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Kids build rockets, print toys at Brooklyn Public Library’s Summer Reading kick-off

A focus on STEM subjects this year

June 5, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Carmelo the Science Fellow by Mary Frost
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Science books, engineering activities and hands-on maker projects attracted hundreds of kids to the kick-off of Brooklyn Public Library’s Summer Reading Program at the Central Library on Thursday.

This year’s theme is “Fizz Boom Read,” with a focus on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.

Carmelo the Science Fellow (Carmelo Piazza), a teacher at P.S. 261 who operates two wildly popular science centers and a science-themed preschool in Downtown Brooklyn, read from the picture book “Rosie Revere, Engineer.”

The book is about a girl-tinkerer who dreams of becoming a great engineer. “Being an engineer is about asking questions. Do you think we could engineer a rocket, make it fly high to the sky?” Carmelo asked.

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After dozens of youngsters roared their approval, he put together a rocket made from insulation, paper and duct tape. But when he tried to fire the ship, it didn’t work. “You’re allowed to make mistakes,” he said. “What else do we need?” After a missing rubber band was added, the youngsters squealed with delight as he launched the ship across the room.

“I chose this book because it breaks the stigma that girls can’t be engineers, and because there’s a big focus on STEM,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It shows you’re allowed to be wrong. At his science centers and preschool, “We want them to be wrong. We want a bunch of kids making predictions.”

The build-it-yourself theme continued in a lab set aside for projects for older children and teens. Library volunteers Jackie Yip and Ben Segal printed rings and toys using a MakerBot Replicator 3-D printer, while volunteer Tahlia Casey helped kids build working circuits using adorable LittleBits electronic modules that snap together magnetically.

“This is the sensor, this is the power source, and this is the motor. If you add a wheel, you can make it spin,” she said. “It’s all trial and error.”

BPL’s president Linda Johnson said summer reading is important because “kids who don’t read experience ‘summer slide,’” with disadvantaged students disproportionately affected. The program, which signs up 70,000 to 80,000 kids in Brooklyn each year will “make sure the good work schools do all year long is not wasted,” she said.

Andrea Vaughn-Johnson, Coordinator of School-Age Services at BPL, said that families can sign up for the program all summer. The event concludes with a party, certificates and raffle prizes. People of all ages can log on to to write reviews, earn badges and see what other people in the neighborhood are reading.

A summer reading booklist lists “high-interest, diverse, fun book suggestions,” and activities include a summer reading game with a robotic theme. There are also special summer science clubs at many branch locations, with microscopes, light boxes, bubble projects, K’nex kits and LEGOs in addition to the regularly-scheduled activities. Many branches are also serving free summer meals this year, Vaughn-Johnson said.

One of her favorite STEM books is “Eat Your Math Homework” by Ann McCallum, for kids in second grade and up. “It has tasty math projects. Kids can learn fractions by making tortilla chips.”

Javen, age 8, built a rocket and played with robotics, LittleBits and the 3-D printer, her dad Kevin C. said. “The Summer Reading Program is great.” He thinks the library should extend the program to areas where kids “don’t have a lot of books.”

Javen said other kids should sign up because, “It has interesting things and it’s about science and reading. I think it’s going to be very fun because everyone has something interesting that they like, like LEGO pieces and printers that can print out the cartoons of your choice. That’s why I think lots and lots of kids should go here for the summer.”

Speakers from sponsors National Grid and Astoria Federal Savings also appeared. Other sponsors include Con Edison and Macy’s.

© 2014 Copyright Everything Brooklyn Media

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