116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Madison Strickland, 13, colored a cardboard cutout of an electric guitar hot pink, wiring it with conductive copper tape and programming musical sounds on a computer, so she can play the cardboard like an electric guitar.
The rising eighth-grader at Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy did this using a Makey Makey — technology that connects objects to computer keys using a circuit board, clips and a USB cable to send the computer a signal — at a free weeklong Circuits and Coding Camp she attended last week through the Cedar Rapids Public Library.
The Circuits and Coding Camp is one of three science, technology, engineering and math-based summer programs through the Cedar Rapids Public Library as a part of an initiative through the Urban Libraries Council to explore effective summer learning activities for underserved youth.
The Cedar Rapids Public Library was selected to be one of 22 libraries across the United States and Canada — including the New York, Chicago and Los Angeles public libraries — to be part of the initiative.
After the summer session, the participating libraries will come together to discuss what worked and what can be improved to produce recommendations for best practices to be shared with other libraries.
The Urban Libraries Council has worked for more than 50 years to drive research and form strategic partnerships to help libraries achieve stronger outcomes in education, workforce and economic development, digital equity and race and social equity.
Coding — which is communicating with a computer to tell it what actions to take — is one of Madison’s favorite hobbies, she said. She started learning how to code in an elective class she took as a sixth-grader and has been passionate about it ever since.
When she heard about the summer camp, Madison said, “Sign me up. I want to do this,” she said. “I feel so lucky to be a part of this.”
Kevin Delecki, Cedar Rapids Public Library programming manager, applied for the library to be a part of this Urban Libraries Council initiative, saying it closely aligns with the goals the library already has established.
Those include understanding the library’s role in social equity and working toward becoming intentionally anti-racist, he said. The initiative is a two-year commitment, ending in December 2023.
The initiative part of helping libraries transition away from summer reading programs to summer learning programs, Delecki said. Participating libraries will take what they learned this summer, evaluate what went well and what could be improved, and apply it to summer programs in 2023, Delecki said.
The Cedar Rapids Public Library is offering programs for middle-school students because “that’s where we start to lose kids,” Delecki said.
“In elementary school, they’re excited about everything. In high school, they can explore what they’re passionate and excited about,” Delecki said. “Middle school is a ‘lost area’ where they’re not always given the freedom or opportunity to explore what they’re passionate about.”
The camps strive to present science, technology, engineering and math in a way that’s engaging students, Delecki said.
Up to 15 children can participate in each camp. The library is no longer accepting applications for participants.
Another activity students did at the Circuits and Coding Camp last week was writing instructions for how to make a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This was made more challenging because when writing code for a computer, you have to think of every step, said Jen Eilers, programming librarian at the Cedar Rapids Public Library.
“It wasn’t as easy as they thought,” Eilers said. The students forgot to include instructions for tasks such as taking the lid off the jelly jar, opening the bread bag and taking a slice of bread out of the bag, she said.
During the first camp of the summer, in June, campers learned about sustainability at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids. Children calculated their carbon footprint, learned about ways to reuse items, native plants and how to identify them, and collected trash, which they used to create art now on display at the library.
“How can you take something like an old T-shirt and make it in to something new?” Eilers said. “We don’t often think about the reuse part of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle.’”
“My sustainability kids were so plugged in to helping the earth and helping each other, it made me feel hope for the future,” Eilers said. “There’s so much bad news out there and working with those kiddos made me feel like maybe we’re going to be OK.”
During the final camp — Art and Technology Camp at McKinley STEM Academy, this Monday through Friday — campers will create stop motion videos. They will write a storyline, create figures and the set for the videos and learn how to edit.
At camp, children can focus on fun, play and experimentation without worrying about grades, Eilers said.
“I hope what we do inspires them,” Eilers said.
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