STEM Learners Team With Library to Create

'Tween Space
Posted on 05/14/2018
Image of Tween Space Ribbon Cutting(as reported by Jennifer Conn,

Middle-school students have a bright, new space -- designed by their peers -- at the Akron-Summit County Public Library main branch in downtown Akron.

National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School fifth-graders, now in sixth grade, recently unveiled the new Tween Space, which was developed over last year though a problem-based learning unit.

Library officials posed the challenge to the STEM students last January, after noticing middle-school aged kids, or tweens, were not interacting with the existing Children's Library.

The 12,000-square-foot area, opened in 2004, was designed for children from birth to age 12. The library had added downloadable and digital materials over the years, but there was no seating and the collection didn't hold tweens' interest, the library said.

The STEM students were tasked with coming up with ideas to make the space more useful and attractive for kids in their age group. The library's challenge included:
  • What to name the space
  • What amenities the space should offer
  • How the materials should be arranged
  • What ongoing offerings should be implemented
  • What programs would attract that age group
  • What times programming should be held

The library committed $3,000 for furnishings. Funds were also awarded by Akron Community Foundation, Sherwin Williams and Shaw Contract , as well as individuals. The library's IT department and tech and makerspace materials also were available to the students.

Images of Tween Space Ribbon Cutting

Children's Library manager Trish Saylor, and STEM Middle School students Maya Bowers and Aiden McClaine, cut the ribbon opening the new Tween Space.

In early 2017, 54 students began working together to come up with a plan and design. In eight design teams, they focused on areas such as safety, programming, technology, furniture, collections and more.

"They had to collaborate, and their ability to work collaboratively within the design teams to develop this space was incredible," said Angica Weaver, fifth-grade NIHF STEM coach. "I'm in awe of what they're capable of. Such brilliant kids."

The students started with a tour of the library, gathering measurements for the roughly 8-feet-by-54-feet tween area. They then identified and downloaded design software to ensure plans were accurate.

Throughout the project, the students kept a vision board with images representing favorite furniture, colors and design, which were whittled down and voted on for final selections, Weaver said.

The students learned about marketing to attract sponsors, and working with art teacher Julie Hogarth, they created designs for a mural whose galaxy theme was selected through a student-developed survey.

Because some books were no longer checked out in the Children's Library, the collections team had to decide what stayed and what went, as well as how the materials should be arranged in the space. Furniture was selected to ensure it was appropriate for library patrons using mobility devices. The students even calculated how many data lines, outlets and computers were needed, and where, Weaver said.

In the end, students presented the library with three detailed floor plans, from which an open plan, creating more space, was chosen.

"They gave fantastic presentations from their display tables, and in the auditorium," said Trish Saylor, manager of the Children's Library, at the ribbon cutting. "Then it was my turn to see what I could turn into reality."

Returning as sixth-graders last fall, the student teams went back to work finalizing details and helping create a logo for the Tween Space. Furniture arrived over the fall and winter while the library's facilities department painted, carpeted and prepared the area.

This month when the Tween Space was ready, the students also worked on a press release for the ribbon cutting, Weaver said.

"From the first moment we got this project, they stepped up," she said. " It's just amazing for a group of kids willing to step up and get this done."

To see the new Tween Space firsthand, visit the library at 60 S. High St. For more information, see the library's website.

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