Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: The Robot Test Kitchen’s Reading List

The five of us in the Robot Test Kitchen all came to this project from different comfort levels with technology. Some of us couldn’t get enough of it, some of us were skilled at it, some of us were dragging our heels, and some of us were curious but trepidatious. Some of us were a little bit of it all. Now that our project year has ended, we don’t have the amazing instructors in the ILEAD program to guide us every few months, we’re looking for ways to keep on learning. Here are a few books on our reading list this winter:

Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom By Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager
This guide is geared toward teachers, but that approach is really nice here, especially as an advocacy tool. It’s a great title for those librarians who ask themselves, “why robots? why STEM? why here?” because it looks at tinkering and making in the context of educational philosophy before getting into answering the “what” and “how” questions that will follow.



Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation by Dr. AnnMarie Thomas

Dr. Thomas is behind the super fun, super simple, super instructive Squishy Circuits concept. In her book, she interviews makers of all kinds to take a closer look at how childhood experiences can light a spark that can lead to creation and innovation. I love her playful approach to technology. It feels right and real to me.




Design, Make, Play: Growing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators by Margaret Honey

Another one to add to your list, especially if you feel you might face resistance to the concept of integrating STEM programs, whether from others in the library, or within yourself. Treating each activity: designing, making, and playing, as different pathways into learning is a really interesting concept, and certainly something that we at the Robot Test Kitchen have seen play out in our programs.



Zero to Maker: Learn (just enough) to make (just about) anything by David Lang

If you’re on board and ready to start making stuff, this is the book for you. Lang walks you through his process of embracing the maker movement and learning that it’s “really not about DIY or do it yourself, this whole thing is about DIT or do it together.” What a great concept, right? What a library friendly concept!




The Maker Cookbook: Recipes for Children’s and Tweens Library Programming by Cindy R. Wall and Lynn M. Pawloski 

Written by librarians for librarians, this is a great grab-and-go programming resource. And while the title says Children and Tweens, I’m pretty confident that the fun factor of a lot of the programs will bring them up to the teen level, or could be expanded upon in a way that would make them appealing to your teens.

We’re Not Faking it, We’re Making It: from the Robot Test Kitchen

One of the features on the Robot Test Kitchen is a True Confessions series. In it, we discuss our personal experiences in this brave new world of integrating technology programming into our libraries. Sometimes it’s triumphant, sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The point of our True Confessions is to illustrate that no matter where you are with your technology skills and programming, you can move forward and you are doing it. In today’s RTK post, Jacquie shares her perspectives on a recent experience with both webinars and littleBits.

Working with my Robot Test Kitchen colleagues during ILEADUSA was a fantastic experience, and now that we’re continuing with this project I appreciate the value of this collaboration even more. When we’re given opportunities, chances are at least one of us can say yes. A couple of weeks ago Brian Pichman with the Evolve Project asked if any of us would be panelists during a webinar about Library Makerspaces, specifically talking about LittleBits in libraries. Due to busy schedules, I ended up being the one who was available.

As the webinar began, I experienced a moment of self doubt (which is unusual for me, but I know I’m not the only one to go through this) as I read the comments from the participants. So many of them have thriving Makerspaces, and are already using LittleBits in innovative ways that I thought, “Who am I to be a panelist and impart any knowledge to them?” I was already in and I accepted that plowing forward was the only option, so I gave myself a brief pep talk and carried on. I did talk about my experiences with LittleBits thus far, as well as plans for in-house use and circulation of kits.

Here are just some of the things I learned and ideas I gleaned:

  • The other panelist, Jessica Lamarre, shared the fantastic idea to use small pictures of the LittleBits components to make sure they get put back correctly, whether they’re housed in the original packaging or in a plastic tackle-box type container.
  • I learned that there is a LittleBits Synth Kit, which I think will be a great fit in my library for next summer’s Read to the Rhythm summer reading program.
  • There is an Arduino component so you can use Scratch extensions, there is a LEGO brick adapter, and they’ve even been used to power 3D printed cars. Is there anything LittleBits don’t play nicely with?

In the end, I’m glad I had this experience. I may not be an expert, but I have a lot to share. I’m not new to this either, but I still enjoy learning, sharing, and being inspired by the ideas of others. It was worth it to step out of my comfort zone, sit in front of a webcam, and share what I know because this is all so very important.

Whatever we’re working on, our ultimate goal is enrich lives and build communities. At the same time, if you’re reading this you’re part of a community. Whatever fantastic things get made or invented in our schools and libraries, however many kids are inspired to pursue new interests, we are part of it. Just as we’re giving people in our communities a chance to create and connect, we need to keep on connecting with each other. We’re not just making the makerspaces so the makers can come make, we are the makers too. So let’s embrace that maker spirit and realize that each of has a unique perspective and something to share. Your experiences and even the questions you ask can spark an idea for someone else.

Jacquie @infojacquie

TPiB: Brushbots

I have been having remarkable luck playing with technology at my library. I was a little apprehensive at first, just because of our location and the kids- would they get off the computers to actually learn about Raspberry Pis? Would they think these were as cool as I did? Would they be willing to take a breathe and actually follow directions above and beyond the sticker crafts that we hold on Saturdays, take the steps, and work to put something together? And how am I going to put all of this together when I’m either IN the library floor proper, or across the hall in a meeting room that no one knows is a library program?

So far, however, the answer has been playing with them in front of the tweens and teens. It may seem simple, and at points it gets hard to explain to administration, but it’s one of those interaction development components that tweens and teens need- someone to pay attention to them, and to interact with them without feeling that the adult is being “put upon” or “suffering” their presence. I did this when we got the Raspberry Pis, and my classes have been full and we have wait lists. And I did this with the Brushbots.

Brushbots are simple little robots made from a toothbrush head, a motor, a small battery, and a piece of adhesive. You can buy these parts separately; however, since my library system decided to do this program (with variations) across all three locations we got ours from Make, which is an awesome site for program ideas and supplies. As well, they give learning outcomes to prove up the program to administrators aside from “It’s flipping cool and I want to build robots with these guys.”

The wait for the library an hour before we open

The kits came with enough supplies for 24 robots: motors (the round yellow things), the batteries (the small round things), assorted colors of toothbrushes, double sided adhesive, and a variety of stickers to decorate, along with a card with instructions and ideas for racing and basic modifications. 

Kit with the toothbrush body removed

 They recommend that you provide scissors (to cut the stickers), wire strippers (to take the casings off the wires), and some type of pliers/cutters to cut the body of the toothbrush from the head. I used the base of the wire cutters that were bought for our system, sorted the kits into their parts like this:

and then bagged them into individual robot sets. If you have a smaller group, or an older group, definitely let cut the adhesive tape and let them break up the toothbrush- it takes some hand strength but they’ll get a kick out of it. Since I had at least 20 from ages 10 and up, and showing a movie with robots and Legos, I went ahead and decided to break everything into individual kits. I also ran off copies of the instructions and suggestions for racing and modification so each participant had their own.

I brought out my Lego Makerspace, and they went to town creating mazes and racecourses for their bots. Some went in circles, some sideways, and some backwards…  

Everyone had fun, and they’re asking me when the next robot program is, so a definite success! 

Program Breakdown
  • Prep Time: 1 hours for separating the kits into individual bags and braking toothbrushes plus time for ordering the kits
  • Supply Cost: $19.99 plus shipping per 24 Brushbots;
  • Additional Supplies: Lego makerspace (on hand), baggies for individual kits (on hand), copier paper for instructions (on hand), kid scissors (on hand), glue dots for two issues with adhesive (on hand), DVD (on hand)
  • Program Time: 2 hours as I showed a movie with it while we experimented; without the movie the program could easily go just an hour

What awesome things are you doing this summer? Share in the comments!

Take 5: Small Robots and Science Projects

As part of our Teen Summer Reading Challenge, we are looking for ways that we can make some small robots with our teens. In part, because I am robot obsessed. And we’re all looking for fun ways to involve more tech it seems.

Bristle Bot

You can make a small robot using a toothbrush. It looks really quick and easy.

The Delaware County District Library (Ohio) recently did a program on the bristle bot and you can see their tutorial video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAjWU2vTZTk

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAjWU2vTZTk?rel=0]

You can make a slightly larger one using a shoe brush: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rd0-H8cG3A

An Electric Car

There is a simple electric car, which is slightly more involved: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEPU4hRB9l8

You need: Sheet of cardboard;  4 milk bottle tops; 1 smaller bottle top; 1 drinking straw; Thin garden cane or bamboo skewer; Cheap vibrating toothbrush or a small electric motor and a battery

For some simpler science projects, check out the Nick and Tesla’s books from Quirk Books

The book Nick and Tesla’s High Voltage Danger Lab has instructions for:

Low-Tech Bottle Rocket and Launcher

Mints and Soda Fueled Robocat Dog Distractor

Christmas is Over Intruder Alert System

Do-It-Yourself Electromagnet and Picker-Upper

The book Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage has instructions for:
Do-It-Yourself PC Leftovers Wander-Bot
Do-It-Yourself Semi-Invisible Bottle Bot
Homemade Robo-Bug (which is the Bristle Bot shown above)
Replacement Robo-Angel Hoverbot
Totally Improvised Super Soaker Bot Blaster

The books are middle grade mysteries, but the activities would definitely work to do a hands on science maker space with teens of any age.

Other Fun Ideas:

Much more involved, it would take a series, but you can combine Raspberry Pis and Legos to build a Remote Control Lego car: http://www.aoakley.com/articles/2013-09-19-raspberry-pi-lego-robot-part1.php


Robot Racer: elastic band car http://www.instructables.com/id/Robot-Racer/

For more teens and tech, go here! 

And if you have more fun ideas for us, please share them in the comments.