Teen Tech Week 2016

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By Steve Zalusky

Libraries provide opportunities. This is especially true for a segment of our population whose success is critically important and on which the very future of our nation depends.  One annual initiative, Teen Tech Week, offers a chance for libraries to showcase all of the great digital resources and services that are available to help teens succeed in school and prepare for college and 21st century careers.

But Teen Tech Week also plays a part in helping to bridge the digital divide for teens in several communities, while also tapping their creative potential.  This year, it will be celebrated from March 6-12, with the theme "Create it at your library." Among those participating will be libraries that received grants of $1,000 to support Teen Tech Week digital literacy programming for and with underserved or marginalized teens.

Beth Dunston, teen services librarian from the Paris-Bourbon County Library in Kentucky, one of the libraries receiving the grant, said her library is in a small rural community near Lexington that is surrounded by horse farms. An agricultural community, it has a substantial population of Hispanic migrant workers, many of whom enjoy the library.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 6.8 percent of the residents of Bourbon County are Hispanic or Latino, and about 4.4 percent are foreign-born.  About 20 percent of Bourbon County citizens live in poverty.  Dunston said, “We mostly work with lower income students by and large. We are just down the street from one of the local public schools.” That means the students can walk straight to the library. A recent expansion has enabled the library to open a teen room.  “It is packed every afternoon,” Dunston said. “We usually have about 20 to 25 kids hanging out in the teen area pretty much every afternoon.”

The library has done Teen Tech Week programming in the past. With the grant, the library is taking a more ambitious course.  It is collaborating with local schools on a Create It Camp. Students will be using Makey Makey invention kits purchased through the grants. The library also purchased Bare Conductive Paint, a paint that conducts electricity. The students will be bringing laptops and using the Scratch programming tool along with Makey Makey and Bare Paint to create a piece of interactive artwork.  Dunston said, “Basically, they are going to be programming something on Scratch and then they’ll be using the Makey Makeys and conductive paint to create an interactive artistic element to go with that program.” The library has partnered with the local Hopewell Museum, which will host the camps. It is an example of community engagement, since the Hopewell has a relationship with the local Rotary Club, which provides a scholarship that pays for the transportation of the students.

“This is something that we had talked about doing,” Dunston said. “We wanted to do something with art and technology, and the grant just really made it possible for us to do it for the first time. And now that we have the materials the schools have all told me not only are they really enthusiastic about participating during teen tech week. They would like to have this continue to be a regular event for the schools.”

Dunston said the library has already done a test run for Teen Tech Week with the local teen advisory board, which was involved in the process from the beginning.“We had a survey that we used to identify kids in the school systems who might be interested in this program,” she said. Among them were children who expressed interest in the graphic arts and were also interested in technology. “And the teen advisory board actually helped me write that survey. Some of them are home schooled and volunteered their time.  “One thing that we wanted to do was we wanted to allow the students to play with technology in a bit of a different way,” Dunston said. “We wanted some sort of project that required critical thinking, but that also required creativity. Our schools - as I’m sure many other schools are struggling with throughout the country - are really cutting back on art. And we wanted to bring art back into the STEM education that they are focusing on now.”

During the test run, she said, “the kids almost immediately began asking some really interesting questions,” such as one posed by a child working with a digital piano on Scratch who asked, “I can play this piano with this instrument that I have drawn with my fingers, but how would it sound different if I created a bow out of more conductive paint?” The art, she said, emboldened them.  “It made them think, ‘I don’t just have to have this make logical sense. I don’t have to have a program that just exists to perform a task. This can be an expression of myself, and I can really push the boundaries with it,’” she said.

Guadalupe Gomez, of the Haskett Library in Anaheim, California, another grant recipient, said both Haskett and the Ponderosa Joint Use Library will conduct robotics introduction sessions, in which the Fullerton College robotics team will conduct interactive demonstrations.

Gomez said the two libraries serve large number of low-income Hispanic youth and their families - it is a community in which over 80 percent of students receive free lunch. “There is nothing within walking distance. There is no cultural center. There are no tech centers. Of course, I’m sure they have some programs at the Jr. and high school. But there isn’t really anything within walking distance. And so being given the opportunity with these grants, we’re able to offer our tweens & teens opportunities beyond the school,” she said.

The library, she said, provides students experience that stimulate their creativity, imagination, and inspire them to explore other avenues. She said the library tries to provide teens with programming that provides a window into other cultures, including at one point bringing in a chef for a program that was also grant funded. Of the Teen Tech Week grant, she said, “When we receive grants like this one, it really does open the doors.”

When people ask why the library provides ESL and citizenship classes, she responds, “If they don’t find it here, they might not see it elsewhere.”

Jennifer Blair, library services supervisor of the Covina (California) Public Library, said her library will be using grant funds to purchase digital scratchpads.  “It’s mainly used in graphics,” she said. The size of a mouse, it also comes equipped with a digital pen. “So when you have that hooked up to a computer, if you have any graphic software, you can actually use the digital pen on the digital pad and you are able to draw. And what you draw is seen on the computer. Instead of using your mouse when you draw, you’re using a digital pen instead.”

The library, which is located about 25 miles east of Los Angeles and serves a large number of low income patrons, will be holding a digital literacy day during Teen Tech Week that will offer teens the opportunity to receive tutoring on Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and other basic software.

She said she has found that some teens need help in using basic programs, as well as assistance in how to perform research on the Internet.  A lot of teens, for example, ask for help in searching for pictures to insert in their PowerPoint presentations for school or formatting a Word document for one of their reports. This could be attributed, she said, to lack of access to a computer at home or being limited to using school computers.“If they don’t have resources at home, they have to seek them outside. If they don’t have access at home, then they are not going to be able to teach themselves at the higher level that is needed, compared to other students,” she said. In this instance, the library is actually bridging the digital divide for these teens.

“I think the role has become more important recently,” Blair said, whether that means coordinating with teachers or offering supplemental programs that correlate with the curriculum.  Sarah Amazing, said the grant provided to the Warren-Trumbull  County Public Library in Warren, Ohio, to create a Let's Play club, which holds its first meeting on Monday during Teen Tech Week.

“Let’s Play” is a Web video genre in which people record themselves playing video games and then post their creations online for others to view. She said, “Our teens will be involved in, and in many cases, in charge of, every aspect of the process – channel branding, game selection, set-up, digital and audio editing, uploading, creating metadata and captions and social media marketing. This club will continue throughout the summer and as long as they are interested.”

Amazing said this will be the ninth year her library will be taking part in Teen Tech Week, although it is first year she has received the grant.  She said the teens were eager to start the club, and the grant will help them do that.

“We’ll be able to use this equipment for other things, but we really do need the equipment to get things started,” she said.  Amazing said her library serves a broad spectrum of socio-economic levels. The main library, where she is located, is in an urban, impoverished area that has the highest concentration of teens.  The teens at her library frequently interact with technology, playing online games or enjoying social media.

“We have a Nintendo Wii that is always available to be played,” she said. “That gets used a lot.”  With the grant, the library is able to expand its technological offerings, including the digital and audio editing and the social media marketing, all of which will provide them with real-world experience.

“They see all these YouTube creators and they hear how much money they are making, and this is my way to teach them that there is a lot more to it than I think they probably realize,” she said. She said, “I feel like one of the most important jobs that we as teen librarians do is legitimizing their interests,” using those interests to guide them toward greater knowledge. “School, where it is now, is very much about just getting them to learn facts, whereas I am trying to teach them to turn interests and passions into more knowledge.”

Grant recipients will blog about their experience on YALSAblog, the blog of the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association. YALSAblog is also encouraging teens to take part in the Twist Fate Competition, an art and writing competition for 13-to-17-year-olds. The challenge will run from March 6 through April 6 and is hosted by DeviantArt, the world’s largest community for visual art and by Wattpad, the world’s largest community of readers and writers.

“The Twist Fate challenge provides libraries and classrooms across the globe an opportunity to link connected learning, creativity and technology and gives students a chance to improve their skills and get to know supportive, social communities that can help connect them as mentors, fellow artists, and friends,” YALSA President Candice Mack said. Twist Fate is being sponsored by the Connected Learning Alliance (CLA), National Writing Project (NWP) and Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Connectedlearning.tv has a series of videos giving more details on the challenge.

“Wattpad and DeviantArt are home to some of the most active and inspiring creative youth communities on the net. They offer a rich and motivating context for young people to connect, learn, and get feedback from others who share their interests and passions,” said Mimi Ito, co-founder of the Connected Learning Alliance and UC Irvine cultural anthropologist who specializes in learning. “This challenge is an opportunity for more educators and youth to tap into this creative energy and experience how social online platforms can fuel learning and engagement in the arts.”

Best Buy is the official national sponsor of the 2016 Teen Tech Week. As part of their support, Best Buy employees will be conducting web-making workshops for teens in more than 30 cities across the country during Teen Tech Week.

To learn more, visit www.ala.org/teentechweek.