Tag Archives: Biblioteca Publică Orășenească “Petre Ștefănucă

Keeping Kids Safe Online

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Just like parents in America, Moldova’s moms and dads worry what their kids are seeing and doing on the internet.

On Sunday, some of them learned techniques for protecting their children’s privacy and for avoiding online threats such as predators and sexual content. They participated in a special SuperCoders event where they discussed E-safety while their kids got a fun introduction to computer coding.

At Biblioteca publică orăşenească „Petre Ştefănucă” in Ialoveni, where I work as a Peace Corps Volunteer, 19 kids took part in the program sponsored by Orange Moldova, the country’s largest telecommunications company. Orange Moldova teamed up with Novateca to organize similar sessions at 37 public libraries across Moldova over three weeks.

IMG_8186Ranging in age from 10 to 14, Ialoveni’s kids used a Romanian version of the colorful Scratch software developed at the MIT Media Lab to encourage young people to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively. The software resembled some of the Hour of Code games I’ve used previously at the library.  As before, the kids loved it and began solving fun problems within minutes. Meanwhile, their parents were in an adjacent room discussing topics ranging from cyber bullying to the importance of changing passwords regularly.

In the brief video clip below, my library colleague Lidia Rusu asks the kids in Romanian whether they’re tired of programming. You can figure out their response without my translation.

[Video clip also viewable on YouTube.]

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Robots at the Library

If “robotics” sounds daunting to you, well, it did to me, too.

Then I agreed to help launch a robotics program at the library where I work as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ialoveni. Now I can program a small robot to roam around the room, pick up objects, avoid collisions and roar like a dinosaur.

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More important, so can the students that my library colleagues and I have been teaching to do this and more with the Lego Mindstorms EV3 kits we received from Novateca, a nonprofit organization that promotes innovation among Moldova’s libraries.

We started with two weekly robotics classes. Word spread, more kids came, and we added a third class, and then a fourth, including one especially for girls. The kids keep coming, with their parents often lingering to watch.

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Students in the United States and around the world use the same kits, which combine familiar Lego components with a brick-shaped computer. You program the brick and then snap it together with the other pieces to create a vehicle that moves, a dog that barks or something else.

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The software is colorful and easy to learn. Here in Ialoveni, we now give new students a brief introduction and then set them loose on the first program, which tells a robot to drive forward, back and forward again. Within a few minutes, they’re clicking away. On Thursday, several new students needed less than 15 minutes to finish the first program. Then they started modifying it to make their robots rotate, pause, speed up or make funny sounds.

We’re hoping to form a Ialoveni library team to compete in Moldova’s upcoming Lego League competition, where the winner will move on to compete internationally.  (Here’s a YouTube video of last year’s event in Chișinău. My own video about Ialoveni’s program is posted above and also is on YouTube.)

Lego program

Lidia Rusu and Sergiu Blajinschi are my fantastic partners. They form groups for each lesson, work with every student, explain everything patiently and cheer as the robots perform. It’s no wonder the students are so enthusiastic.

The Lego EV3 core set costs $500 on Amazon back home. An expansion kit to build an elephant and other projects costs $154 more. That’s expensive, so it’s worth looking for a school program or club to join. If you have the money, though, and want to get a young person excited about engineering, you won’t be disappointed, so long as you both have some basic computer skills and comfort with technology. No one needs to know when you spend hours playing with it, too.

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More Than Pretty Pictures

If you’re an American, you see infographics everywhere these days— on television and websites, in magazines, even with academic articles or corporate sales reports.

Not if you live in Moldova. Many institutions in this small former Soviet state are still learning to share information with their stakeholders, much less to present it attractively to engage ther interest.

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On Tuesday, the library in Ialoveni where I work as a Peace Corps volunteer held a workshop to train more than a dozen colleagues from area libraries in using infographics. Within a few hours, they all learned the basics of producing colorful posters or web posts to highlight their activities and community outreach.

IMG_6615My library colleague, Lidia Rusu (shown left, pointing at the computer), led the training with enthusiasm and patience. By the end of the session almost all of the participants, even those with limited computer skills, were producing infographics more than nice enough to use immediately.

They used the free version of Piktochart, an online software platform popular in the United States and elsewhere. Lidia also recently began using PowToon, a platform for making simple animated videos. Even though she doesn’t speak English, she’s able to figure out software packages quickly, apply them effectively and explain them to others.

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Ialoveni’s library, Biblioteca Publică Orășenească “Petre Ștefănucă,” hosted the workshop after being selected as one of the winners of a national infographic contest organized by Novateca, a nonprofit organization working to modernize libraries across Moldova. Ialoveni’s winning infographics, which I helped produce, are the two images on the left shown above.

Artiom Maister, an impact specialist with Novateca, shown below with Lidia, assisted her at the workshop, guiding the participants in how to modify templates, use icons, insert data and transfer their work to their websites, blogs or printed posters.

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The session was just the latest way Novateca has been encouraging this country’s  libraries — still viewed by some as dusty repositories of old Russian books — to embrace a new role as modern information centers and community resources. Through its five-year program, Novateca has provided hundreds of libraries here with thousands of computers and Internet access. It’s trained librarians on everything from how to find new funding sources to organizing robotics clubs or hackathons.IMG_6593

I’ve seen Novateca’s impact not only in Ialoveni but also in Bardar, where I lived during my Peace Corps training, and in other libraries. My best description is a word I don’t use lightly: transformative. As it approaches the end of its generous funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Novateca is now working to empower both local librarians and national institutions to carry on its mission. A representative from one of those institutions, Victoria Popa from the National Library, participated actively in Tuesday’s infographic session.

This kind of training is important not only to the libraries themselves, but also to the emergence of an open civil society in Moldova.  By learning to use infographics and other modern communications techniques, libraries and other public institutions become more able to explain to citizens what they are doing and how they can serve them. Infographics here have the potential to be so much more than pretty pictures.