Libraries have always been the unsung heroes of local communities. They provide a safe and engaging place after school. They bring families together to provide continuing education and fun during the summers. And, more recently, they supplement STEM education with hands-on activities kids can’t get enough of.
The Lincoln County Library first saw the need for expanding STEM learning to out-of-classroom settings back in 2015. They applied for and received a grant from Bosch that allowed them to begin providing curricula to home schoolers, charter schools, and some afterschool programs. While these programs were very well-received, director of the library, Jennifer Sackett notes that not until COVID hit did they realize just how badly students need these complementary resources.
Technology made distance learning possible but, says Sackett, “Screen time is not equal for everyone. With COVID, we didn’t want kids to forget about STEM and we were in real danger of some kids missing out on the tactile/hands-on parts of STEM education that matter most.”
So, in 2020, the library used their Bosch Community Fund grant to develop and build STEM “To Go” kits. Staff spent hours designing experiments and projects kids could complete at home. “They thought I was crazy when I bought every plastic Easter egg the craft store had,” said Sackett. “But we transformed them into an important piece of the Lightning Bug project.” Sackett credits her staff for their creativity, their sense of humor, and their dedication to not just making thousands of these take-home kits, but finding resourceful delivery methods (such as curbside pick-up and dropping off at food distribution centers when school was out).
Each STEM To-Go kit comes with printed instructions and a package of all the supplies necessary, all designed with a specific age group in mind (from 2nd to 4th grade). To ensure kids got live-action help, the library recorded real kids and their parents completing each project and made the videos available on YouTube.
“What I love about these projects is the way they blend literacy, science, and art—so maybe it’s more of a STEAM project,” says Sackett. She describes a fan-powered car project that integrates the math/science aspects of mechanical design and force and motion with the painting and coloring elements of art in a way that ensures everyone gains something from each project. Now that the library is open again, kids who were introduced to STEM through these kits are now coming into the library to check out books to take their STEM knowledge to the next level.
Sackett and her Program Outreach Manager Phillip Overholtzer agree that the continued growth of these out-of-school options is critical to keeping STEM top of mind. “Connecting STEM to a part of the world that’s not associated with school is so important (and kind of sneaky),” says Sackett. Overholtzer continues, “Kids don’t even realize they’re learning. Kids like to stay engaged and these activities do that with no pressure, no grades, and no time limits.”
Finally, the STEM To-Go efforts are preparing kids in this community for successful careers in STEM fields. Furniture making and manufacturing have always been a foundation in the county, and the Bosch grant (and the kits that resulted) ensures that the next generation of students is prepared for a manufacturing renaissance. “STEM is so important to Bosch, and they are making an intentional step toward engaging younger kids in STEM, getting them involved earlier,” says Sackett. She notes that they might not understand everything they are exposed to, but projects like the To-Go kits spark a flame for STEM subjects that just needs to be fanned.
To learn more about the Lincoln County Library STEM to-go kits and to watch clips of how-to videos (including an appearance by the mad scientist, Dr. Dewey) visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFLdhBGBRbo
To download instructions for the kits and to read some fun facts, visit: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1ra9Lbpt_0jBTAcSoWYlssysZYJNFnSe4