By Darren Lum
Published April 13 2017
After five workshop sessions 14 Haliburton Home School students were excited about what they learned from the Tinker Lab pilot program offered at the Minden branch of the Haliburton County Public Library.
The children aged from six to 10 learned about coding using a small robot the size of a plum and electrical concepts with hands-on projects such as squishy circuits paper circuits snap circuits and vibrobots.
The library’s programming and community outreach co-ordinator Nancy Therrien said it’s important for children to have an understanding of technology and to possess basic computer programming skills which will be necessary for many future careers.
“Everything you touch nowadays has been programmed in some way so even if you’re going to become a programmer you need to at least know the basics” she said.
Critical thinking was a residual benefit for the students in their attempts to resolve challenges during the sessions.
“Last week I really saw a breakthrough where they were able to figure out what went wrong with their motorized creation and how to fix it and how to improve it and make it better. Once they’re at that level where they can start thinking in a broader way then they can work on their own and that’s really exciting” she said referring to intermediate learners she saw in the second last week.
From the pilot Therrien said she learned about the costs and suitability of certain workshops.
This initiative is a first step toward establishing “makerspaces” – hubs where technologically advanced tools are available to the public – to complement what is available throughout the county said Therrien.
Fleming College has their Centre for Making open to students. It boasts a laser cutter vinyl cutter a pair of 3D printers. There is a possibility it will be open to the public some time this summer.
Therrien said the library system is working towards a space to complement what the college has and what others can offer.
“Ideally we could catalogue all the makerspaces so everyone in the county could come together so we could have all the elements of a large city centre makerspace just in different locations” she said.
Therrien said this idea is from how libraries in the cities are providing makerspaces which include 3D printers open-source laster cutters and a full woodshop.
The Tinker Lab was funded with revenue generated by the Try It Fair that happened at the high school in December and donations. Therrien credits the Source in Haliburton with finding materials for her and their generosity.
Isabel Buttler the mother of a daughter in Grade 2 and a son in senior kindergarten said this is part of an overall education.
“They started out with building to learn about the basic circuits” she said.
Buttler appreciated the progression of learning during the sessions from the basic circuit to the last day with programming the robot.
Her children spend a lot of time in nature learning about the outdoors.
“For my kids it was fairly new. We don’t do any programming” she said.
There are advantages to knowing more about technology.
“It’s good to know a little bit about everything so you know what your options are and what options are out there and what possibilities are out there” she said. “Robots are used for so many different things in health science and biological science. Robotics is [involved] with everything.”
In an email Therrien said “the workshop concluded with the children developing an understanding for programming by using the Ozobot a tiny robot that detects colours follows lines or roams freely. It can be programmed via visual codes or by using a programming language called Blockly. It was exciting to see the children progress from the basics (on-off-calibrate-draw a line) to the point where they were using codes to make the robot perform specific actions like tornado and backwalk and then by the end using their own imaginations to find ‘work’ for the robot to do carrying heavy loads from point A to B through LEGO land.”
Anyone can purchase the same robot but that doesn’t ensure the same kind of learning experience as shown with the pilot program she adds.
“If they were to buy one of these robots for home they might just play with it. They might not actually learn how to program it so coming here they’re able to learn the greater uses of a robot. It might just sit in a corner but here they can actually learn how to use it” she said.
The session with the robots could be expanded as could all of the sessions. There are a great number of opportunities that could come from this.
“There’s so many different things we can do. We can scaffold one thing on top of another to build the learning” she said.
Ultimately Therrien would like to have more sessions offered during the school year because of its inherent benefits.
“We hope that the Haliburton County Public Library will be able to offer more Tinker Lab sessions so that we can inspire local children to shift from being consumers of technology to being able to create with technology. The summer sessions are confirmed and will require pre-registration but additional workshops will be subject to funding availability” she wrote in an email.