Many thanks to Julia Reid of LEPMPL for this guest post!
Inspiration, it is said, can come from the unlikeliest places. For the YS staff at LE Phillips Memorial Public Library, inspiration this summer came from the toilet. According to Weird but True! Gross: 200 slimy, sticky, and smelly facts, “95 percent of people don’t wash their hands long enough to kill infectious germs after using the toilet—and 10 percent don’t wash their hands at all” (145). Who wouldn’t want to drum up some programming from a fact like that?
So this summer, stirred by the National Geographic World of Weird but True books, we transformed the Youth Services area into a STEAM fest, with eight activities, experiments, or craft projects, each paired with fun facts from the series. For example, the “Build a Bridge” station was motivated by these three facts:
- It is said that Vikings collapsed a bridge in medieval London and inspired the song “London Bridge is Falling Down” (Weird but True! 300 Outrageous Facts from History, page 87).
- A rooster was one of the very first car passengers to cross New York’s Brooklyn Bridge (Weird but True! 300 Outrageous Facts from History, page 128).
- The London Bridge that kept falling down is now in Arizona, in the United States (Weird but True! 2: 300 Outrageous Facts, page 18).
Participants were challenged to create a bridge that could 1) span two tables spaced one foot apart and 2) hold the weight of books. Each participant was given 100 popsicle sticks, Elmer’s glue, and binder clips for clamps, and tested how many books their bridges could hold before breaking.
For stations like the bridge station, we prepped our (super, amazing) high school volunteer team with questions that they could ask participants to deepen the experiment:
a. What shapes are you using? What other shapes can you try? What shapes do you see most often on bridges that you cross over?
b. Where is your bridge the strongest? Where is your bridge the weakest? Can one part hold a greater load than the other? If so, why?
c. Are you using patterns in your bridge? Are the sides symmetrical? Why or why not?
d. Do you have left-over sticks? Where will they help the most?
After coming up with a few activities, we assessed whether we were satisfactorily reaching all age ranges, interests, and abilities.
Some activities were easy (and budget-friendly) to put together, like the measuring station, which tested whether there was truth behind the claim that “the length of your arms stretched out is about equal to your height” (2, p32). This station just called for butcher paper, tape measures and yardsticks, and pencils.
Others were more complicated, like the germ station, where young scientists tested how many drops of plain and soapy water a penny could hold to learn about surface tension and the benefit of adding soap to wash away germs.
One of my favorite was inspired by chameleon and camouflage facts. Crafty participants chose a habit background and a white die-cut chameleon. Using markers, participants colored the chameleons so they blended into the scene. Younger participants could instead learn about the benefits of camouflage with our bean table game. We filled a bean table with brown pinto beans and plastic toy animals; participants were challenged to see whether it was easier to find a camouflaged (brown) animal or non-camouflaged (colorful) animal.