Our Makerspace FAQ

The Beginning

When I was starting our makerspace, I did as much research as I could on existing school library makerspaces. And although some bloggers are awesome at posting specific about specific activities and resources to buy, I needed the big picture. I needed answers to a lot of basic questions before I could get into the nitty-gritty.
 
  • Did you need "approval" for beginning your makerspace? If so, who was involved?
  • Where was your makerspace? Did it consume the entire library? Was there a space dedicated to the makerspace?
  • If your makerspace is in your library, what do you do when you have classes that come in for research or other traditional "library" things? Do you close the makerspace?
  • Who supervised the makerspace? Was it always the librarian? If not, who else? Do you have an aide that helps out? What about student helpers?
  • When is your makerspace open? Before school? After school? Study hall? Do students come throughout the day? If you operate on a fixed schedule, is the makerspace a part of your instruction?
  • Did you ever put limits on the amount of students that could use the makerspace? If so, how did you decide? Was this out of necessity due to space limitations or so that you could ensure you had enough supplies?
  • If you were limited in space, how did you decide what to feature in your makerspace? Did you have weekly or monthly themes?
  • How was your makerspace funded? Grants? PTO? Fundraisers? If it came out of your budget, how did you budget for the "newest" tools over a year in advance? How did you budget for consumables (i.e. yarn, duct tape)?
  • What was in your makerspace?

In attempt to make it easier for those of just beginning your makerspace, I will do my best to answer all of these questions. Basically, these are all the questions I hunted people like @DianaLRendina,  @gravescollen@LFleminigEDU and @NancyJoLambert to answer. Unfortunately, I'm still trying to answer some of these myself. Turns out, you'll never be "done" with your makerspace. 

I'm going to let that last sentence sink in a bit.


That's right. Never.


Students change, teachers change, interests change and therefore, so does your space. We've only had our makerspace operational for just over a year and we've changed a lot. Though the changes, we've realized where we need to focus more attention and resources, and we've been able to realize what's working and what isn't. As you're reading through this information, please remember that there is no "perfect" makerspace and sometimes, things are out of your control (i.e. time, access, budget, etc.). There are many makerspaces out there that I would love to replicate. Or would I? I have different students with different interests and personalities. Therefore, my makerspace should be made specifically for them. 

[If you are looking for specific projects that we've done in our makerspace, just keep checking the blog. I'm trying my best to manage life and regularly post about our creations.]

Before I get into answering specific questions about our makerspace, here is some general background (and photos) of our school library before the makerspace. Hopefully this will help put some things in context.


Hershey Middle School Profile:

  • 6-8 grades, approximately 900 students
  • 1 full time librarian (me) and 1 full time library aide
  • Library operates on a flexible schedule for classes
  • 1:1 school with iPads
  • Students have "flex" period (study hall) at one of three times during the day (this is our busy time). Flex times are specific to a grade level, meaning, I see all 6th grade at one time, and 7th at another. The only time kids see each other during flex is if they choose to come during their lunch which overlaps with another grade's flex.

 
The first thing I did to start my makerspace was weed like crazy. But don't weed just to make space. Our collection desperately needed weeding - having a makerspace was just the "nudge"  I needed to get started. This is the "after" picture. This was before we began our makerspace, although the bulletin board was primed for our LEGO wall (next to the SMART board) 
 
 
 
The two pictures below are from what WAS the library office
 
 

Did you need "approval" for beginning your makerspace? If so, who was involved?

Hmmm... Approval? Sort of. I knew going into this position that they were anxious about bringing a makerspace to our school, but it was still essential that I keep administration in the loop as I built it. I worked very closely with my Director of Infrastructure Technology (@dsweigert), my Director of Instructional Technology (@tlandry) and my Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction (@winslost). First thing we did was develop a mission, mission, and a plan. We made this document during the summer of 2015. Feel free to use and adapt as you'd like.

Where was your makerspace? Was it spread out throughout the library or was there a dedicated space?

The answer to this question has changed several times and will most likely be changing again due to needs. The pictures below depict how I originally envisioned the makerspace. I took pictures of the space and used Google Drawings to mock up our space. This was right next to our LEGO Wall and the kids dubbed the space the "Creative Corner". I thought it was awesome. Except none of this happened. Why? Read next question.

Now our makerspace is in my old office. It is far from awesome. It is small. It get's messy. Oh, and there is no roof. So despite the advantage of having a closed off section for the makerspace, it is still noisy as can be and makes it nearly impossible to be in operation if there is a class in the library. It really kind of stinks. 
 
Here are some pictures of the makerspace when it first began.
 
Playing with littleBits on day one

Look How Organized!!

And then the kids came...

The Happy Medium

If your makerspace is in your library, what do you do when you have classes that come in for research or other traditional "library" things? Do you close the makerspace?

As you can tell from the panorama at the top, the LEGO wall is positioned right next to our SMART board, which is at the front of our "classroom" space. During my first year, we really didn't have too many classes in so I didn't anticipate it being a huge issue. I figured we'd just pack things up if we needed the space. But unfortunately/fortunately, the teachers started recognizing my value and liked having some fresh blood in the library, that they actually started using it. 🙂 Awesome for library. Not awesome for my plan. This is why we moved our makerspace into the office in the first place. It definitely wasn't what I wanted, but I felt as though it was my only option. 
 
Unfortunately, it still isn't ideal. Because of not having a roof, I am still forced to close down the makerspace if I have a class in the library. Oh, and did I mention that the library has like 40 foot ceilings and NO sound dampers?! (But we're working on it). So no matter how quiet kids are, there's noise. When someone blows their nose, it sounds like a tornado. Of course I chat with the teacher to see if they are okay with some noise before closing down the makerspace, and sometimes they are. But sometimes they just need their students to focus and it be quiet and I completely respect that. 
 
If I am scheduled to teach a class, I often go to the teacher's classroom (unless they would rather use the library in which we follow what I mentioned above).

Who supervised the makerspace? Was it always the librarian? If not, who else? Do you have an aide that helps out? What about student helpers?

As I mentioned above, many times I leave the library to go collaborate with a teacher. Or the many many meetings. We are very fortunate to have a full time library aide. And although she has little to no involvement with the makerspace, she can make sure no one kills themselves and ensure that they clean up after themselves. As much as possible, I try to be there during our busy hours (flex time). But for the most part, our makerspace is self-sufficient.
 
There are pro's and con's to this.
 
Pros:
  • I don't need to be there in order for the kids to use the makerspace.
  • Kids aren't limited to just the projects or challenges I organize.
  • Kids can focus on what they're interested in and showcase their genius. 
Cons:
  • Some tools aren't intuitive and kids need an "orientation". [I tried putting QR codes to YouTube videos but the kids aren't really using them]
  • Some projects dominate the makerspace. When we were building our augmented reality sandbox, it took up nearly the entire makerspace for a solid two weeks. 
 
We don't have formal "student helpers" but there isn't a minute that goes by where one student isn't helping another.

When is your makerspace open? Before school? After school? Study hall? Do students come throughout the day? If you operate on a fixed schedule, is the makerspace a part of your instruction?

Our makerspace is open for 30 minutes before school (at 7:00am) and 30 minutes after school (3:00pm). On Mondays we are open until 3:45pm. The teacher contract time is 7:23-2:45. I voluntarily arrive early and stay late. I do not get paid. The library aide is scheduled from 7:00-3:00 so she is also able to open the library in the morning. 
 
The library is also open throughout the day but it is typically only used during flex (study halls) which are from 10:33-12:25pm. Each grade has their own flex time and lasts about 40 minutes. As I stated above, the study hall time overlaps with another grade's core instruction time. Therefore, if a teacher is signed up to use the library, I typically limit the library to just book check out and printing. Actually, at the time of this post, we have THREE classes using the library at once. 76 students are in the library for four periods of the day and there isn't a single seat left. (Again, pros and cons).
 
Thus far, we've done only a few activities integrating the makerspace into instruction. And in most instances, it wasn't deliberate. Slowly but surely teachers and students are seeing the makerspace as a way to take their learning to the next level. 
  • A math teacher used Dash and Dot and Sphero to play soccer.
  • A science teacher encouraged students to design something on the 3D printer when doing a variables project.
  • Another science teacher encouraged students to design a 3-blade propeller to test whether it would make the rubber band airplane fly better than the 2-blade propeller.
  • We did a Make Writing activity where we incorporated some of the makerspace elements into writing workshop?

Did you ever put limits on the amount of students that could use the makerspace? If so, how did you decide? Was this out of necessity due to space limitations or so that you could ensure you had enough supplies?

In the beginning, nearly all of our makerspace resources weren't consumables (except for the filament on the 3D printer). I did this because I hadn't budgeted for anything and I had no idea what to expect in terms of usage (and I still don't). This year, I bought perler beads, rainbow loom, duct tape, and rounded up TONS of recyclables for projects. Unfortunately, when they're gone, they're gone. (until next year or our next fundraiser)

Most of our limitations are in place because of space. We just don't have the room to allow more students, but I don't ever set a limit. If they want to jam 40 students in a 10x10 space, go for it (and trust me, they try). Other times, the kids will come, see its crammed and come back later.
To date, we have had 3 successful Donors Choose projects, two PTO grants funded, received numerous donations from parents and staff members. We are also very creative in repurposing. Our tech department donates old technology that we strip for parts. Even those really old cell phones have vibration motors that can be used for bristle bots! 

How was your makerspace funded? Grants? PTO? Fundraisers? If it came out of your budget, how did you budget for the "newest" tools over a year in advance? How did you budget for consumables (i.e. yarn, duct tape)?

I'm really proud of how we've managed to add thousands of dollars worth of maker materials without breaking the bank. Most of our maker materials were provided through donations, fundraisers, and grants. 
 
To date, we have had 3 successful Donors Choose projects, two PTO grants funded, received numerous donations from parents and staff members. We are also very creative in repurposing. Our tech department donates old technology that we strip for parts. Even those really old cell phones have vibration motors that can be used for bristle bots! 

What was in your makerspace?

 

You can view my handy inventory list here