By Collin Brooks
Libraries use to be quite places at the school, where the librarian’s number one goal was to keep the peace.
Don’t have those expectations when you walk into the Liberty Bell library under the control of Dr. Johnnie Sue Hawley. But also don’t be fooled that no learning is taking place.
“It’s looks like play a lot at first and it kind of is,” Hawley said through a soft smile. “But then they start on the challenge and they always seem to take it to the next level on their own…we are just always shocked with what they come up with.”
The tinkering and loud conversations are now common place inside the library since Hawley received a $1,000 grant from the Johnson City Foundation last year in order to start collecting STEM projects for the Makerspace. Now over 41 projects — from 3D printing to engineering projects; electronic coding to architecture tasks — there are plenty of hands-on learning tools that can be found at the library.
“I just kind of let them do whatever and give them the tools that they need to finish the projects,” Hawley said. “Then they figure out their way of completing the tasks.”
Hawley learned about Makerspace through writing her dissertation on the future of the library and where the evolution will be.
“Way back when I started to become a teacher, I really believed in John Dewey and hands-on learning,” Hawley said. “And we are kind of getting back to that. Like the electricity unit. We teach electricity in the classroom, but there is a next lesson to go to and you have to move on so you can get all of the lessons in by the end of the year; the pace is so quick you don’t have the luxury to take out and work on a circuit. And that is what they really remember, because they build it.”
The students have the opportunity to build a circuit and so much more at the library at Liberty Bell. That is one of the best parts about the class, according to 7th grader Bowen Reed, who said that he enjoys coming into the library to work on and perfect his latest creations.
“It may get a tiny bit loud, but usually it is just for a few seconds and then people will calm down after that,” Reed said. “This is a good place where creativity is welcomed.
“I got to play with things that I played with as a kid and never really thought about it, and I think, hey this get’s me intrigued about other things,” Reed said, who was in the middle of making a car from connector blocks and was going through different variations as he spoke. “But then you get out of here and you realize where it helps you learn other things. So even though you might not think it, you still learn something new everyday.”
Being able to express their creativity was an important detail for many of the students, including Luke Alligood.
“I just like the fact that you can get something and make whatever you want by using your imagination, and then you get to bring it home and show your family what you made,” he said. “In the past, our libraries were really just for getting books, but this is like a whole new thing to do and an experience, which is kind of cool.”
And those cool experiences are what making learning fun for the students, according to Hawley.
“It’s a different animal now; use to you would come in and it would be real quiet and you would look for a book,” Hawley said. “Well now, you can research and find things hands on as well…When kids are really little, we know that play is good, and we just don’t need to lose that.”