Creation Club

Creation Club is an after-school club for middle schoolers who are interested in digital creation. At the FFL we have a room called the Creation Lab. In this room there are three desktop computers (2 PC and 1 iMac). On them we have audio, video, image, photo editing, and 3D modeling software. You can also find cameras, iPads, microphones, a green screen wall, and various other odds and ends relating to digital content creation.

Creation Club meets twice a month after school. There are usually short instructional workshops on how to do or use something in the Creation Lab at the beginning of the meeting and then the teens are given the rest of the meeting time to experiment with this new knowledge. Since spring of 2012, Creation Club has created stop motion videos, photoshopped themselves into their favorite movies/computer games, created 3D models, recorded podcasts, created original videos, and wrote and recorded an original song.

Starting in February of 2014, we changed it up a bit away from the purely digital and delved into how digital designs can be transformed into physical objects. The first week of February began with learning how to use the vinyl cutter in the FFL Fab Lab to turn line art into a decal. We used an image editing program they were already familiar with from the photo editing workshops last year  to create original artwork. Following that were two weeks of exploring 3D design using 2D drawings and the FFL Fab Lab’s laser cutter, and then a whole series on video game design (by popular demand).

Gamestar MechanicTo learn about video game design, we used Gamestar Mechanic. They actually provide an excellent set of teacher resources with lesson plans, so you can just jump right in with the kids having no previous knowledge of game design. For four weeks, the Creation Club played games to learn about game design and then had a chance to build their own games and have their peers playtest them and give appropriate suggestions.

Creation Club is now on break for the summer, but I look forward to starting back up again in the fall with some new and interesting projects.

The First FFL Minecraft Games

The second movie in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, was released on in theaters on November 22nd, 2013. In anticipation of this exciting event, the FFL had a few Hunger Games programs. Namely, we did a screening of the first movie in our community room and we ran a specially themed Minecraft program. I have written previously about our experience with Minecraft, but this was completely different. I got the idea for this program listening to the boys in my First LEGO League team (more on that some other time) talking about playing Minecraft on various public servers.

These boys were talking specifically about a bukkit server that was set up like the Hunger Games. I did some research and found youtube videos, blogs, and instructions on using mods with Minecraft servers. With Pete’s help (our Director of Technology Integration and all around technology genius), a lot of cursing, hair pulling, and you tube watching, we were able to set up a bukkit server running the World Edit, Survival Games, and Essentials plugins. I learned a lot about commands, permissions, and general Minecraftery.

It took Pete and I probably 20 hours total to set up the server and I am quite proud of what we made, considering it was our first experience designing a Minecraft server. I really wish I had thought to take screen captures of the server when I was done… Oh well. There was a cornucopia of sorts, basically a collection of chests, around a central beacon around which everyone spawned. For the first 20 seconds of the game, nobody could attack other players, but after that there were no rules. When the field was down to only 3 players, lightning would periodically flash to show where the survivors were. At elimination, the player would return to the lobby to await the next round.

We planned the program for 30 players in 2 hours because we had 10 laptop computers we could set up and we were sure that 30 players could play at least one round each within a 2 hour period. The community room was set up something like this:

The ten players would sit at the laptops set up on tables in a kind of square and those waiting for their turn would sit in the seats surrounding them. Each wave of the game would have 3 rounds of 10 players each so that everyone would get to play at least once before anyone got a second chance. Pete set up a spreadsheet where we recorded every player’s name and kept score by who were the last players standing. One point for being third to last, 2 points for being second to last, and 3 points for the winner. Scores were really only being kept for bragging rights, since there were no prizes to be won. The rules were easy: 10 players at a time would fight until eliminated, there was to be no name-calling or foul language, everyone would get to play once per wave and we would play as many waves as we had time for, and they were to have fun doing it.

First FFL Minecraft GamesOn November 21st, 2013 at 6pm, the First FFL Minecraft Games began. We had 29 teens and children (one had to be asked to spectate only for violating the foul language rule) and several parent and friend spectators. On the projection screen we kept the list of names and scores. It took about 10 minutes to explain the rules of the game and how the server was set up and then we played one practice wave so everyone could become familiar with the arena-style gameplay. By 8pm, each player had participated in 4 games which means that we ran a total of 12 individual rounds not including the practice. Players formed alliances with others while waiting their turn to enter the arena and negotiated strategies. They even tried to persuade me to allow 2 winners per game, like in the Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. I attempted to announce the goings on a’la Caesar Flickerman, but the action happened so fast I was having trouble keeping up, also I lost my voice after the first hour. I set my laptop up at one end of the playing area so I could spectate (and moderate) within the game as well as watch the players at the tables. After the first wave, most of the waiting players were hovering behind the current players to watch the games and call out advice and warnings. I had about 5 kids watching over my shoulder once they realized that I was spectating.

At 8:05pm, the First FFL Minecraft Games were over and all of the players returned, alive, to their parents. Many of them left having formed new friendships and with promises to meet in the Teen Computer Lab at a later date to play MinecraftEdu together. Every single one of them asked me, either that night or the next time they saw me in the library, when the next Games would be. I can tell you that as a first-time Minecraft arena game creator and as a novice player, I was personally proud of having made my first try such a success. I can also tell you that as a teen librarian, the First FFL Minecraft Games was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. By 8:10pm, I had already begun planning the Second FFL Minecraft Games.

STEAMPunk Club!

Steampunk Digital Sign

The inspiration for this club is an indirect demand in our community for more STEM subject programming for teens. The community that supports us is home to one of the highest scoring school districts in the state for the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects and we have seen a push to promote STEM subjects through the adoption of Common Core standards in schools New York. In the Fayetteville Free Library, we like to add the A for art and make it STEAM instead. We have had success with programming for teens based around our maker culture and using the materials for our Fab Lab. We have also had outstanding response to our LEGO robotics programs. So, we decided to put some of those ideas together to create an ongoing afterschool club that will touch on all of these things while still involving literacy and reading.

The STEAMPunk Club gets its name from the steampunk YA genre and from STEAM subjects. STEAMPunk Club meets twice a month and every month is inspired by a steampunk YA novel. There are discussions relating to the book and then there are hands-on projects based on the book.

For example, our first month is inspired by Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld:

Description from Goodreads: Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

In Leviathan, there is a girl masquerading as a boy so that she can be an airman and you have a princeling who has lost his kingdom. You also have world powers who use Darwin’s theories of evolution to engineer living creatures who can be used as war machines (Darwinists) and you have world powers who rely on engineering and physics to build mechanical wonders that are used as war machines (Clankers).

In our first meeting, we examined the creations of the Darwinists, specifically Leviathan itself, a massive air-beast that is reminiscent of a whale but flies through the air like a zeppelin. Obviously, we are unable to genetically engineer a Leviathan for ourselves in the library in 90 minutes, we we did discuss how it is that Leviathan and other flying ships work. After doing an experiment with water to illustrate clearly how hot water/air rises and cold water/air sinks, we then applied this principle to making hot air balloons from tissue paper. Unfortunately our hot air balloons were less airworthy than Leviathan, but we did enjoy making them nonetheless. My coworker and I had so much fun trying out the water experiment in advance, if you have any jars, I highly recommend it.

In our next meeting, we will discuss the meaning of bravery and compare Deryn’s definition with our own. And then we will go the Clanker route and build mechanical Walkers using LEGO Mindstorms. Our walkers will have four legs instead of two, but they will still give the club members an opportunity to understand how a simple walking machine works to give them an appreciation for the engineering involved.

So far, we have met only once and there were 4 teens who showed up. I hope that those who come will have so much fun they will spread the word among their friends and classmates. My goal is to have a core group of more than 10 teens show up to each meeting by May.