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David Minton

A different kind of literacy

Profile image for By Rhiannon Saegert
By Rhiannon Saegert
Ryan High School librarian Colleen Graves poses Thursday in front of the maker space she created this semester for students to explore tinkering and robotics.Kristen Watson
Ryan High School librarian Colleen Graves poses Thursday in front of the maker space she created this semester for students to explore tinkering and robotics.
Kristen Watson

Aaron and Colleen Graves, the new librarians at Denton High School and Ryan High School, respectively, have been updating their schools’ definitions of “library” one tiny engineering project at a time.

Both librarians spent their summer moving shelves, getting rid of periodicals and reference texts and opening up the libraries’ layouts. Then, they began adding maker spaces to their libraries where students can work with robots, build their own and learn programming and coding.

“It’s not just about the maker space. It’s a whole philosophy of change,” Colleen Graves said.

She said Ryan High School’s library’s drop-in rate, students visiting on their own time, has gone up 811 percent from last year. Circulation has gone up 41 percent. In the first month, almost 1,600 students dropped in.

In the Ryan library, Colleen Graves used the space to set up a showcase of genres at the front, where students are allowed to eat their lunches while they read or study.

“You can see, they’re not coming just for books anymore,” Colleen Graves said. “They’re coming to eat. They come to use the computers all the time.”

Aaron Graves said Denton’s library records about 200 drop-ins per day.

“It makes it a pretty inviting, approachable place for kids,” he said. “It was a library in a very traditional sense. Now it’s different.”

Ryan has a set of Little Bits, which are do-it-yourself electronics that let students make simple robots, fans, synthesizers, motion-sensors, buzzers and other projects. After they’re done, the projects are disassembled and the pieces are reused.

Spheros, little round robots controlled by an iPad, are in both libraries. Students can control them manually or program a set course into them. At Denton, physics classes use a class set of Spheros for lessons.

“It’s very easy, very approachable,” Aaron Graves said. “They serve as a gateway to robotics for kids who never considered it, or thought it was too complicated. They look like toys, but they’re very sophisticated.”

In both libraries, students also can create circuitry with Chibitronics, which are sticker kits that contain copper tape, lights and batteries. Along the same line, Makey Makeys are small circuitry projects made of paper and foil that can be used to turn conductive materials into game controllers, keyboards or musical instruments.

Ryan students requested a Raspberry Pi, a small, simple computer that costs about $35. Users need to learn the coding language Python to operate the computer.

“It’s kind of like the ’90s; when you use them, they’re a little slow,” Colleen Graves said. “A lot of the kids who come to mess with this are kids who took [coding classes] last year, or the kids who are self-taught.”

Denton’s library new 3-D printer, a Lulzbot Mini, was funded through, a crowdfunding website specifically for schools’ needs. Aaron Graves said donors paid for the printer within three days.

“And these weren’t necessarily people from Denton,” he said. “These were technology enthusiasts, from everywhere, who wanted to see it happen.”

Students use a program called Tinkercad to make their own designs for the printer. Printing is free to students; the only catch is students must either come up with their own design or improve on an existing design.

He said phone stands and cases are among the most popular things for students to design.

The couple said there’s still a lot they want to do to change their libraries. Colleen said they’re trying to start a district-wide design challenge, where teams from both schools try to create something, and then compare results.

“We’re teaching a whole different kind of literacy,” Aaron Graves said. “We’re still supporting reading and writing, but it’s coming through math, it’s coming through science, and it’s a different kind of information.”

RHIANNON SAEGERT can be reached at 940-566-6897 and via Twitter at @missmusetta.