New activities run by Laura Gagnon and Kate Elder in the Radez Elementary library are helping students develop their creative-thinking skills.
It’s all made possible thanks to a grant called “INNOVATION!” that the school’s library successfully applied for through Capital Region BOCES.
The grant includes a cart with materials that help students “implement design thinking, creative thinking, problem solving and team building,” according to BOCES. The students use the materials in “makerspace” activities that offer them opportunities to build, design and create in a hands-on way.
Among the resources in the cart are: six robots, two K’nex Maker Kits, tools and a binder full of lesson plans. The grant also included a day of training for staff. Its total value, including the materials and professional development, is approximately $3,500.
As for the skills the students will develop – those are invaluable, says Mrs. Gagnon, the Radez librarian.
“Creativity can be taught,” Mrs. Gagnon said. “Yes, businesses want creative people – the future success of our economy depends on creative people and innovation. But also, being creative for the sake of building a better person and a happy person is a success in itself. Making, building and being hands-on builds stamina, forms new neural pathways, and makes a person more resilient.”
The Radez library staff has begun to roll out projects from the grant. Jennifer Rightmyer, newly recognized as a master teacher, collaborated with Mrs. Gagnon on a Strawbees building project. Students used Strawbees challenge cards for architectural challenges.
Next up was a robot named Buddy. He’s a Dash robot – named after Buddy from the movie “Elf” – that students program using an app called “Wonder.” Buddy’s new talents include saying words and phrases the students recorded, following a sequence of tasks and changing his lights in response to the students’ clapping.
In December, the library began a “Legos and Listening” series during which students built with Legos and K’nex while listening to a reading of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, “A Christmas Carol.” The recording is made from a museum copy of the actual text Dickens read when he did public readings of the book.
“The two learning outcomes,” Mrs. Gagnon explained, “are that listening to a story is proven to be as beneficial to peoples’ brains as reading it in print, and building with interactive materials helps grow students’ spatial intelligence and creativity.”
Future projects for the students will include programming Ozobots and exploring electricity through “Snap Circuits,” which allow students to create working electric circuits and other electrical devices.
“A big picture we have here is to build students’ growth mindset,” Mrs. Gagnon said. “We want to help them out of their comfort zone and into the zone where real learning and then innovation are possible. The maker mentality fits perfectly into our library’s mission of ‘Wonder, Investigate, Synthesize, and Express.’