CLUTE — Public libraries long have been around to offer people a place to find just about everything for which they could be searching. Long ago, those answers were tucked inside the covers of books.
Nowadays, however, children and adults learn in ways other than cracking open an encyclopedia.
Clute library administrators hosted a Tween/Teen STEAM Day event Friday to introduce adolescents to the Bolt, a small spherical robot designed by Sphero, and help them get comfortable playing with it.
“It’s a way to slowly introduce them to coding, since obviously everything is getting very techy now,” Branch Manager Ginny Koenig said. “We want to make sure we’re supporting that development.”
In line with that goal, a lot of the library’s programs for this year will focus on STEAM activities — the acronym for educational initiatives focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — and are intended to support what the students learn in school, she said.
Some of the kids might have used the robotic orb at Clute Intermediate School, but probably not all of them have been exposed to it yet, Koenig said. With the STEAM Day event, they got the opportunity to learn what the robot is all about and how it functions.
The Bolt responds to commands given via an iOS or Android app, and the kids were each given an iPad and a robot that they could control inside the library.
“You have an educator app, where it has more programming activities, and then you just have a play app where they can just drive it around and not do any of the coding,” said library clerk Danielle McDonald, who played with the robot right alongside the students.
Depending on the age of the child, they might be more interested in the play than in the coding, she said.
“It will take a good one to two hours to actually get down the simplest coding,” McDonald said. “I was able to do a couple of things but it takes a good while to get it to do what you want it to do and to get used to coding.”
However, it’s not difficult once the user gets the hang of it, she said.
As far as the coding Sphero offers, some pieces have already been precoded, allowing users to key in what activity they want the robot to do, how long they want the robot to do that activity and other instructions, Koenig said.
In about a month or so, the library staff will have another event in which it has the students learn how to do the coding part, Koenig said.
“We have a new programming initiative with Brazoria County Library System as a whole called ‘BCLS Can’ — like ‘BCLS Can Help You Be a Better You,’ ‘Help You Explore the Great Outdoors’ — different topics,” Koenig said. “Every branch is doing a different topic each month.”
The different programs allow library administrators to incorporate a variety of activities, such as a beginner’s yoga class, or to bring in different items, like a telescope, for people to try, she said.
While the STEAM Day does not tie into January’s theme of being a better you, it could tie into future programming, she said.
The library hopes to incorporate more programs like that with the Bolt because kids tend to get more out of something like this as opposed to making a craft or participating in a book club, she said.
The library sometimes has a difficult time getting the intermediate school-age students to participate in programs because they think they’re too old or too cool for them, Koenig said. In order to get them interested, staff members find ways to expose them to different activities.
“Typically we walk out there with things like this,” Koenig said. “I was playing with it out there when they were first walking in.”
As soon as the kids saw the robot rolling around, they wanted to try it out for themselves, she said.
This is not the first time the library has offered a STEAM activity for children — but it was the first time the activity involved robotics, McDonald said. The materials belong to the Brazoria County Library System and will be moved from branch to branch to allow all the sites to enjoy the Bolt.
“We’ve brought in a green screen, we’ve brought in a lot of different things,” McDonald said. “We offer a lot of things here.”