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Thursday, December 12, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

Regional libraries embracing the shift to hands-on learning with current slate of tech fairs


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The Waterloo Region Library is holding tech fairs at all of its branches this week and next to promote a hands-on, more technically robust way of learning.

The library is hoping to roll out more programming that focuses on “do-it-yourself” type lessons that encourage kids to be more than just consumers of technology – or what is sometimes referred to today as maker culture.

“The theme of it is letting kids – well, and adults – try things firsthand, get the experience of actually creating something themselves. Instead of just participating, they get to create,” explains Kelly Bernstein, manager of library services for the region.

“We have little robots that the kids can program and control themselves. We also have electronic circuits that the kids can set up to make electric things work. It’s really cool!” says Bernstein. “And we have lower-tech things as well – just anything that’s maker-related for the kids to try.”

Maker culture is something of a variant on another neologism, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) that aims to encourage young people to pursue careers in those kinds of fields. The library, for its part, is keen to focus more on this type of thinking.

The tech fair itself will feature a few technological plaything for kids to mess around with and learn about, including a pair of robots that they will have an opportunity to program.

“The robots that we’re using are called Dash and Dot and they’re really cool little robots,” says Bernstein. “One has wheels, so you can program him to move and you can make him play the xylophone. You can make him run through mazes. That’s Dash. Dot’s a standalone thing – it doesn’t move, but it changes color, it sings, it makes noises. It blinks. It does all kinds of cool stuff.”

There are also lessons in basic electric circuits, with Snap Circuits.

“They are basically clip-together – they’re laid out on a grid and you put together the different pieces that have the electronic components built in. And then you can attach motors or sound boxes or lights – anything that makes the whole circuit do something.”

Bernstein notes libraries are steadily changing their purpose and place with the rest of society, and it’s a change she says the Waterloo Region Library wants to embrace.

“Libraries have long been places to go for information, but we’re becoming more and more the place to go to learn how to do something. It’s definitely something we want to focus on.”

Besides the tech fair, the library is also launching the “Stemotics” Lego program in Elmira and St. Jacobs, which lets kids build and program their own robots out of Lego, while even more programs are in the works.

“We are planning to run some kind of a maker program through the fall, possibly the winter, based on similar themes, but we haven’t planned all that out yet.”

The tech fair is for ages 6 and up, and Bernstein is encouraging everyone to participate.

“They learn some engineering skills like how to build things and how to make electronics work, and I’m hoping that they discover the joy of getting to do something themselves. Like being the creator. That’s something.”

Times and locations of events, are available on the Region of Waterloo Library website www.rwlibrary.ca or by stopping by a local branch for more information.

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