Sumter County Library grant funds new STEM classes

BY IVY MOORE
Special to The Sumter Item
Posted 1/19/18

Sumter County Library's summer reading program is one well-known benefit for the area's youth, but the library's services to young people extend much further.The latest program, STEM Adventures, funded by a prestigious …

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Sumter County Library grant funds new STEM classes

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Sumter County Library's summer reading program is one well-known benefit for the area's youth, but the library's services to young people extend much further.

The latest program, STEM Adventures, funded by a prestigious grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, offers a variety of STEM - science, technology, engineering and math - classes to young people ages 7 through 16.

Children's librarian Christy Smith, who wrote the grant administered by the South Carolina State Library, said participants are excited about learning coding, which makes the creation of computer programs possible, as well as animation, robotics and more.

"They're having fun while learning," she said, "and STEM Adventures teaches 21st-century skills" that will continue to be needed for many jobs. "There will be a big need for computer coders in the future."

Smith is teaching the classes at the Harvin Street Main Library, which was granted 10 new laptop computers for use with the program.

"So it's mobile," she said.

The library is partnering with the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club to provide STEM programming, Smith said, and monthly classes at the Main Library are open to the public on a space-available basis. Smith plans to offer classes and events at the South Sumter and Wesmark library branches during the summer.

STEM Adventures uses Scratch, "a free program by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), to teach basic computer coding," Smith said. "It uses blocks of coding that are done like LEGO to teach problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and teamwork."

The series of six classes, utilizing Scratch, teach participants to create video games, animate characters, design interactive programs, set up and use electric circuits and "turn everyday objects into touchpads."

Smith said she's gratified to observe students' growing interest in the program.

"Quite a few kids have checked out books on coding," she said. "Some have continued working on projects when they go home. They can put their own projects online at Scratch (scratch.mit.edu). They create projects, download others and change them, and they can see someone else's project and see how they coded it."

Smith said some of the older participants are helping the younger ones, and the library's "teen advisory board is helping and guiding."

In addition, she said, "Duke Energy has awarded us a surprise grant of an extra $2,000 for STEM, which will be very helpful."

STEM Adventures events are open to the public once a month at the Main Library, 111 N. Harvin St. The next class, which lasts about an hour, beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, is on Scratch PicoBoards. Its description reads "Learn how a PicoBoard can sense changes in the real world and communicate with Scratch's computer program."

Previous events were "Beginning Computer Coding with Scratch" and "Animating with Scratch." Still to come in addition to the Jan. 27 class are "Beginning Robotics with LEGO WeDo" on Feb. 24, "Beginning Electronics with Snap Circuits" on March 24 and "Fun Makey-Makey" on April 28.

Smith said she can keep STEM Adventures going beyond this school year without having to make any additional purchases and plans to do so. She also plans to incorporate elements of STEM into the library's summer reading program sponsored by the Friends of the Library.

"It's a great resource," Smith said. "STEM is one of the waves of the future. It's good to be able to 'problem solve.' Participants can continue to use it at home and go at their own pace."

All of the STEM programs are free and best suited for young people ages 7 to 16. While the monthly programs at the library are open to the public, space is limited. Call the library at (803) 773-7273 for more information and/or to register.