My first three sessions of Robot Creations are over and I've got a couple more weeks before I launch into four more sessions. I thought I'd take advantage of this opportunity to share a little bit of what I've picked up from the process.
- Expensive Toys = Instant "Cool" Factor
Any time a kid heard we were offering a program with the $250-a-pop LEGO Mindstorms NXT kits, they were bowled over. Most of them had LEGOs at home, but only one or two of them had ever owned even the first Mindstorms kit. (This is exactly why a new Wii is the perfect draw for your library.)
- I Just Wanna Build and Hang Out with Friends
Forget the instructions that came with the set; most kids just wanted to build their own wacky contraptions out of the LEGOs. Because of this, I decided to post posters up asking patrons to donate their extra LEGOs to the library.
- It's Not Just Robot-Building, It's Team-Building
Although it was usually touch-and-go the first week of any session, kids who didn't know each other before Robot Creations became cohesive teams by the third and fourth weeks. By letting the kids work out problems on their own (for the most part), they built their social skills as much as their robot skills.
- Flagship Programs are Win-Win for Everyone
A lot of the kids were not frequent library users before taking part in Robot Creations. However, once they'd came in for four weeks straight, they were suddenly interested in all the other programs and materials we offer. After you give them a single reason to come in for the first time, you can keep them coming back with everything else you offer.
- You Don't Need a PhD in Robotics
The LEGO Mindstorms NXT set is surprisingly simple to get started with — no technical expertise (LEGO or otherwise) is required. Also, the older kids tend to help the younger ones, so not much is required of you, except perhaps a little direction and supervision.
Offering this LEGO Mindstorms NXT program was an incredibly positive experience. The biggest problem we had was that the program was too popular (and that's always a good problem to have).
If you're thinking of offering a similar program at your library, give a shout-out in the comments. I'd be happy to help you tackle any questions or concerns you might have.