November 15, 2018
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Flower Pots and Xylophones to Create Fun Computer Science at Maine Libraries

Community Author: Adam Fisher
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Adam Fisher | BDN
Adam Fisher | BDN

AUGUSTA Brightly painted clay, splashing water, and beeping Beethoven are part of computer science and electronics projects that will be coming to public libraries across Maine due to a new partnership between the Maine State Library and Gizmo Garden LLC.  The groups are joining forces to address Maine’s growing need for more computer professionals by sparking the interest of the state’s youth.  MSL will contribute personnel, experience and a library network, while Gizmo Garden will contribute curriculum, supplies, and what’s intended to be over $100,000 in funding.

“One of the core goals of the Maine State Library is to ensure that Maine’s underserved populations get access to high-quality programs, and the new partnership fills that role in two ways,” says James Ritter, the Maine State Librarian.  “First, it will address Maine’s gender gap in computer science, which is markedly worse than the national average, using programming that’s proven to be enjoyed as much by girls as by boys.  Second, it will allow us to take this programming anywhere in Maine, including to small rural libraries where students may have no other exposure to computer science.”

Programs will be led by Christina Dorman, the library’s STEM Liaison.  “I’ve already led Gizmo Garden programs at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta, and it is such a blast to see kids light up when their creations come to life.  I can’t wait to get on the road and bring the fun to more students,” Dorman said.  “The first program we’ll present is RoboPots, during which students craft a plant pot and then rig the electronics to make it automatically self-watering.  It’s a great to have such fun introductory projects that may lead kids to discover an interest in the field without the stress of competitions.”

Judy Silver, Program Director of Nobleboro-based Gizmo Garden explains, “We’ve been working with local students and teachers for five years now, starting off at Skidompha where director Pam Gormley had the vision to kick off creative electronics programming. Since then, we’ve developed a number of projects and have helped leaders to conduct them at Skidompha, at Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library, at Bristol Consolidated School, and at the Upward Bound program at Bowdoin College.  We’ve learned a lot and have refined our programs and practices to maximize the fun that diverse students have being introduced to engineering.  Now we’re ready to take our curricula to a broader audience, and Chris Dorman is the perfect person for that, backed by the Maine State Library which is a great organization.”

Explaining the content of the programs, Gizmo Garden Technical Director Bill Silver says, “Gizmo Garden programs combine some element of artistic expression with electronic circuitry, robotics, and computer programming.  For example, in the new “Invisible Xylophone” program we’ll be testing out at Skidompha in May, students will mount a gyroscope and accelerometer on the tip of a drumstick, and wire that input to a microcontroller, which will then send output to a speaker.  Students will write code for the microcontroller so that the pitch of a tone beeped out by the speaker depends on the angle at which you’re holding the drumstick when you stroke it downward as if you were playing an invisible xylophone.  Students can use their musical instruments to compose songs or to play old favorites like Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.”

Mainers who are interested in having their students attend Gizmo Garden programs should contact their local library, which should contact Chris Dorman, christina.dorman@maine.gov.  For more information on Maine’s technology gender gap or on Gizmo Garden LLC, go to GizmoGarden.org.