Bright Ideas | February 2017

Instagram Scavenger Hunt | Escape Room Challenge | Hands-On STEM Activities/Resources

Instagram Scavenger Hunt 

Award books with gold sealsWe held our Second Annual Town-Wide Instagram Scavenger Hunt here at Cheshire (Conn.) Public Library in October. While most scavenger hunts involve collecting items, the teams that participated in our hunt “collected” photos that they posted to Instagram. They had to find specific landmarks around town or take photos based on open-ended topics, such as a favorite lunch restaurant. The idea behind the scavenger hunt was to encourage patrons to explore their community and use relevant technology, with a focus on participation by families.
Each team provided its own transportation to get around our spread-out town, and they used their smartphone (or tablet with data service) to post photos on Instagram. We had teams come to the library in person to pick up a physical sheet of clues, which also gave us the opportunity to give them tech help if they were unfamiliar with Instagram or needed to change their privacy settings for the day. Once they had their sheets in hand, they had about three hours to take and post their photos for the 30 clues, hashtagging each entry with #cheshirehunt2016 as well as hashtags specific to each clue. Some examples of the clues and hashtags are:
#go – Show us your mode of transportation today
#barge – You can’t just BARGE in here and start changing my water levels!
#award - An award-winning book showing off its gold
#monument – This war monument just celebrated its 150th birthday
#bird – The Connecticut State Bird (find it live or in a book)
#new – Something less than 1 year old
#old – Something at least 250 years old
Photo of monument We had 10 teams totaling about 35 people, with approximate ages ranging from 3 to 73. There was no typical team: they consisted of parents with tweens and teens, millennial couples, couples with dogs, and several teams that combined young children, parents, and a set of grandparents. We had longtime residents as well as families who had moved to town only weeks before the hunt, and we had social media experts as well as Instagram newbies who needed a crash course. We recognized some participants, but others visited the library only infrequently or rarely. They photographed Civil War monuments, yearbooks, Pokemon GO screenshots, new businesses, locks on our rails-to-trails canal path, old houses, sandwich shops, their gardens, and, of course, the library. Check out photos from the hunt on Instagram!
After the hunt, teams gathered back at the library for celebratory snacks, awards, and a slideshow of their posts. We gave a trophy to the team who completed the list of clues first, but we also awarded trophies in categories like creativity, humor, and teamwork. We emphasized to participants that the main goal was to have fun. Based on the photos and the smiles we saw when we regrouped, it was obvious that they did, though that might have been due to the raffle prizes donated by local businesses—gift cards, flowers, and ice cream!—Lauren Gledhill, Children’s Librarian, Cheshire (Conn.) Public Library

Escape Room Challenge 

In June 2016, the Clearwater Public Library System main branch held its first ever Escape Room Challenge as part of the tween/teen Summer Reading Program. Two different rooms were simultaneous run for a total of 7 sessions and 31 participants. 
After attending an escape room as a team-building exercise, we recognized the potential for this as a tween/teen program and immediately brought the idea back to our library. Escape rooms promote teamwork and problem-solving, and communication is paramount--three skills that are vital to a teenager’s academic survival. Plus, most importantly, escape rooms are just plain fun.
Photo of kids in the escape roomConsiderations for creating our rooms included: program duration, logic puzzles, and locking mechanisms. The standard escape room time limit is sixty minutes locked inside, which we decided would work best for our teen-aged audience. We partnered with a local escape room for their insights and planning advice, but crafted the puzzles ourselves to customize the experience for our audience. The internet and our own nonfiction collection were the best sources of inspiration for the puzzles. We scoured the youth service department and asked staff members to donate any cases to hide things and various items such as DIY book safes and discarded books to clutter up the room. We purchased inexpensive locks with keys, combination locks with letters and numbers, and two black light flashlights.
The biggest challenge was converting a library space into an escape room experience without modifying the room in any way. Professional escape rooms create themed settings via painting the walls, nailing puzzles up, and some even have puzzles where the players destroy part of the room. We addressed this by having multiple pieces of library furniture in the room to hide things under/behind/within and having all of our written puzzles hidden on posters and other removable props rather than the walls. We used tablets with a countdown app to keep track of time.
We chose to limit the teams to six participants which necessitated the simultaneous operation of two different escape rooms to accommodate all interested teens. Players waiting their turn were given small puzzles and brain-teasers to give them an idea of what to expect. After being read a list of rules, the teams entered the escape rooms with a staff member in each room to act as a monitor. If a team got stumped, the monitor was allowed to give them up to three clues. All of our teams made it out of the escape room, but all had only minutes left on the clock.
This program was a great success. The participants had a blast and are eagerly awaiting the return of the escape room.—Jennifer Milano and Samantha Trinh, Clearwater (FL) Public Library System

Hands-on STEM: Levers at Play & STAR_Net 

Star*Net logoKids and families love to build their own creations! Download the FREE STAR Library Education Network (STAR_Net) activity guide, Levers at Play, to see how library patrons can use household materials to create a lever that addresses any number of real-world challenges -- like designing a seesaw on which two people of different weights (e.g., a child and a person using a wheelchair) can ride. Check out this brief how-to video, which shows a parent and child using an open-ended and playful process of building, testing, and revising to create their seesaw design. 
Levers at Play is just one of the many activities available at the STAR Library Education Network (STAR_Net), a hands-on learning network for libraries and their communities across the country. STAR_Net focuses on helping library professionals build their STEM skills by providing “science-technology activities and resources” (STAR) and training to use those resources. You are invited to join this free network to access:
  • STEM Activity Clearinghouse (for hands-on STEM activities for all age levels and related resources) 
  • Blogs (share success stories!)
  • STEM Partnership Contacts
  • Online Discussion Forums (discuss promising practices)
  • Webinars (online professional training)
  • Workshops and meet-ups at library conferences (in-person professional training)
  • STAR_Net News (online newsletter)