Following an early dismissal on Wednesdays, students from a local middle school pack the floor of the McPherson Square library. With students flocking in prior to regularly scheduled afterschool activities, the LEAP Maker Mentors, Bryan and Ev, asked the students how they prefer to spend their free time at the library. The youth voted on a robot club!
With additional help from Hatching Innovation, an internal funding pool that supports library program needs and public services, Bryan and Ev were able to purchase two LEGO robotics kits which include robotics parts, and iPads with programming software. Using the LEGO kits, youth have the opportunity to build and program robots.
Not all of the students have previous experience with robotics—but that doesn’t matter. Youth and staff set up three goals for the club: youth will work as a team, form a community, and gain programming skills. Staff promotes trauma-informed (a framework which helps people understand and respond appropriately to the impact of deeply distressing experiences), community practices to ensure the club is a safe and welcoming space for any participants of any experience level.
To foster safety through content, Robot Club combines STEM-based skills and concepts with the HoMaGo (Hang Out, Mess Around, Geek Out) approach, where youth are free to hang out and not required to participate. Staff are able to watch and listen to youth, and tailor activities to fit youth interests. Meeting youth where they are as individuals, dispels the notion that every person must participate in order to make the club functional. In fact, a low stakes participation model not only works, but youth feel ownership of the club’s direction and want to develop future activities. Participants come of their own free will and they have fun!
Additionally, the group works together to encourage others to test out features of the robotic kits, even if they’re still learning how to use them. One participant, Ana, immediately jumped into the robot builds and recently finished a robot cat. Ana’s robot uses a color sensor, and she’s programmed the robo-cat to perform actions in reaction to specific colors. Ana’s success with the robot cat and her general enthusiasm towards the club has encouraged other students at McPherson Square Library to try it out.
Though the Robot Club started with the local middle school students in mind, new members are encouraged to join anytime! Simply drop in any Wednesday from 12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m., play around with robots, and make your own tech-infused membership card!