Guest blogger Amy Koester of The Show Me Librarian blog totally hit it out of the park with her first feature here on LAIP a month ago, and she’s back for more! This series focuses on weaving STEM principles and concepts into the arts & crafts programs youth services librarians are already doing. We just love these program ideas, and I think you will too! ~Katie
by Amy Koester
Hello, Earthlings. I’m here today to share a STEAM program—that is, an arts and crafts program that has been hacked for its STEM potential. Why go beyond just a straight arts and crafts program, you ask? If you’d like the long answer to that question, please check out my first-ever post for The Library as Incubator Project. The short version: you should STEAM at your library for two reasons. First, because STEAM programs draw in both the kids who love craft programs and the kids who love learning activity programs, allowing you to better serve your whole community. Second, because STEAM programs provide kids access to engagement and interest on several different topics and levels. STEAM programs expand everyone’s horizons.
Today’s STEAM program takes a straightforward craft program—creating strange aliens out of recyclables—and mines the space science and animal biology potential in the topic to produce an even more engaging experience.
Intended for school-age audiences, grades K-5
The arts and crafts aspect:
Gather an assortment of recyclables as well as the leftover craft supplies you have on hand. Googly eyes are a must, but beyond that, your materials are entirely variable. I’ve had grand success with rinsed yoghurt containers, tin cans, plastic tubes, bottle tops, and straws from the recycling bin, and I round out those offerings with chenille sticks, pom pom balls, popsicle sticks, and other odds and ends lying in the program supply closet. Grab some paper and markers for decoration tools, too. Your crafters will need glue to assemble their creations—I prefer hot glue, as it dries more quickly than tacky glue, but it also requires a bit more supervision.
The craft project is for the kids to construct aliens to their own specifications. Design is entirely up to the child, from picking out materials to building the creature to final decorations. No two aliens will look alike.
The STEM hack:
Bring space science into the program by introducing the “Goldilocks zone.” According to NASA, the Goldilocks zone refers to the area in space in which a planet could conceivably be neither too hot nor too cold to support life. These aliens that the kids are creating must come from some planet somewhere in the universe. These home planets, in order to support these aliens’ lives, fall into the Goldilocks zone.
Even if the aliens’ planets are generally similar, however, that doesn’t mean their individual habitats are. That’s where animal biology comes into play. I explain animal biology in this program by giving examples of what an animal’s physical body says about where it lives. Animals that have fins, for instance, live in or near water. Large eyes—or, in the case of aliens, lots of eyes—signal that the creature lives somewhere that it’s quite dark, requiring larger/more eyes in order to take in enough light to see. After giving examples of animal biology from Earth’s menagerie (favorites include the anglerfish and the sloth), I invite the kids to consider their own aliens. What do the aliens’ biological features tell us about where and how they live? I’ve heard plenty of outstanding, thoughtful responses to this question, signifying to me that the kids are grasping the science concept at hand.
There you have it, friends and fellow programmers. What started as a simple arts and crafts program was invaded to become an event that engages kids not only in construction and creativity but in space science and biology as well.
Amy Koester is the Children’s Librarian at the Corporate Parkway Branch of the St. Charles (MO) City-County Library District. She shares youth services programs and library musings as the Show Me Librarian, and she shares a STEM program every month on the ALSC Blog. She served on the 2014 Newbery Committee.