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Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Maker Spaces and Books: It’s Not Either Or, It’s Both And

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The other day a fellow librarian asked me if I had read a book yet and when I responded no, she replied, “oh that’s right, you’re all about making now, you don’t really do books anymore.” It has taken me a couple of days to process this information and to form a real response. The truth is, libraries have always been about more than books, and I as a teen services librarian have always been about more than books. It’s not an either or proposition, it’s both and.

I am about making.

I am about books.

These are not mutually exclusive statements.

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Before I had a Teen MakerSpace, I regularly did library programming for tweens and teens. It was an expected part of my job. I still do that programming, I just do it differently. I do it on a more continual basis. I have assistants (that part is pretty glorious actually). But the truth of it is, it’s still just programming. Every moment I spend in the Teen MakerSpace is comparable to every moment I previously spent doing a teen program.

I have also worked really hard to make sure and emphasize books in our Teen MakerSpace. Every station that we have, every activity that we do, must have a couple of books in the Teen MakerSpace Collection that supports it. We try to remember to pull these books out and put them on display right there near the station or activity. We use them. We encourage our teens to use them. Our Teen MakerSpace Collection goes hand in hand with everything we do in our Teen MakerSpace.

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But we don’t just promote nonfiction in our Teen MakerSpace, we promote our Teen Fiction collection as well. We put up displays, we promote our collection, we have “what staff are reading” walls, etc. We do RA, we talk about books with our teens, even while we are making. We have done displays on books that relate to making in any possible way, including Sci Fi, books about movies, books with teens who make films, books with teen hackers and coders, books with gamers, and more. There are a lot of ways you can pull books from your teen fiction collection into the space and cross promote both making and teen reading.

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The truth is, libraries are always evolving. Books have and will continue to be the core of what librarians do, what I do. But it has and never will be the only thing that librarians do, what I do.

I am about making.

I am about books.

And they both work together for the good of teens in the public library.

5 Ways to Incorporate Books into a MakerSpace

1. Buy nonfiction that corresponds to every station or activity that you do in your MakerSpace

Have a 3D printer? There are books for that. Coding, electronics, robotics, Legos and more. We have books on every topic. If you can do it in our teen makerspace, you can read a book about it.

2. Promote “making” related teen fiction in your makerspace

There are good YA books that feature teens as coders, hackers, gamers, film makers, music makers and more. In addition, almost any sci fi or survival book features technology or survival skills that can be related back to making. Think creatively and cross promote.

3. Put up a “What’s New” display in your makerspace

We have two actually. One is a wall in the Teen MakerSpace that just features book covers that we have printed out and put up. The other has the physical books so that they can be easily grabbed.

4. Put up a what staff is reading display

We use the same printed book cover on the wall format to keep up a what staff is reading display. All three Teen Services staff members share what books they are currently reading with any teen that comes into the space.

5. Talk to teens while making about books

I love to talk about books. And the glorious thing about making is that it’s pretty easy to have a casual conversation with a teen while you are doing it. So ask your teens, hey what have you been reading? What’s your favorite book?

Maker Mondays: How do you make those cool graphics for social media?

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Branding. It’s a thing we talk a lot about in all walks of life, including libraries. And branding is more important than ever with our prolific use of social media. When you share something on social media, you want an image to share with your post that is easily recognizable, immediately associated with your brand, and points directly back to you when it is shared by others on social media. Even better if you create regular content that is predictable, expected and communicates to your patrons who and what you are. So consider having regular features like New Title Tuesdays, for example, with well developed images to market that content. And consider adding your logo and website url onto each image.

Popular websites like Epic Reads are already doing this and doing it well. They have regular features that are comfortable and familiar to their readers, and that is a powerful tool.

But how do you create the images? Today I am going to share with you two separate tools that work well for this: Canva and Word Swag.

Canva

I have previously talked about Canva at length so I’m just going to touch on it here briefly. Canva is a free online tool that you can use to create all types of images, including social media images. You set up an account for free and you can upload your own pictures or use their library of free images. If you want to spring for the bonus features, there is additional content you can tap into for a free. I have, however, successfully used Canva for multiple projects and never had to pay any additional money. I sincerely recommend Canva, in under five minutes I might add. Previous posts on Canva:

Tech Review: Online Creation Tools Piktochart and Canva

MakerSpace: Postcard Party

These social media images were created using Canva:

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Canva has both an online portal and a mobile app. At first I hated the mobile app version, but I am getting better at it. I still prefer the online portal.

Word Swag

Word Swag is an app that you can purchase and download to your mobile device to make quick images to share. Word Swag is a bit pricey for an app at $4.99, especially given what it does, but it is quick and easy to use with effective results. It is available for both iOS and Android. You can start with a provided image or access an image from your camera roll. You can then crop it, add text, and quickly save your photo. It’s fast and easy, but man do I hate the filters that it has.

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These images were created using Word Swag.

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Some thoughts about Word Swag:

I find Word Swag to be particularly good for making book quote art to share on social media

After you put in your text, you can select your font style and roll the dice to find the best fit and look for your background image. Seeing what the roll of the dice produces can be fun.

In addition to being able to insert your own text, it does have a feature where you can select a category and it offers a few choice quotes in that category for you to use. If you have a picture you have taken but not a great text, it can be fun to see what comes up.

You can only add one text block unless you save, reload your image, and start the process all over again. So if you want to have a heading text at top and your website url at the bottom, the process is much more complicated.

As I mentioned, the filters in this app are basically awful. This is, after all, an app that focuses on words more than images.

It’s easy to use, fast, and can all be done while on the go right there on your phone.

A Final Analysis

After buying Word Swag and using both tools to create square shaped social media images to share, I found that I kept using Canva more than Word Swag, mostly because Canva just offers a lot more options. I like the filters on Canva more (though Instagram is still my favorite quick app for filters and the blur feature). I like that you can add images to your image, like a silhouette. And I like that you can add multiple lines of text in multiple locations. So in terms of functionality, Canva definitely beats out Word Swag. But if you want quick, easy, and portable, either one works. And for the novice, Word Swag may be easier to use.

Word Swag gets the edge for quick and easy, Canva gets the edge for higher functionality.

Take 5: MakerSpace Tools I Learned About at TLA 2017

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I recently had the pleasure of attending – and speaking – at the annual Texas Library Association conference. Today I am going to share with you 5 Makerspace tools I learned about.

MakeDo Cardboard Construction Kit

makedo makedo2Make Do are cardboard construction pieces that work as nuts and bolts for cardboard. This means that you can save all those boxes that your books come in and allow teens to re-purpose them in the makerspace. These kits seem really multi-functional and affordable, I’m definitely getting some of these ASAP.

Finch Robot

The Finch Robot is a plug and play robot. There is no building involved, it’s ready to start coding out of the box. It can be used with a variety of languages, including Scratch, Python, Java and more. It looks like a jellyfish or an alien out of some sci fi movie. You can find more information at www.finchrobot.com.

The Hummingbird Kit

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If you want to promote creative building as well as programming, the Hummingbird might be the kit for you. It contains all of the guts of a robot – sensors, LED lights, motors and a brain – and you need to put a face on it. No soldering or electronics is really required. An example they had at the booth was a dragon robot made out of a jewelry box as its base and moved using the Hummingbird Kit. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty awesome. You can find more information at www.hummingbirdkit.com.

The Adjustable Height White Board Table

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My AD is pretty used to me going to a conference and texting her pictures of all the things I want for my Teen MakerSpace. This item was so cool I called. It’s a white board table that can flip so it becomes a whiteboard wall. Did I mention it has adjustable height? It’s pricey, but I covet this table for its functionality and adaptability.

Task Cards

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We have made task cards for all of our big Teen MakerSpace stations. Although we want our space to be open and inspire creativity, we have found that some of our teens really want a task or a challenge to help them get started. In fact, we now have a daily Lego challenge as well as all of our regular stations. I visited a booth called Maker Maven that sold task cards, which I think are a great investment. In fact, they sell pre-make Maker Kits that you can just unbox and start using around themes like engineering, virtual reality, science, 3D arts and crafts and robotics. The kits range in price from $299.00 (the Innovator Kit) to $1,499 (the Ultimate Maker Kit). You can find more information about this at www.makermaven.net.

If you have or use any of these tools, let me know what you think in the comments.

MakerSpace: 5 Low or No Tech Activities for a Teen MakerSpace

makerspacelogo1When I first began transforming my teen space into a Teen MakerSpace, I was adamant that the space had to be tech, tech, tech heavy. All tech, all the time. I pushed back hard against suggestions that I should do things like have gel pens or paint. Part of my concern was legitimate, cost and clean up. Having consumable materials increases your cost right out of the gate. But there are a lot of consumables in tech making as well; see, for example, the 3D pen. You constantly have to replace the filament.

The clean up concern is legitimate as well. We work hard to try and keep our surfaces and floors protected, but there have been accidents. Tables and counters are easier to protect than floors, we simply cover them with cutting mats and it works pretty well.

I have slowly changed my idea of what a makerspace can and should be, in part because of my teens. It turns out, they like to do a lot of traditional arts and crafts just as much as they like to do coding, robotics and electronics. And many of our teens don’t have access to the tools necessary to learn these traditional types of arts and crafts anymore than they have access to the tech to learn coding and electronics. So we – so I – have expanded my idea of what a makerspace is. If it involves making something, I will consider it for the space. So today I am sharing with you 5 of their favorite more traditional arts and crafts activities that we do in our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH).

Sculpey Clay

Desiree making jewelry out of Sculpey clay beads

Desiree making jewelry out of Sculpey clay beads

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Making things out of clay has turned out to be really popular for us. We have a toaster oven in the space that we use to bake the clay. They make anything from figures to jewelry using the clay. Desiree, one of our TMS assistants, has become quite good at clay art.

Teen Coloring

We have a dedicated teen coloring station with blank cartoon and graphic novel strips that teens can create, but we also just print off coloring sheets. We provide colored pencils, markers, and gel pens. I really pushed back against gel pens in the beginning because they are so expensive but found a great set at a reasonable price and we keep them locked up when the room isn’t staffed. It’s a relaxing activity and it’s pretty easy from a staff perspective, and the teens love it.

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Although many of our teens do use our supplies, we have a small handful of teens that come regularly and bring their own supplies and art books. They will also often draw pictures for us. A couple of times they have drawn pictures of us, which is an incredible honor.

Shrinky Dinks

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A bracelet made out of Shrinky Dink charms

A bracelet made out of Shrinky Dink charms

Who knew this childhood favorite would once again be so popular? We buy plain Shrinky Dink sheets at the local craft store and the teens are welcome to create anything they would like. They often trace and color their favorite manga characters. But you can also use Shrinky Dinks to do things like create jewelry.

Lego

today5 today6 Lego can be very tech savvy. For example, you can use Legos to create a Rube Goldberg machine. Legos can also be combined with tech like LittleBits or Raspberry Pi to make remote control vehicles or small robots. But sometimes, the teens just like to build with them. In fact, we now host a daily Lego challenge. We put up a sign with a small pile of Legos and ask teens to do things like build a car, make an animal, or even create a campfire scene. We get a lot of our daily challenges out of this book.

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Painting

today7I suppose in some ways this is just an extension of the coloring/drawing type of activities, but I have to go on the record as saying that I pushed back hard against buying pain and paint brushes. For one, we really do try and limit the amount of money we spend on consumables because you have to replace them a lot. But the truth is, it’s not as high of a cost as I thought it might be. You can buy a value pack of acrylic paint at Michael’s for $8.00. And a value pack of brushes for around $5.00. We don’t provide high quality materials by any means, but they get the job done. The teens not only paint on paper, but they will bring in t-shirts to paint, they paint their cell phone cases to personalize them, and more.

So here’s my takeaway.

1) The idea of a makerspace is always evolving.

2) Don’t be afraid of more traditional arts and crafts.

MakerSpace Madness: Out of the 1, Many – Transforming Art in Multiple Ways

Makerspace Madness

I spent yesterday casually demonstrating to the teens in the Teen MakerSpace how one project can turn into many, many projects. Making isn’t just about making, it’s about re-making and transforming. It’s about thinking outside of the box. It’s about pushing the limits of what you know and learning new things. So yesterday we explored how far we can take one project.

To begin, I was exploring making my own templates. The first template I made was freehand, and it was . . . okay. I then downloaded a pre-made template of the police box which I altered slightly because it turns out that cutting out a template is tedious. Not going to lie, it was not my favorite thing. The key to a good (and easy to cut out) template is to have big spaces and not a lot of lines, straight lines are definitely better. The police box is an easy template to create from scratch because it’s just squares, long rectangles and a triangle for the top light. It doesn’t hurt that I and my girls are huge Doctor Who fans.

I then used my template and a word template (“dream”) that we already had in the space to make a painting. Note: when making your own templates, words are hard. The easiest way to make a word template is to print your word out from a computer, though you’ll want to be careful about fonts.

For someone who is not a painter, I thought my original art piece turned out okay.

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Next, I took a picture of my painting. I like to start with a picture that I have taken so that I don’t have to worry about copyright. I then use a variety of apps to transform my painting into ways that I can’t do freehand because I’m not really an artist. Apps are just my friend.

For example, here I used the Fused app to combine my painting with a galaxy looking background.

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You can then use almost any app, including Instagram, to try out different filters until you find a look that you like. Some of my favorites include Enlight, Hipstamatic, and BeFunky.

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I then used Instagmag to make a photo collage. There are other photo collage apps that you can use including Diptic and PhotoShake, I just happen to be a fan of Instamag’s graphics.

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I then saved and printed my photo – after making it the proper size – to turn it into a button.

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There are other things I can do with this as well:

Print my remixed photo onto transfer paper and make it into a t-shirt or tote bag.

Print my remixed photo and put it onto canvas to make wall art.

Re-size my photo to make original postcards.

The thing is, when you create one type of art, even something like a traditional painting, that doesn’t mean it has to stay in that same shape, form or even color.

And that’s the journey of one piece of art.

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MakerSpace: Low Tech, Low Cost “Screenprinting”

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We used several processes to make this example t-shirt. The Design Life words are part of our screen printing trials.

For some time now I have been on a quest to get a screen printing station into my Teen MakerSpace. My research involved reading a ton of books, a lot of trial and error and visiting a local art studio that did traditional screen printing. The big stumbling block for us is that to make screens for screen printing, you have to do a technique that involves emulsion. This was a no go for us. The second stumbling block is that screen printing can take up a lot of space, something which is a very hot commodity for us; We are a small space.

We also tried several low cost kits, some of which sere made by Klutz and Alex; these also proved to be less effective than we liked. Though we did keep the screen part of one of the kits because although you don’t need it for the method we chose to go with, some teens like to use it because it has a more authentic feel. But in a pinch, you can also make your own screens (more on that in a minute).

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The paints in this kit were awful, but I did keep and re-use the screen successfully

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Some exhaustive research and a lot of trial and error led us to a couple of low tech, low cost scenarios that do indeed work. It’s not truly screen printing, but it is a low cost, low tech way to achieve the same effects.

What You Need:

  • Stencils (store bought or you can make your own, see below)
  • Fabric paint or Speedball ink (you want something that will stand up to multiple washing)
  • Sponge brushes (or you can use an ink roller or flat edged screen printing scraper thing)
  • 202 No Pins spray fabric adhesive
  • T-shirts
  • A screen (not necessary, but it makes it feel more authentic)
  • A clean, protected surface to work on (you’ll want to cover your work surface to protect it)
  • A hair dryer, fan or heat gun to speed up drying

Getting Started with Stencils

Stencils are used to make your design on your t-shirt. In true screen printing, there is a multi-step process that is used to make your stencils that involves emulsion. We just don’t have the means for this in our library space. But you can achieve some of the same effects by using stencils. And to give it a more authentic and hands on feel, you can make your own stencils in a couple of different ways.

The key to successful “screen printing” is to use simple prints and block lettering. The less intricate your design, the easier it is to get a clean image, especially when you are just beginning.

1. Freezer Paper Stencil

You can use freezer paper to make a stencil if you have access to a printer. Follow the instructions here: Stencil Shirts With Freezer Paper – Instructables. Using this method teens can design their own stencils in a graphics program to make truly unique t-shirts. It involves the most amount of tech in our low tech process. You’ll want to make sure and design a simple image without a lot of lines and details to be effective; also, cutting the stencil out with an exacto knife can be tedious so simpler is quicker, easier and cleaner.

This method is also good because you can then just iron your stencil on to your t-shirt and remove it when you are done.  Some tutorials we read/watched said you could use wax paper but we did not find this to be true – it absolutely works best if you use freezer paper. Using this method, you will only be able to use your stencil once.

2. Card Stock Stencil

You can also make your own stencil using a heavier card stock. You can find those instructions here: Make Your Own Stencil – Instructables. You’re basically going to do the same thing as above: design, print an image, and cut it out with an exacto knife.

3. Buy Stencils

Folkart makes a series of large stencils that fit nicely on t-shirts and tote bags. You can buy them here. This is the easiest method by far, but it eliminates a lot of the tech as teens are no longer engaged in designing and printing out their own stencils.

Preventing Bleeding

When using a stencil, it can be easy for the paint or ink to bleed under the stencil, which makes your design look like a muddy mess. At the screen printing studio they use a temporary glue that helps hold the screen in place and acts as a resist. You can use 202 No Pins fabric adhesive spray to temporarily hold your stencil in place and act as a resist. Once you are done applying your paint/ink and allow your design to dry a little bit, you just lift off your stencil.

Bleeding is bad

Bleeding is bad

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Applying Your Medium

As I mentioned, you do not actually need a screen to do this process. But if you want a more authentic experience, you can make your own screens using either an embroidery hoop or building one out of wood. I found the results to be the same whether I used the screen or not.

To apply your paint you can use either a sponge brush, an ink roller, or a screen printing wedge. I liked the sponge brush the most because I felt it gave me the most control regarding the amount of paint/ink I used. Also, you can buy a bulk pack of sponge brushes fairly cheaply so that multiple teens can make t-shirts at once. In comparison, a wedge can run you around $5.00+ and the ink roller was around $7.00.

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After you apply your paint/ink, you’ll want to let your design dry a bit before removing your stencil. We used both a fan and a hair dryer.

It also works well on tote bags, in case you were wondering.

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 For more information, check out these resources:

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I read a lot of books on the topic, and this is one of my favorites.

D.I.Y. Screen Printing – Instructables

Down and Dirty Screenprinting for Under 10$ – Instructables

A 5 Minute Guide to Screen Printing Ink

MakerSpace Madness: Mod-A-Tee @ Your Library – Fun with T-Shirts

Makerspace Madness

Like most teen services/ya librarians, I’m heavy in the midst of planning my teen summer reading programming. This will be the second year of planning that incorporates our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH) and we know based on our experience from last year that our current model works pretty well.

This year, we are going to do some thematic making in our Teen MakerSpace involving t-shirts. I was going to call it T-Shirt Tuesdays because I like alliteration, but the reality is that we have the most staff on Mondays, so now we are calling it Mod-A-Tee Mondays, as in modify a t-shirt. I will probably get bonus points if I mention that our Assistant Director came up with the name after I discussed my staffing concerns.

We chose t-shirts because we know that we work in a lower-income area where food and clothing can be a challenge for our teens so we wanted to teach our teens how they could easily make and modify t-shirts to engage in creative, self-expression at low or no cost to them. Later this year we will be doing a series of Make it in the Kitchen programs to address some of the food issues (more on that in a later series of posts). Blank t-shirts can be purchased pretty cheaply and used t-shirts can be purchased for next to nothing at a thrift store; both can be modified in a variety of ways to make not only new clothing, but things like pillows, book bags, and accessories.

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Because our Teen Summer Reading Challenge lasts for 6 weeks, we scoured, researched and tested a variety of ways to modify t-shirts and came up with the 6 that worked the best for us in our space and within our budget. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing those ways with you, telling you what worked, what didn’t, and what I learned. As always, I did a lot of testing at home as well. In fact, the idea for doing t-shirts came as we began making t-shirts and tote bags in my home with the teens that come in and out of our house. After seeing how much they loved both the process and the results, I knew this would be a successful activity for our Teen MakerSpace.

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Week 1: Sharpie Tye-Dye

My assistant director also has really been a proponent of trying to do tye dye with our teens for quite a while. Being the mom to teens who has done tie dye several times at home, I am not a big fan of doing traditional tye-dye in the library (yes, not even outside) because of the amount of color and wet that it involves. But I have successfully done Sharpie tye-dye several times so we will be doing that. I will admit that it doesn’t have the long lasting staying power of traditional tye-dye, but teens enjoy it and I feel that it is a good, library friendly approach. You can find information on how to do Sharpie tie-dye here: TYE-DYE Made With Sharpies – Instructables.

For my example t-shirt, I used a template and Sharpies to make a small tye-dyed phrase on my t-shirt. You then spritz it with rubbing alchohol to make it “bleed” and give it that tye-dye effect.

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Several teens helped us make sample t-shirts and test our processes and they gave it a solid thumbs up.

Week 2: Screen Printing

I desperately wanted to do traditional screen printing in my Teen MakerSpace, I thought the teens would enjoy it and I wanted to learn how to do it as well. We even went and visited a local screen printing shop to learn more about the process. It turns out that we don’t really have the space or budget needed to make screen printing one of our stations as we had hoped. But there ARE a few creative ways that you can teach teens to do low tech, low cost screen printing(ish). We’ll be talking about those soon.

Week 3: Puff Paint

And yes, you read that right, we are in fact doing some good old fashion puff painting of t-shirts. We have found that teens love a lot of traditional arts and crafts AND that they love anything retro.

We’ll talk about weeks 4, 5 and 6 soon. Wednesday, I’m going to talk low cost, low tech screen printing.

Getting Ready for May the Fourth: Some Star Wars STEAM Ideas

Our weekly STEM program for 3 to 18 year old patrons took a turn for the galactic yesterday as we focused on Star Wars. None of the ideas I’m about to link to are my own, but I will tell you how well they worked for us and give you some tips for success.

81r2wmJ1JxL_SL1500_Our first activity was releasing Lego Star Wars figures from ‘carbonite.’ You can find the original post here. We used a combination of baking soda and water to freeze the minifigs into ice cubes. First hot tip – they don’t fit in standard ice cube trays. Luckily, I actually had some Star Wars themed jello molds (don’t ask) and they fit in those. We used vinegar to dissolve the ‘carbonite,’ but unlike the original post, I had the kids use pipettes to wash the baking soda away gradually. It really depends on your level of patience, but I think they had fun. Your mileage may vary.

Next we moved on to this activity – creating light saber cards. This was probably my favorite activity and the one I would consider the most teachable moment. If you scroll down in the post, you can find links to all the necessary materials, which were surprisingly affordable. There are also free printables to make the cards themselves. The blogger created one version for ‘May the Fourth’ and one for ‘May the Force,’ so you can use it year round.

We made balloon hovercrafts as detailed here. I’m sure you have some old CDs or DVDs and balloons around, and who doesn’t have a hot glue gun? Unfortunately, the other necessary piece (a pop up bottle lid) is much more difficult to find these days. Almost all of the items that used to have them, such as dish soap and sports water bottles, have switched to the new flip top model. I found them from some online vendors, but you either had to purchase thousands of them or pay exorbitant shipping fees. My best advice is to make friends with people who polish their hardwood floors – all of those containers still use the pop up lids, as does dish soap from the Mrs. Meyer’s company. It’s not ideal, but it is doable if you plan ahead (or have lots of friends with hardwood floors.)

We made these light saber sensory bottles, as well. The post recommends using VOS water bottles, which are quite expensive. We used the large Smart Water bottles because it is what I like to drink. I would recommend going with a smaller bottle, though.

Finally, we made some origami Millennium Falcons. There are many different versions of the instructions online, but the one I found easiest to follow is here.

Happy Star Wars day preparations to all!

MakerSpace: April National Poetry Month Activities

In the Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH), we’re getting ready for National Poetry Month (April). We have a variety of activities that we will be hosting all month long in our makerspace using our materials to get teens thinking about and creating poetry. Some of our ideas include making our own chalkboards for teens to write poetry on, turning poetry into digital art and turning them into buttons, and creating visual poetry using methods like Black Out Poetry or Post It note art.

This will be our second year doing poetry in our Teen MakerSpace, so we tried to build on what worked for us successfully last year and provide even more options with more material choices.

Poetry Activities 2017  Poetry Activities 2017 part 2

If you have some other creative suggestions, we would love to hear from you. It’s never too late to add some fun, new ideas.

MakerSpace: Postcard Party

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In an attempt to express my personal political frustrations, I recently hosted a postcard party. It turns out, with or without the politics, this is a great MakerSpace program. Making your own postcards is quicky, easy fun.

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Here’s what I did at home: I invited a group of friends to my home whom I knew wanted to express themselves politically. Using the issues that they were most concerned about, I designed postcards (more on this process in a moment). We then printed them out, personalized them and dropped them in the mail. The Teen was there for this meeting, which is a fact that will become relevant in a moment. In total during this evening we quickly and easily designed about 20 postcards which we printed in multiple copies per sheet.

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It turns out, I really, really liked designing the postcards and, as is often the case when I learn to do something new and enjoy it, I started making a lot of postcards. And I mean A LOT OF POSTCARDS. In fact, The Teen found it to be fun as well and we sat down and I taught her how to design her own postcards. The postcards we designed together weren’t political, but they were personal and they became a fantastic medium of both artistic and self expression.

So Let’s Talk Designing Your Own Postcards

I am currently using Canva. You can use any design program, including GIMP (free, online) or Microsoft Publisher (not free), but Canva has a wide variety of easy to use templates that help you get started and are easily personalized. One of these templates is a postcard template. There are a variety of pre-made postcard layouts that you can choose to get you started and yet you can completely personalize everything. Canva is an online program which is mostly free. You set up an account and there are a wide variety of free templates and elements you can choose. You can also add your own by uploading your own graphics.

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For example, regular readers know that I am both photo and photo app obsessed. It’s easy (and fast) to upload your own photos into Canva and use them for postcards. There are a lot of free elements available for use in Canva as well, but I like to use my own whenever possible.

You can start with a blank space or a template. In the beginning, I highly recommend using a template. Easily add or subtract elements like text, graphics, lines and more. There are filters available to change the coloring or tone of your picture. It’s easy, but it’s also flexible and adaptable. As you get better at using the program you can advance how personal you make things.

After you create your design, you then download the postcard. I always choose to download my creations as a JPG because they are easier to use across machines. PDF is another option, but I can easily send, share and print JPGs.

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Now that my postcard is saved on my laptop as a JPG, I just need to print it off. This is pretty quick and easy to do using Microsoft Word. You can fit two postcards per page in a Word document. They are already saved as a standard postcard size so you don’t need to worry about resizing. I print them off on card stock and cut them down to size using a paper cutter. Because I know I want to go in and print more of my postcards, I saved each one as a Word document that I can just open again and again and hit print. For example, I have a filed named SUPPORT LIBRARIES POSTCARD that I can easily open and print off my Support Libraries postcards.

You can design a backside if you wish, but it’s not necessary. After your postcard is printed you just write your message and address it like you would any other postcard. The Teen made a set of postcards; she likes to write her friends encouraging messages and hand them to her friends at school or slip them in their lockers.

A note about the Canva app: there is a Canva app as well for mobile devices. I do not love the app as much as I love the online program. It does not have as many design template options available, for one. The smaller scale can also make precision designing more difficult. However, you can go into a saved design and quickly save it to your mobile device. This makes printing really easy if you have an AirPrinter that also allows you to select the 4×6 size. Print directly onto matte 4×6 photo paper and you don’t have to worry about cutting your postcard to size. This, for me, is the only benefit of the app on my mobile device.

And finally, here’s a look at some of the postcards The Teen and I designed.

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And as a fun aside, for some of our postcards we used our button maker to make corresponding 1.25 inch buttons. We were able to easily make them the size we needed for the buttons.

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Here’s What You Need:

  • Some type of device: laptop or PC recommended, though tablets and smartphones will also work
  • Access to Canva (or some other type of graphics program)
  • Cardstock
  • Paper cutter
  • Color printer

For example, it my Teen MakerSpace we have a bank of iPads that we use for digital media. Teens can use these to take pictures using our Green Screen Photo Booth. These pictures can then be uploaded into Canva so that the teens can use them to create personalized postcards as outlined above.

This is a great opportunity to talk with teens about what makes a good photo, design and layout, and the always important topic of copyright.

In just 3 days working about 2 hours a day, we designed and printed out 40 unique postcards that we adored. I can’t recommend this enough.