Billings, MT: TECH Lab

Six community crates will help bring the library to young learners

The Billings Public Library loves to have students in for a visit. But it also wants students — and their teachers — to be able to bring the library into the classroom.

A $20,000 grant from Phillips 66 to the Billings Public Library Foundation will enable just that, beginning this summer.

A library committee used the grant to purchase enough technology to fill six community crates that will each hold up to 60 educational activities for students of all ages.

Teen librarian Cody Allen said Thursday that each crate is packed with gadgets around a theme like astronomy, computer coding, robotics, engineering, science, and audio-visual, including movie-making.

The astronomy tote, for example, contains a telescope, along with an electronic tablet so that several students at once can see the celestial body that the telescope is pointed at.

Beginning this summer, teachers and others, including the employees of agencies that serve children, will be trained on using the crates. After that, the totes will be available for checkout. Parents of home-schooled students can also receive the training and check out the totes.

“We had great partnerships to get the TECH (Teen Education and Creation Hub) Lab established,” said Kathy Robbins, the library’s systems administrator. “What we’ve wanted to do is to have it be a centerpiece for more outreach. We wanted to broaden the age group the new equipment could be used by.”

As part of the grant, a current teacher and a former teacher are being paid a stipend to develop what Robbins called “a notebook full of activities” included in each tote. Students in grades K-12 will have about a dozen age-appropriate activities with each of the six disciplines.

A two-part test was applied while designing and stocking each tote, Robbins said: “What can people learn from, and what will make it a fun, neat activity? We aren’t teachers here, so we needed that perspective on how to create an activity that’s meaningful in the classroom.”

Robbins said she understands the risk that some of the equipment will wear out or break. It’ll be replaced as funding allows, she said.

On Thursday, some preschoolers got a sneak peek at what a community crate might look like for the library’s youngest learners.

Following her morning Storytime, Children’s Librarian Cindy Patterson led about two dozen youngsters into a room stocked with sensory bins, plastic tubs full of sand, scoops, funnels and tiny hidden dinosaurs.

Library staff turned children loose to enjoy the bins without offering any instruction.

“By giving children the opportunity to investigate materials with no preconceived knowledge, you’re helping them develop and refine cognitive, social and emotional, physical, creative and linguistic skills,” Patterson said.

Sensory bins also encourage collaboration, as demonstrated by Elke Hinsberger, an au pair from South Africa who was in the library with her 2-year-old charge, Autumn Petersen. Asked if Autumn was eagerly digging in the sand with two of her friends, Hinsberger grinned and said, “They’re her friends now.”

“I think this is great,” Hinsberger added. “It’s something different for her to do.”

Patterson said that other sensory bins will be filled with beans, rice — even water, once the weather turns warmer.

“We normally do a craft after Storytime, but we will be doing this once a month,” she said. “Kids spend so much time indoors on their screens and not having the same experiences we had when we were kids. This is an opportunity for them to have constructive play.”

Allen, the teen librarian, spends a fair amount of his time speaking to children about what’s available for them at the library.

“Now he’ll be able to grab a crate and go,” Robbins said. “It’s going to make things a lot easier for him.”

The crates will also get him out into the community even more than he already is, Allen acknowledged.

“There has been a lot of interest in the TECH Lab,” he said. “This is an attempt to get technology outside the walls of the TECH Lab.”

 

Original Post // Billings Gazette