a set of curricula to follow, but rather a jumping off point for exploration. Here are some ideas on how to get started:
- Make something right away! Try a play-testing session with other librarians who are excited about paper circuits or Scratch & micro:bits.
- Run a workshop with teens to create magical objects with Scratch+micro:bit, inspired by their favorite fantasy books.
- Run a drop-in station for families to make light-up greeting cards for an upcoming holiday.
- Use our facilitation guides with STEAM kits you’re already using in your library. This is a great way of integrating creative learning practices into your existing activities!
These kits are prototypes, and we’re working with our community of librarians to test and improve them. In our first launch, we are sending out 30 kits to members of our community, and we’ve also published all of the materials on our website so anyone can gather the supplies to make their own version of these kits! If you’re a librarian or novice facilitator who wants to bring creative learning experiences to your library, we encourage you to try one of these kits!
Let’s work together to expand the possibilities of what these kits can do, and design new ones! (We have a few other kits in the works, so stay tuned 😉) And don’t forget to share photos and videos of your journey with us — tag us on Instagram and Twitter @heyplix.
This post originally appeared on the MIT Media Lab website.