‘Innovation Playground’ Helps Librarians Spark Learning Through Play

The librarians huddled around a table at SLJ’s annual Leadership Summit probably hadn’t played with wooden blocks since they were in grade school themselves.


Playground a hit with librarians at SLJ Leadership Summit

The librarians huddled around a table at SLJ’s annual Leadership Summit probably hadn’t played with wooden blocks since they were in grade school themselves. Yet, here they were, racing to see who could be the first to reproduce the structure shown on the card in the center of the table—and completely absorbed in the task at hand.

The competitors were taking part in a hands-on demonstration of a STEM learning activity during the first-ever Innovation Playground, part of the 2019 SLJ Leadership Summit in Baltimore, MD.

Sponsored by TLC SmartTECH, a division of The Library Corporation, the Innovation Playground gave librarians a chance to immerse themselves in creative STEM and makerspace activities as these pursuits were meant to be experienced: through hands-on learning and play.

“We wanted to create a place where librarians could try out these products for themselves and have conversations about hands-on learning without any pressure to buy anything,” says Susan Rhood, business development manager for The Library Corporation.

Empowering Students

The Innovation Playground featured products from some of TLC SmartTECH’s top partners in a variety of STEM and makerspace categories. Besides the block game, which brought out librarians’ competitive spirit while activating their spatial awareness and creative problem solving skills, the products that were showcased included 3D printing, augmented reality, robotics,
and more.

STEM and makerspace activities like these have found their way into a growing number of K-12 and college libraries as educators look to inspire a new generation of problem solvers and innovators.

When students learn through hands-on creation, they’re empowered to take ownership of their education. They become highly engaged and invested in their learning. In the process, they learn not only important STEM concepts, like how an electronic circuit works or what an engineer does, but also essential 21st-century skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and perseverance.

As hubs of innovation for their schools, libraries make ideal locations for makerspaces and other hands-on learning activities, Rhood says.

“Librarians are becoming increasingly important in bringing these experiences to students,” she observes. “Libraries are places that spark students’ curiosity and places where they can explore their passions. The skills that students gain from these kinds of hands-on learning experiences will prepare them well for the workplaces of the future.”

Tangible Ideas

TLC SmartTECH looks for the most innovative STEM and makerspace products and introduces them to schools. The company also provides hands-on training and consulting to help librarians seamlessly integrate these solutions into education.

Melissa Thom, a librarian at Bristow Middle School in West Hartford, Conn., visited the Innovation Playground a few times during the summit. She was intrigued by the block game, which she thought would make a nice addition to the puzzle table in her library’s makerspace area. But her biggest takeaway was learning how to incorporate augmented reality into science instruction.

“I got tangible ideas I could share with teachers,” she says. “To see it in practice was really important.”

Thom created a makerspace in her library to extend the learning taking place in classrooms. “I feel that a makerspace is very important for a school library,” she says. “The library should be the heart of any school building. Having those materials in a central location gives everyone access.”

At the Innovation Playground, “we were the makers,” she adds. “We got to do what our students usually do in our space. This gave me great insight into how different learners might feel in my makerspace and what I can do to improve it.”

Playground Participants  

  • Blocks Rock! helps develop spatial ability and STEM skills through competitive, structured block play suitable for “ages 4 to 104.” A free app accompanies the physical blocks and is available for both iOS and Android devices. 
  • Circuit Scribe products include electronics kits, drone building kits, and the Conductive Ink Pen. With this pen and various modules, students ages 8 and up create circuit drawings and snap magnetic modules between circuits to power their electrical creations.
  • Legends of Learning helps create fun and productive learning environments through research-driven, standards-aligned math and science computer games
  • MERGE develops augmented and virtual reality products that enable students to experience the world around them in entirely new ways, while increasing engagement and achievement.
  • Modular Robotics was founded with the idea that better thinking is constructed through play. The company’s Cubelets Robotic Blocks are the brainchild of CEO Eric Schweikart as part of his Ph.D. thesis at Carnegie Mellon University and are now used in thousands of
    classrooms worldwide.
  • PrintLab Classroom is an online library of 3D printing lesson plans and professional development resources for educators.

All products can be purchased on the TLC SmartTECH website at: https://tlcsmarttech.shop/



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