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

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Creative Lab: from the perspective of… Leighann Ness Wilson

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be revisiting Creative Lab from the perspectives of those who participated in or facilitated workshops. This week, interior designer and pre-service teacher Leighann Ness Wilson, a participant at the program, will share her thoughts on Creative Lab.

Leighann: The Creative Lab workshops at QUT The Cube were an opportunity for educators from various sectors to experience and interact with the concept of STEM to STEAM. As an interior designer currently re-training to become a high school teacher, this was a wonderful opportunity to combine the core elements of my two vocations. The torrential rain of the previous night dried away, and the sun came out on a clear Brisbane day. Educators were welcomed to The Cube, the perfect setting for things to get interactive and fun.

At the littleBits workshop, facilitator Jacina Leong encouraged us to “reframe problems as opportunities’’ as we brainstormed, collaborated and essentially played with the technology to prototype an idea. At the essence of all of the workshops was the notion that the technology itself (be it littleBits, LEGO EV3 or MaKey MaKey) is a tool, not a learning outcome. As was re-emphasised in the discussion panel at the end of the day, educators should embrace experiences that allow them to explore and learn alongside their students.

The overarching theme of Creative Lab was to provide ways, or indeed reason, to inject creativity (the A for Arts) into other school subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). From a design perspective, this seems simplistic and almost obvious. Design is essentially problem solving which requires one to think creatively.

Pedagogical practice that allows students opportunities to develop skills in critical thinking, problems solving and innovation requires teachers also to think creatively. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the notion of creativity is seen as the realm of a select few. If critical and creative thinking are fundamental to successful learning, educators must allow and encourage creative thinking in all its forms.

Collaborative projects, such as the ones we experienced at The Cube, particularly and ideally cross-curricular, provide individual students with opportunities to identify and be rewarded for their unique strengths, while facilitating a stronger understanding of themselves and building confidence in a multitude of ways.

Educators are encouraged to acknowledge their own inherent creativity and understand that creativity comes in many forms and can be applied ubiquitously. Creativity and innovation are amongst the most highly valued and useful skills of the modern world.

In exploring the notion of STEM to STEAM and facilitating workshops using various technological tools, Creative Lab introduced some real ways to value-add to education as a whole. Pedagogical techniques such as these that promote creative thinking are crucial, particularly when viewed in the context of equipping students with the skills to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Teaching STEAM: Inventive Toolkits for Inventive Thinking

Since 2013, The Cube has worked in partnership with the QUT Faculty of Education to provide professional learning opportunities for pre-service teachers. The Cube provides a number of programs that connect pre-service teachers with the STEAM learning and teaching framework.

Jessica Schofield, a QUT pre-service teacher and Public Programs Facilitator at The Cube, talks us through her experiences using the toolkit littleBits, a hands-on, modular kit designed for prototyping and inventing with electronics.

Describe your experience using littleBits.

I’ve worked with littleBits as a tool for middle years education. I find them easy to use from an educator’s perspective. littleBits are a tool that I enjoy experimenting with outside of workshops as there is so much to learn with them.

How did the audience respond to littleBits?

Audiences (whether kids or adults) often respond with the phrases “that is so cool”, soon followed by “can I play with them”. littleBits are a tool that can produce outcomes quite quickly and are easy to use even when it is your first time. Audiences engage quite willingly and easily with littleBits. One of the greatest parts about introducing people to littleBits is the creativity you see emerge and the valuable conversations and sharing sessions that can be had about new or future ideas with the resource.

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How does littleBits connect to areas of the curriculum?

At face level, littleBits links quite explicitly to the ideas of electricity and circuits encountered in the upper primary/junior secondary curriculum. However, when working within the broader context of STEM or STEAM, littleBits is right at home. Curriculum can break content into defined subjects; littleBits represents how these boundaries are blurred in real life. It draws together the students’ scientific and technological knowledge and curiosities and encourages creativity when exploring their ideas.

Would you recommend littleBits as a learning tool to other educators?

I would certainly recommend littleBits as a tool to other educators. It is a tool that can be implemented into many different topics and can be included in any phase of a unit. For teachers new to littleBits, it is easy to learn to use. The resource allows the students to engage with topics across the curriculum and allows them to explore creativity, possibility and problem solving,

Learn more about collaborative and immersive teaching experiences at Creative Lab 2015, a two-day hands-on professional development program aimed at equipping STEM educators with the knowledge and skills to innovate learning through the framework of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics).

Creative Lab is presented by The Cube, Queensland Museum and kuril dhagun, State Library of Queensland.

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.