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Low Tech Supplies, High Tech Concepts with STEAM Programs in Teen'Scape

Vi Ha, Librarian III, Octavia Lab,
A picture with teens at the Teen'scape department

I had a friend once explain to me that there are basically two ways to learn about the world: one method is to take it apart into parts, a destructive method and the other way is to experience wholly and to make models of our experiences. I have taken the second approach to heart and am experimenting with this experiential way of learning in introducing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) concepts to young people in preparation for their future career success. The methods I employ and the programs that I have conducted are not technologically savvy, but are direct methods that I can do with the tools I currently have in my reach.

I currently host a semi-regular craft program on Tuesdays in Teen’Scape featuring crafts with concepts that can be explained within 5-15 minutes. These crafts are iterative model building. We’ve built paper bows for gift giving, which, at first glance, is simply an artistic whimsical craft. However, after I gave specific measurements, I then challenged students to figure out how to make a larger or a smaller bow, by maintaining similar proportions and to see if they could figure out how to do these measurements without using a ruler.

Another craft that I have done is to make a model of a roof turbine fan. I found the model through the Los Angeles Public Library's YA Pinterest page, but because the directions were in Chinese, the teens and I had to learn how to solve the riddle on building this model. It was paper weaving with a little trick. In order to form the model, we had to realize that there was a twist of paper involved, almost like a half Moebius strip, woven with hooks at top and bottom. It was interesting to see how this structure could be make stouter or skinnier, depending upon the pressure applied on the top of the model. We also experimented to see if there was a physical limitation on how many of these paper strips could be added to the model. I will report that we did not reach an end. Further experimentation may be necessary.

I have a longstanding interest in paper pleating through my love of paper crafts and fashion. I introduced to teenagers a few ways of forming paper (a seemingly two-dimensional object) into a three-dimensional object. We made (L-R) the hypar (a 3-dimensional parabola), the Miura fold (used by astronauts to collapse objects into smaller sizes) and parallelogram folding (a good place to start to learn about paper pleating). Using only the basics of folding, the mountain and the valley folds, we could build objects that can expand and contract to magical proportions.

In addition to these crafts, I host a regular teen knitting club. Fiber arts may be the easiest blends of STEAM concepts around. There has been a lot written on the internet and in magazine articles about how fiber crafts can be considered a rudimentary form of computer programming. Arguably, that can be the case. I like to think of knitting as a way of learning how to compile code. At some point, when knitters make their own patterns or their own objects, maybe then, I would consider that computer programming.

I also feel that experiencing the world also involves performance and interaction. These are much simpler, more casual things I have done with the teenagers. I have read to the teenagers my new favorite poem, Campbell McGrath’s “Capitalist Poem #5”. I have also encouraged the teenagers to share their favorite jokes with me and to practice their presentation and storytelling style when telling these jokes.

At the end of September, Teen’Scape in collaboration with the Science and Children’s Literature Departments will be hosting Jeffrey Chapman, Director of Debs Park of the Audubon Society to talk about Vaux’s (rhymes with Foxes) Swifts. These migratory birds will be doing a layover in Downtown Los Angeles in the last two weeks of September in a chimney on Broadway. I personally cannot imagine a more perfect way to talk about urban environments and the attempts to control nature.

These ideas come from a series of sources, such as Pinterest, message boards, crafting blogs, books, etc., but ultimately comes from this belief that the world is best experienced wholly and with a sense of curiosity. There is a lot of excitement happening in our various online locations--the LAPL blog, the Facebook page and also at the Central Library. Visit them all. I’ll keep you updated on my STEAM programs as I go along.