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Photo courtesy of the Winter Park Public Library - Teens and tweens recently took part in the Winter Park Public Library's beautification day, one of many hands-on programs available.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 3 years ago

Winter Park Public Library demonstrates 'learn by doing'

WPPL offers unique programs
by: Mary Gail Dufresne Coffee

As a kid, I spent 10 years as a member of the Clever Clovers 4-H Club, a club that fully embraced the 4-H slogan “Learn by doing.” At one memorable meeting, our leader, Miss Nettie-Ruth Brown, invited us to her home to enjoy fried chicken. The trick was that she served it as a multi-course sit-down dinner on her best china with complex place settings, and we had to eat it using proper etiquette and our very best manners, which she taught through each course.

Last week at the State of the City luncheon, I thought of Miss Brown and her chicken dinner lesson as I watched two of my tablemates in the Alfond Inn ballroom engage in an exchange that happens at almost every business lunch event: trying to discern which water glass belongs to whom. I knew because I learned by doing in Miss Brown’s dining room.

“Learn by doing” is alive and well at the Winter Park Public Library. When possible and appropriate, our librarian-educators provide active learning opportunities for patrons of all ages to create a deeper educational experience. Of course Google and YouTube can provide manuals and instructional videos on demand for hundreds of thousands of topics. But what our patrons tell us is that they often need the opportunity to implement new information or training in a low-risk environment where there is a real, live teacher available to answer questions and provide additional instruction. Hands-on and experiential instruction puts the human element back into learning, which is what many of us need to “get it.”

Just about anyone who spends time on social media has seen a picture of a “Pinterest fail,” a craft, recipe or home improvement project that falls far short of the results promised online. Many of us, myself included, have experienced them first hand. So it’s little wonder that one of our most successful new educational endeavors is our Make & Take series that makes do-it-yourself projects fail-proof by allowing patrons to do them in a group with an instructor. Past programs have covered origami, pottery painting, crochet and lamp-making. Upcoming programs include beading, vintage greeting cards and homemade bath salts. With crafting and DIY projects consistently in the top 10 de-stressing activities for Americans, it’s no wonder that our patrons are flocking to these opportunities to learn and interact.

Although the Make & Take series is an analog offering, our active programming extends well into the digital. This month we launched classes in Photoshop, powerful software used to edit photos and design graphics in both home and business settings. We provide Photoshop free to patrons in our Genius Lab, and yes, we have books and manuals about it available for checkout. But Photoshop is notoriously complicated with a steep learning curve that books do a poor job of getting readers through. To make Photoshop more accessible to Winter Parkers, our technology trainers provide small-group instruction and the opportunity for patrons to ask questions. We have similar classes for 3-D printing, Microsoft Word, Excel and beginning computer skills, as well as instruction on our digital die-cutting machine and the equipment that converts cassettes and VHS tapes to digital files.

Even history, a topic often relegated to lecture-style droning, is coming alive at the WPPL. We offer a series of history walks that include tours of Winter Park’s Black churches, Pineywood and Palm Cemeteries, and the Genius Preserve. Participants are guided through these locations by experts and are able to see, smell and feel the historical setting. One tour participant recently commented, “Of course I could just read about all of this stuff, but it’s another thing entirely to walk this path and feel the connections between today and our past.” That’s exactly what we were trying to accomplish.

Our programming for young people has always been more hands-on, but even those offerings have been taken to new levels. In the March “Digging Deeper” gardening series for tweens and teens, participants will spend session one painting planters and session two filling those planters with soil and planting tomatoes, peppers and cilantro. In session three, to be held at the end of May, they will harvest their produce and make salsa. Mixed in with the fun are lessons about botany, soil science, food production and nutrition.

Setting the stage for our youngest patrons to succeed in the 21st century economy is a priority for us. In addition to more traditional storytimes and early literacy programs, we offer children in elementary school the chance to learn about robotics and coding through our Wonder League Robots program. Middle and high school girls can take these skills to the next level in our 10-week Girls Who Code series that covers the basics of artificial intelligence, graphics, game design, cryptography and mobile development.

Just as our collection has evolved to include new forms of media, our programming and teaching techniques evolve as well. We hope you’ll visit and browse for exciting opportunities to engage in some learning-by-doing. And while we cannot, however, promise you a chicken dinner or that you will never have another Pinterest-fail, we can give you a tip: the water glass is above and immediately to the right of your dinner plate.

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