All posts by Kamya Subramamiam Sarma

Spring Fair @ Benzonia Public Library

On March 18th, the Benzonia Public Library hosted a spring fair with the student athlete from the local schools. The children in the community got to try their hands on crafts, face painting, and t-shirt painting. These were accompanied by fun activities like reading, Corn bag tossing, bowling and a photo booth made possible by different members of the community.

Here are a  few images from the event:

Spring Fair
Spring Fair
A good Friends t-shirt
A good Friends t-shirt
Handpainting a t-shirt
Handpainting a t-shirt

Cardboard Challenge @ Benzonia Public Library

The Benzonia Public Library held a cardboard challenge on Saturday, 18th February.

Benzonia Cardboard Challenge

Publicizing Cardboard Challenge

Kids and adults alike went to town on the piles of cardboard stocked up in the Mills Auditorium. This wonderful community showed us that thinking outside the box came naturally to them.

Here are some of the cardboard creations from the event:

Cardbord Giraffe
Cardbord Giraffe
A Cardboard Robot
A Cardboard Robot in the making

It was great to see so much creativity in one place. For more photos, checkout the flickr album.

Good Behavior Incentive Day (Benzonia)

The Benzonia Public Library hosted a Good Behavior Incentive Day for the children from the local schools on 27th January. There was also a Maker event on the following day that was open to the public.

The children got to explore several activities like crafts, button making, Ozobot and 3D printing.

Here are a few images from the event:

Ozobot maps
Ozobot maps
Ozobot Train
Ozobot Train

A Summer of Design Thinking

This summer has made me fall in love with Design Thinking all over again. Taking a fifteen minute introduction to Design Thinking and making it an entire three hour piece in the workshop helped me gain a much deeper understanding of the process. Over the course of the internship, I tried different things. Some worked well and some didn’t. Here are the most important lessons I have learned:

Problem definition is hard, really hard

In the time-frame of the session, which is typically two to three hours, we start with a problem and end with a prototype. The sessions went without a hitch when we threw a very specific and simple challenge at the participants, like “Design a better chair”. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of a particular set of participants (thank you West Iron and Benzonia), I tried something different. I asked them to come up with a challenge; it could be anything that annoyed them in real life. And the first thing I received was a room full of blank stares. This is in no way the participants’ fault. Most people would draw a blank at something this open-ended.

I realized, as a designer, I had trained myself to observe and keep a mental note of design flaws in everyday objects; or, perhaps, I became a designer because I was already doing it. Either way, it took me a while to understand that not everyone is like me; that we humans have a tendency to get used to problems or come up with workarounds so that it no longer bothers us. And this was my first lesson. No matter how well we train people to solve problems, they cannot put that training to use until they have learned to see the problems that surround them. Acknowledging the existence of a problem and the urge to improve something must come before any problem solving technique. And this realization surprised me even more because it is not referenced in the design thinking literature. I realized that learning to observe is a necessary prerequisite for being able to conceptualize an improvement.

Seeing is believing

We had a lot of fun during our product pitches at the end of a Design Thinking workshop. Some hilarious, some thought provoking, some absolutely mind-blowing and all of them radically new and different in some way or the other. Most participants were surprised at the amount of creativity that comes out of them. If I were to simply tell them that they are all creative and that design thinking would work, I would not have had as much success in getting them to try it in real life. However, I believe there is more work to be done. Most participants, I feel, see design thinking as a fun activity that they can implement as a program in a library or incorporate it in the school curriculum. It has been hard for me to get them to apply the process in their own lives, as a technique to solve their own problems or as a change in mindset. Upon reflection, I find that Design Thinking had the most profound effect on me when I saw that I was changing someone’s life. A short workshop only skims the surface of design thinking. A true mindset change can happen only when we can empathize with the design’s intended beneficiary and see the difference we have made in their lives.

Gamifying the process: missing pieces

Our team came up with a fun, simple, and engaging activity to introduce participants to design challenges and certain aspects of design thinking: a game that … . We made several iterations over the summer, introducing the game in different ways and with different rules. We loved how the room buzzed with exciting ideas when we did the activity in groups. Words and pictures elicited different interpretations. And to be honest, the most fun bit was the wildcard design constraint that they were given halfway through the challenge. It spiced things up, even  if it sometimes annoyed the participants. But there had never been a team that did not rise up to the challenge. This proved to be a great warm up challenge, getting the creative juices flowing in a quick period of time. But we do realize that the game heavily focused on the brainstorming and the prototyping steps of Design Thinking. These steps are fun in real life, too, so they are easy to replicate in a game. But what about the more serious steps, like user research and making design choices? We see that the real challenge is incorporating the other stages of Design Thinking without making the game too long or boring. A solution to this would be a real game changer because it would help educators and librarians develop student/patron mental muscles over time in a safe and joyful setting.

In conclusion, I have had the most rewarding summer. Personally, I managed to step out of my corporate comfort zone and meet some amazing and very real people. Now, I have a design thinking problem of my own: make design thinking second nature to everyone.

Thank you, West Iron

We were joined by a fun and cozy group of teachers from the area for this three day workshop. It was interesting to see making from the perspective of educators and we learned a lot about the settings in which they work and the challenges they face. The first day opened a lot of insights and questions regarding the big picture. Next we explored the different tools and looked at how we can combine them into fun activities. The stop motion animation challenge helped us look at the tools through a different lens. Later that evening, we had the community come together for a high energy Makerfest. At the end of the evening, we heard a kid exclaim “I didn’t know the library was so cool!”. This definitely made our day. On the last day, we did a couple of design thinking challenges to tackle problems that they face everyday. And we wrapped workshop by revisiting the broader vision.

It was fun visiting the picturesque West Iron district and exploring the nature around. We thank Stephanie for being such a wonderful host and inviting us to the beautiful West Iron District Library.  

Materials we used in the workshop:


Person holding decorated shrinkydink picture frame.

Making in Alpena: Shipwrecks, strawbees and everything in between

The workshop got off to a great start with attendees travelling from as far as Ypsilanti and Frankenmuth to join us. We discovered that Alpena houses NOAA’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center and we were joined by the Education Coordinator as well. The news of underwater robotics competitions and tours of shipwrecks made us realize we were in a very special place indeed.


On day one, we discussed the fundamental concept of making and the conversation on the community and its needs were particularly fascinating. From hosting underwater robotics competitions to artisanal quilts and tapestries, the community had a diverse group of individuals constituting it.


On the next day, we explored many different types of maker activities and tools. These included both high tech tools like arduinos and low tech activities like glass etching.The activities with strawbees was so soothing and fun that we had a room full of people silently engrossed in their creations. A special thanks to Nancy, the IT (and strawbee) specialist at the Alpena Library, for arranging this activity.  We also found the time to play a round of the design thinking game. What a fun, creative group of individuals! The two teams jumped in with gusto and came up with some amazing ideas, and their fun product pitches had us in splits. We had  a soldering workshop to create paperclip sculptures, an activity right in the center of technology and art.


On day three, we covered ways of assessing open ended maker activities and revisited the missions from day one.The impromptu walking tours, the glass bottom tours of shipwrecks, the Maritime Museum and the wonderful hospitality left us wanting to stay longer.  A big thanks to Jessica Luther at the Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library for inviting us and giving us this wonderful experience.

Day 1 Slides

Day 2 Slides

Day 3 Slides

Making and Breaking at the Houghton Lake Public Library


The energy of children at the Houghton Lake Public more than made up for the gloomy rainy day outside. The Houghton Lake Public Library and the team from UMSI had arranged a Mother’s Day themed, two hour workshop for kids.

3D Printing

The Youth Services Librarian Sarah Maddox had already 3D printed hearts from a clear filament that the children could color using sharpies. This, along with pre printed coloring cards made the cutest mother’s day gifts ever.



We had also set up three 3D printers that the children could use to print their own designs. We used the Cookie Caster website to build the designs. It is simple and easy to use and we were stunned by the creativity the children showed in making these designs. They ranged from alphabets to jaws and moustaches. What was even more impressive was that the kids improved upon their designs iteratively, changing the shape, size and color to make the designs more interesting. We were thrilled to see such impressive prototyping skills at work.

The toy take apart station

This was a high energy activity that drew the children’s attention right away. We had brought some toys that had electronic components in them that the kids could take apart and understand how they worked. It was so interesting to see that most of the children were familiar and comfortable with the use of tools and took the toys apart in minutes. Together, we discovered speakers, motors, lights and the many minute parts that worked together to bring those toys to life.


The Google cardboard

Virtual Reality seems to be in every conversation these days and it surely was not going to be missing in this workshop. We had brought along a Google Cardboard and a phone that the children could watch some short VR movies on. This was a fun activity that gave the kids something to do while they were waiting for their design to be 3D printed or taking a break from the other activities.


Houghton Lake Public Library was the perfect start for this summer. With its cozy library, friendly librarian and vibrant young minds, HLPL has us looking forward to our next trip there.