More Than Books — Coding and Robotics in the Library

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I arrived 15 minutes prior to my noon appointment on a Friday afternoon with school librarian Katy Charles.  I am glad I was early because it gave me a chance to see Katy at work with 2nd Graders.  At the time of my arrival students were actively choosing books from the shelf and reading comfortably on beanbag chairs.  Discussion and excitement were high as students shared books with each other or asked Ms. Charles for help locating a certain topic.  The smiles on the students faces made me feel nostalgic for my days as a School Librarian.  Fast forward 15 minutes as Ms. Charles welcomed a completely different group into the library, her coders.

As the librarian at another school in the district, Katy was introduced to robotics and coding through another teacher who wanted to borrow a kit from the local Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).  After a month with the kit Katy and the other teacher saw how popular the program was with the students and went ahead applying for a grant for the school to have their own toys to play with.  So when it came time for Katy to transfer to a larger school in the district she knew coding and robotics was something she wanted to establish at her new job.  With support from administration Katy was at work securing funds to help bring a coding club to Randall Elementary before she even started there in September this past year.  The STEM emphasis is here to stay in schools and Katy is doing all she can to keep the library current and relevant.

The Randall Elementary Coding Club meets on Mondays and Fridays during recess and Ms. Charles’ free period meaning that all participation is completely voluntary.  The club is open to 5th and 6th graders and after an overwhelming response of 50 interested students, Katy limited involvement to what amounted to 18 students.  Every student who had interest in the club had to write a letter of intent as well as receive a letter of recommendation before joining.  It was clear during my time there that each student had a strong interest in what they were doing and giving up recess time was not a worry to them.  The club is self-guided and independent.  Members explore a variety of robotic and code related “toys” such as Dash and Dots, Spheros, and the more complicated Vex Robotics.

As you can imagine robotics is not a cheap endeavor and Katy worked hard to secure what amounted to more than $3500 worth of supplies through 3 different funding groups including the local educational foundation, www.donorschoose.org, and the PTO.  Katy wants to emphasize that you don’t need a lot to get started and offered www.code.org , a free coding education site, as well as scratch.mit.edu as good starting points for those interested in introducing students to the coding world but aren’t able to invest a lot of money.  You don’t even need your own interest in coding as these programs are self-guided and can be easily picked up by students.

In the short time I spent at the Randall Elementary School Library I saw so many great things happening.  Students excited about books and reading; students excited about technology through coding and robotics, and even saw a student go through the self-checkout.  It was all inspiring.  Ms. Charles goes above and beyond her basic duties by giving up her time and energy to creating a club that is in demand.  Additionally, Katy works on enrichment with a gifted student and reading support with another student.  Her heart is truly in her work.

We all know that the days of a quiet library with a “shushing” librarian stuck behind a desk are long gone.  A stagnant library is a dying library.  The library at Randall Elementary School in Cortland, NY is far from a stagnant library.  After just 4 months, Ms. Charles has created a lively, innovative, environment that her students can truly enjoy.  The emphasis on STEM is here to stay and it is being embraced at Randall along with the traditional sense of a library.

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