Off the Shelf: Reimagining libraries with Watson Road State School students

Earlier this year, The Cube’s public program team undertook the Off The Shelf program, part one of which involved engaging with students from Watson Road State School in a series of workshops centred around the idea of the changing role of libraries as social and educational hubs. Students engaged with these ideas through hands-on STEAM activities using littleBits as prototyping tools.

Watson Road State School Principal Cathy Forbes shares her experience of the project:

Cathy: The littleBits project at Watson Road State School has provided students with the opportunity to work collaboratively and think differently. The open-ended nature of the task meant that students felt confident to try out new ideas, knowing that there were no right or wrong answers.

Students were given a challenge: to design a library of the future. They saw this as a real-life and authentic task, which encouraged self-directed learning and the application of knowledge and learning by experience.

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This project stepped way from traditional classroom learning and introduced 21st century problem solving skills to students in an engaging way. Students were motivated and enthusiastic about their participation in the challenge.

The cross-curricular connections in the project are very strong. Students were required to collect data and research, and were asked to apply the information to plan their prototypes and conceptualise their design. The design-and-make nature of the project, as well as links to science and engineering, met requirements in the key learning area of technology, in which students use design thinking and technologies to generate and produce designed solutions for authentic needs and opportunities.

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Students were encouraged to collaboratively apply their knowledge and practical skills and processes when using technologies to create innovative solutions that meet current and future needs. The practical nature of the project engaged students in critical and creative thinking, including understanding interrelationships in systems when solving complex problems. A systematic approach to experimentation, problem solving, prototyping and evaluation instilled the value of planning and reviewing processes to realise ideas.

Links to English were reinforced with students interpreting descriptions and research. They were required to read and give instructions, generate and explore ideas with others, write design briefs and specifications, and participate in group discussions. Students communicated their ideas and proposals to an audience. By learning the literacy of technologies, students understand that language varies according to context and they increase their ability to use language flexibly.

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Technologies vocabulary is often technical and includes specific terms for concepts, processes and production. Students learn to understand that much technological information is presented in the form of drawings, diagrams, flow charts, models, tables and graphs. They also learn the importance of listening, talking and discussing in technologies processes, especially in articulating, questioning and evaluating ideas.

The project provided students with an opportunity that they would not ordinarily have had. QUT and Brisbane City Council Library staff facilitated self-directed learning whilst providing expert guidance to students and staff. The project was a wonderful success.

Image Credit: Kate O’Sullivan

Inspire: Learners reimagining the future of their school library

Our Public Programs Curator, Jacina Leong, discusses the recently launched Off The Shelf program, and how The Cube and Brisbane City Council Library Services are partnering to empower Watson Road State School students to be future thinkers and agents of change through hands-on engagement.

Building on the partnership between QUT The Cube and Brisbane City Council Library Services (BCCLS), The Cube’s public program team will be working with a group of Grades 5 – 6 students from Watson Road State School over a period of 6 workshops.

The workshops will take place within the school’s library, providing a platform for the students to engage with ideas around the changing role of libraries as social and educational hubs. Students will engage with these ideas through hands-on activities that use STEAM and design thinking, and littleBits as prototyping tools. The first of these activities kicked off on May 8, co-facilitated by The Cube, BCCLS librarians and Natalie Wright, manager of the Asia Pacific Design Library.

Natalie got the students straight into rapid brainstorming exercises, positioning the students as designers with an urgent challenge. Many wild discussions later, they then heard from one of the attending librarians who spoke about the library of today as a reflection of changing behaviors in how people collect information. Students asked some difficult, thoughtful questions in return, and shared some of their experiences of local libraries.

Some common themes emerged from the next challenge, which asked students to identify five things they liked and five things they wanted to improve about their library: preference for a space more connected to the outdoors, for a space that provided a platform for broader learning experiences (cooking, making, dancing, gaming), for a library that included more technology but still housed lots of books!

After this, Natalie got students to position themselves in the shoes of other users of the library. Assuming the personas of teacher librarians, principals, and students in lower primary school, the students responded to the following questions: in 2050, what types of technologies will you use to gather information? What types of activities will you do within the library? How will your library feel? The aim of this exercise was to prompt empathy and an understanding within the students about how other people relate to their environments. Students will be interviewing different users of the space as an in-class activity this week, to gain a deeper, more truthful understanding.

Before exploring littleBits, their last exercise was to come up with wild and practical ideas for improving the school library of 2050. Students needed little prompting to come up with extraordinary possibilities from wearable books to floating spaces. Throughout the next five workshops, students will start to refine and develop prototypes for their ideas, before presenting their design solutions to their teachers, parents and peers

Let’s hear from: Brisbane City Council Library Services

Over the last 12 months, The Cube has partnered with Brisbane City Council libraries to deliver a series of innovative electronics and coding programs for children aged 8-12 using littleBits, LEGO MINSTORMS NXTs, MaKey MaKey and Scratch.

The Cube’s innovative programs have been hugely popular in Brisbane City Council libraries. Demand continues to grow exponentially in the areas of electronics, robotics and coding for children as families actively search for opportunities to help children prepare for a future where an ability to leverage these technologies will be considered a basic life skill.

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The workshops are accessible to a wide cross-section of the Brisbane community and cater for all abilities. Each course encourages children to build confidence and learn important life skills such as teamwork, creative collaboration and presentation skills, while developing new connections within their local community.

I am amazed by the ability of each child to absorb, innovate and apply this technology so quickly and enthusiastically.

Cube Chat entry courtesy of Jane Peel, Brisbane Digital Hub Coordinator, Brisbane City Council Library Services.