Nikki D. Robertson
Nikki D. Robertson

During my first stint as an elementary school librarian in the mid-1990s, I stumbled upon the magic of learning centers. Centers, which allow students to choose from a variety of learning activities, empower students to be masters of their own learning in a small-group setting while you take on the role of a facilitator.

Flash forward to 2016 when Future Ready Librarians launched a bold initiative calling on librarians to empower students as creators. Librarians were encouraged to help students to create digital products that en­gage them in critical thinking, collaboration and authentic real-world problem-solving.

One way to do this is by implementing and building makerspaces in our school libraries. While stand-alone makerspaces in a flexible library space is ideal, makerspaces incorporated into a fixed library schedule through learning centers is a manageable ap­proach. Creating centers requires quite a bit of front loading, but all that up-front work pays off fast, resulting in a smooth running, well-oiled machine of a library.

When creating centers, you need to consider the curricular purpose behind each center, the skills you want addressed, the supplies you’ll need, the procedure for stu­dent access and the relevant ISTE Standards to highlight.

Here are a few themes to get you started:

Set up a coding area. It goes without saying that coding is a necessary skill for students today. There already are far more computing jobs than qualified workers to fill them. The possibilities for librarians to collaborate with teachers in all subject areas using code are wide open and excit­ing. Tynker’s Homophones STEM Kit  empowers students to make a fun storytelling game where the player has to choose the correct homophone to advance the story.

The Scratch website allows students to create interactive games to demonstrate knowledge of historical figures, events, science, literature and more. Or students can use this Codesters Hour of Code activity to explore all four quadrants of the coordinate plane.

Some coding sites and apps I have used with my K-5 students include: Hour of Code activities
Scratch Jr.
Made with Code 
Khan Academy Hour of Code
Tynker Hour of Code
OSMO Coding Family

Offer green screen activities. A green screen center is surprisingly easy and relatively inexpensive to set up. All you need is a green plastic tablecloth from your local discount store and a green screen kit with lights that you can find online. Here are a few of the green screen activities that I’ve done in the library that were a big hit:


  • READ posters. Have students in grades K-5 create their own READ posters based on the American Library Association’s celebrity posters.
  • Proportion lessons. Teach students about proportions with this “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” activity using a green screen. Students find images and use a two-step process to shrink their own image. It’s fun to see where a child’s imagination will take them – swallowed by a great white shark, playing soccer with their favorite LEGO characters or riding on the back of an eagle.
  • Parent night. Take family pictures in the green screen room with a backdrop image made to correspond with the schoolwide event. This activity gets parents into the library and imprints a positive image of the library in their minds. They can even share the photo on social media. And once you get them into the library, let students show them how to use the green screen and other tech­nologies. That way parents are more likely to support and advocate for edtech.

Need more ideas connected to the Future Ready Librarians framework? Try some of these:

  • Augmented and virtual reality center. Help students bring constellations to life, visualize 3D geometry, explore animal habi­tats or learn about the plight of refugees by visiting a Syrian camp using augmented and virtual reality apps.
  • Reading/ebook center. Introduce students to a variety of print and ebook re­sources so they’ll always know how to find a good book.
  • Game center. Allow free play or intro­duce structured games to teach a particular set of skills.
  • Google center. Demonstrate how to use Google Tools, Apps and Experiments, such as Slides, Spreadsheets, Drawing, Chrome Music Lab, BookTrack Classroom and more.
  • Research center. Introduce students to district databases and teach media literacy and basic research skills.
  • Engineering center. Use KEVA Planks, LEGOs, cardboard, duct tape and other building materials that incorporate the basic engineering concepts of gears, levers, pulleys and stress and strain of structures.

Nikki D. Robertson is a veteran educator, school librarian, instructional technology facilitator, author of Connected Librarians: Tap Social Media to Enhance Professional Development and Student Learning, and ISTE Librarians Network president. Read her blog, “The incredibly true adventures of an edtech trailblazer,” and follow her on Twitter @nikkidrobertson.