Trailer hasn't rolled out yet, but library staff are already visiting schools as part of STEM outreach project.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Abby Beers, 11, reacts after handling slime that she made in a STEM activity at a back-to-school event at Tualatin Elementary School. Beers attended the event with her younger sister, Libby, who is a third-grader at the school.The centerpiece of Tualatin's initiative in the America's Best Communities competition is a mobile Makerspace, a trailer filled with equipment and gadgetry that will travel to schools and events in an effort to get children engaged with the arts and sciences.

The school year is underway in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, but the trailer has not hit the road yet. However, that has not stopped outreach staff from the Tualatin Public Library, who are leading the charge as educators.

“They have purchased the trailer for the Makerspace, and that is currently being prepared for the learning experience,” explained Sara Singer, a project consultant who served as Tualatin's deputy city manager until last year. “It is taking a little bit longer than we would like it to, so in order to get the programming out into the community … they're actually going to start rolling that out next month into the classroom.”

Next month will also see the biggest single-day community event in Tualatin: the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta, which drew an estimated 17,000 to the Lake of the Commons last October. Singer said Makerspace staff will be on hand at the event, offering kid-friendly educational activities.

It begins with back-to-school

But the outreach work has begun already.

Lauren Simon, a community librarian at the Tualatin Library, said she was officially assigned in July — about two and a half months after Tualatin was announced as a finalist in the national competition, receiving a $100,000 grant to help it begin implementing its “community revitalization plan” — to spend 20 hours of her workweek on Makerspace activities. She has already been making the rounds, along with other library employees, to back-to-school nights and ice cream socials at elementary schools in the Tualatin area.

On Thursday night, Simon directed an activity at a back-to-school night for families at Tualatin Elementary School in which students made “slime” from water, glue, liquid starch and food coloring. Some of the kids squealed as they used their hands to mix together the ingredients into a shiny, viscous goop, forming what is called a non-Newtonian fluid: a substance with some of the properties of both a liquid and a solid.

“I made a galaxy,” one girl exclaimed to her friends, excitedly waving around the glob of indigo oobleck she had created.

At the end of the exercise, students were able to put their creations into plastic baggies so they could take them home and play with them.

Asked about the activity afterward, Simon explained, “The idea is to get kids doing something really messy and fun and hands-on.”

She added, “It was a very fun, messy science activity, so I think a lot of the parents were getting in there and working with their kids on kind of figuring out how to do this, and trying it over again if it didn't turn out the first time. That's science — you've got to try it a couple times.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kindergartner Avery Henderson watches her classmate, Emerson Thompson, play with slime she made in a STEM activity during a back-to-school event at Tualatin Elementary School on Thursday.

Design, engineering, technology activities also planned

Not all of the Makerspace curriculum will be as sticky and silly as Simon's slime station. Singer said educational equipment is being collected for a variety of artistic and STEM — short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — creative efforts, with both the library and the school district contributing.

“There's a variety of activities,” said Singer, who provided a list that includes making circuits from conductive tape, building catapults and even designing robots that vibrate.

Simon said plans are for library educators to go into second- through fifth-grade classrooms at participating schools.

“The reception's been very positive,” she said. “I think we're just figuring out how to make it work for everybody. And it's an ongoing, evolving pilot project, so we're just trying to make it better and better.”

While this year's Makerspace outreach is focused on elementary education, Simon noted that the library does provide creative activities for other ages as well. Teen services librarian Aimee Meuchel is planning to take some of those activities to Hazelbrook Middle School as part of a separate outreach effort early next year, which will compliment the work being done at the elementary level.

“It's part of what the library's trying to do in the community,” said Meuchel, who plans to lead after-school coding and engineering workshops. The hope, she said, is to bring students into the library: “But I think it's more important, at this stage, to be where they're at.”

Veronica Montenegro, a bilingual librarian who was at Tualatin Elementary's back-to-school night Thursday, made a similar point.

“We'd like to promote literacy, and also to get the community excited about science and technology and engineering — the STEM activities,” Montenegro said. “We're pretty much just promoting the interest, and we're trying to get kids to see the library as not just a place where you can check out books, but also as a place of learning.”

COURTESY OF TUALATIN ABC - An illustration shows how students might work with laptops and other technology equipment inside the mobile Makerspace, expected to come online in November.

Trailer is 'not too far behind'

The mobile Makerspace itself is expected to make its debut in November, although no exact date has been set, Singer said. Volunteers will be working on getting it ready between now and then.

“It's not too far behind,” she said.

Once it is complete, the trailer will serve as a sort of rolling laboratory and design studio. Simon said its counters, carts and shelves will be filled with computers and technology equipment — not unlike the Bowmen Mobile Fab Lab that John Niebergall, a nationally recognized Sherwood High School teacher who is involved with the project, has taken around the state.

“I think that that will be awesome to bring to different community events or STEM nights,” Simon said. “We might bring it to schools if we're doing a pretty heavy equipment day. … I think it'll just be a neat way for folks to see this physical thing that we're bringing to someplace, and we can just roll it out and have an activity taking place wherever there are people who are interested in this.”

If the judges of the America's Best Communities competition select Tualatin as one of three award-winners, the project could receive between $1 million and $3 million in prize money. Officials have said they would want to invest that money into the construction of a permanent facility that would house Makerspaces and provide resources for students interested in making a career in a STEM-related field. Many of the region's largest employers are high-tech companies.

“Bringing kids from our community into those jobs and giving them an opportunity, to me, is the full circle of how you build a community,” Meuchel said.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor
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