STEAM Team at the Library: An Afterschool Program for Kids

Over the past few months, all of the San Mateo County Libraries have been offering a series of afterschool workshops for kids in grades 2-5 once a month. Each one has focused on a different element of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).

For Science, we made Bath Fizzers (the instruction sheet is posted below). For Technology, we made Bobble Bots (basically a simple circuit with a vibrating motor inside of a plastic capsule). This week, for Engineering, we did one of my favorite activities: the Design-a-Latch challenge.

The concept of the challenge is very simple, and based on the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (I asked the kids to give a quick summary of the story before I explained the project). Each participant is given a piece of card stock to make into a “door,” by folding each side of the paper into the middle. I started by asking the kids to fold their paper in half “hamburger style,” and then fold each end of the paper so that the edge touched the center fold. Some library branches gave the kids small cardboard boxes instead, and challenged them to create a latch to keep them closed.

A Paper “Door” (a piece of cardstock with each of the ends folded into the middle). Students are challenged to create a “latch” out of everyday materials that would prevent Goldilocks from opening the door to the Three Bears’ house.

Once the kids made their paper doors, we explained that their challenge was to create a latch that would prevent Goldilocks from getting into the Three Bears’ house, while still allowing the Bears themselves to go in and out. We put several bins of everyday materials out for them to work with: rubber bands, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, paper clips, toothpicks, pompoms, yarn, glue sticks, and markers.

I briefly talked about the Engineering process, using the Bay Area Discovery Museum’s three step model: Think, Make, Try. The main point I emphasized is that once you try your first design, you often have to go back and think how you can make it better. Sometimes you have to do the whole process several times until you get a design that works the way you want it to. (When I do engineering programs with younger kids, we usually sing this song to the tune of The Wheels on the Bus, using the ASL signs for Think, Make, and Try: We are engineers, so we Think, Make, Try,/Think, Make, Try/Think Make, Try./We are engineers, so we Think, Make, Try,/That’s how we design.)

After this very quick introduction, the kids were on their own to complete the challenge. It was amazing how engaged and animated they were. For our previous STEAM programs, most of the kids were finished within 30 minutes, but for this one, many of kids stayed for over an hour, adding to their latches and sharing ideas. Two second grade girls designed intricate locks out of pipe-cleaners and toothpicks, and then added a small door for Baby Bear. Several kids drew alarms and security keypads next to their latches. A very animated group of fifth grade boys made several different doors, adding warning signs, and even rick-rolling anyone who got their doors open.

Here are some of their latch designs:

Back of a paper door design
Front of the door, showing two latches made of yarn and pipe cleaners
Action shot of door-decorating in progress. This latch is made with an intricate pipe cleaner “lock” held together with toothpicks, on top of a craft stick.
A paper clip and pipe cleaner latch with warning sign, security keypad, and alarm system.
This fifth grader invited me to open his paper door, where I was instantly “rick-rolled!”

This was such a fun, easy, and inexpensive afterschool program. I highly recommend it! For our branches that were unable to host a live version, we made Take and Make Kits with the supplies, and included a link to a YouTube video made by Foster City librarian Adrienne Gass during the lockdown.

Here are the instruction sheets for our previous STEAM programs (we don’t have the instructions for Art or Math yet, but we are planning to do Felt Stuffies for Art and Lunar New Year Origami–to tie in with Geometry–for Math).

Have you done any fun STEAM workshops at your library or school? Please share them in the comments.