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Library Transformed into Interactive Digital Studio


by Lisa Mitchell, The Kutztown Area Patriot

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Kutztown teachers transformed the Kutztown High School library into a computer science learning space.

The first Kutztown Interactive Digital Studio was hosted on Dec. 9 as part of Computer Science Education Week. Open to students in all grades, including preschoolers, the immersive studio included a “code cave,” “challenge lab,” “maker studio,” and “black box media studio.”

From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., students jumped into the world of coding, programming and design through fun activities and play.

“My favorite part about the digital studio is getting to see all of the kids of different ages interact with each other,” said Kutztown Area School District Director of Technology Scott Hand, event organizer. “I see the high schoolers interacting with the elementary age kids, teaching them the skills of design and computational thinking.”

Hand said their hope is that this first-time event will be a nice introduction to computer science and inspire learners to become creators of their own content and experiences.

“They can come in and do hands-on activities dealing with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math), STEM, maker and coding experiences to really inspire them to think about careers in computer science as well as inspire our teachers to be able to incorporate this into their instruction,” said Hand.

Kutztown High School librarian Dr. Brenda Boyer enjoyed watching her library be transformed into a noisy, chaotic, active digital studio.

“We’re just thrilled to have everybody here today and show where education is going,” said Boyer. “It’s becoming much more interactive and personalized for learners of all ages. We’re really happy to host this event.”

Her favorite part of the event was watching the high schoolers interact with the younger students, seeing them “puzzle things out together.”

Transforming the library for the 21st century, Hand said Boyer has been a great partner in “opening up the library and make a mess of it but make a mess in a way that kids are having fun. That they’re actually experimenting.”

There were various stations that encouraged learning through play, such as building their own model boats with common household materials and seeing if they float on water, or build the tallest free standing structure using squigs and the maker studio designing LED wearables like buttons, pins and jewelry.

“Each one of these stations has a design challenge built in with them so we’re asking them to be designers and also thinkers,” said Hand.

The stations encouraged working with others, creativity, designing, building and striving for accuracy through repetition, for example.

“Those are the types of skills we’re trying to build through some of these activities,” said Hand.

Another element of the studio was the inflatable planetarium with discussions about constellations and the night sky. There were robots, drones and computer games, as well.

“This was really designed to inspire,” said Hand. “It was designed to inspire our kids to look at computer science and how that might fit into future careers and computer science as far as how it fits into their thinking skills and what they want to do.”

There were Ignite Talks from former students in computer science fields to encourage students to think about various careers related to computer science.

“And for our teachers to see how computer science can fit into very disparate areas such as social studies,” he said.

Every Kutztown School District class had an opportunity to visit the studio that day.

Kutztown seventh grader Caroline Brown, 12, was building a tower out of squigs.

“I like the variety of things you can make,” said Brown.

Preschoolers from local preschools, including the Early Learning Community in Maxatawny, also had a chance to visit the studio.

Kutztown mom Alexis Sirrakos brought her two girls, Juliet, 2, and Grace, 4. Juliet was particularly interested in playing with a toy robot.

“I think it’s really great that little kids get to do so much hands-on stuff especially in this kind of setting,” said Sirrakos, who was visiting with other parents and preschoolers from the Early Learning Community. “There’s so many things going on. They never get to play with robots. It’s very cool.”

“I like that there’s so much that they can do that’s hands-on and explore. It’s fun,” said Jessica Gates, Macungie, who brought her son Sullivan, 5, a student at the Early Learning Community.

Rep. Gary Day and Sen. Judy Schwank also visited the studio.

“Kutztown School District has always been a leader, using technology to help open the minds of our youth. This is just another great example of that where we have our... library and technology department trying to give hands-on experiences with different things to open their minds to new ideas,” said Day.

“It’s an exciting concept,” said Schwank. “It really is so interesting to see students using the STEAM concepts and doing fun things.”

Schwank especially found it fascinating to watch the interaction between various ages of students from preschoolers to high schoolers. She also liked seeing education first hand.

“So many of us don’t know what’s really going on in our schools in terms of learning. This is an exciting way to get us all to understand that better,” said Schwank. “Very encouraging, too, because this is exactly what we need, for our kids to have this kind of exposure to STEAM.”