In the last few weeks we hosted both formal and informal workshops at Hennepin County. Our informal workshop took place during one of our School Night @ the Library events, where we invite one entire elementary school (students, parents, teachers and their associates) to come to the library after we close. This particular event was for a local Hmong charter school, which has about 60 students. The school held a program for the parents in the meeting room while the kids were free to roam the building and visit various stations around the library -- there were scavenger hunts and coloring sheets and the like. James (a member of the Teen Tech Squad) and I held down the Scratch table, where we invited students to sample Scratch by looking at programs on the website and trying to follow a Scratch card. If the students could make a very simple project by combining the code from two Scratch cards, plus add something that they discovered, they could choose from a collection of thrilling leftover summer reading prizes.

We had about 15 takers, and most of the kids who came over to check things out were in 3rd and 4th grade. As far as we could tell, nobody completed a project that they uploaded to the Scratch server, though we only had the participants' attention for 10-15 minutes at a time. The kids were really excited about racing all over the building, playing with puppets, using the Internet computers (and eating tons of candy, provided by the school,) so we had a little competition for their attention. However, we've been invited to the school to do a workshops as part of an after school program there, so we're looking forward to that.

Our second workshop took place at another library in our system and was led by the youth services librarian at that library while Toby from the Teen Tech Squad and I assisted. Unbeknownst to me, she was using a workshop outline I put together 2 years ago, when we still believed that workshops should be pretty rigid, with everyone following along with the instructor, lots of information frontloaded, and no explicit goal stated (such as, 'today we're going to make ______') but with a vague focus on making a gaim. The workshop participants didn't seem to be very invested in their projects, and one participant in particular was frustrated and on the verge of losing interest because she 'didn't know what to make.' It was not the most successful workshop I have led or helped with, and I'm was a little shocked by how we used to do things. I also haven't had much opportunity to observe other people teaching, so this was a good experience in that respect.

Helping with the second workshop reminded me that my primary concerns are still about staff training and staff investment in the success of a workshop. I think some staff feel pressured to do these workshops but doubt their own ability to lead a successful program. I know a lot of us like to feel like experts about a topic before we teach others. I also think it would help to have an established network of support in our library system for staff to get training, get answers to their questions, get opportunities to observe others, etc.--and time to access this network. I suspect new instructors don't know what to expect, and don't know what a really good workshop can look like.

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Comment by keithbraafladt on December 29, 2009 at 5:21pm
I really appreciate your comments. The suggestion and identification of the need for a support network is very important. I've been thinking about this and the idea of the development of systems to support these kinds of efforts that grow within the Library ( but also recognizing that you're leading work in out-of-school education) I think it would be good to put this on the table and start to articulate a form that could address the needs... Brian mentioned this as well and I think it would be great if we could start the focused conversation ...?
Comment by Jen on December 10, 2009 at 2:44pm
Thanks for such a thoughtful reflection, Cynthia. It is interesting to see how far things have come over the last few years in terms of how we approach youth and teaching.

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