Training Wheels: From Replicator to Maker

 

 

 

See that bad boy up there? Well that bike up there looks just like the one I learned to ride on. I remember I rode that bike so hard that the wheels started to disintegrate (because they weren’t filled with air – they were some foam-type material). I had a matching helmet and since my dad was a biker, I would wear a pair of magic gloves to try to look like him. The point is, I’ve always been this cool. (Actually no, that’s definitely not the point I’m trying to make.)

 

Anyway…

 

As I got more comfortable riding, my dad adjusted the training wheels so they were more or less there “just in case”. But at some point, the training wheels had to go and I had to get a “real” bike.

 

No training wheels.

 

No foam tires.

 

A real Huffy bike.

 

 

And despite riding for months on my training wheels, I didn’t quite know how to start. How will I keep my balance? How do I brake?  How do I turn?  All important questions, but ones I didn’t really need to think about when I had the support of training wheels and no hand brakes.

 

So it took a few tries and some frustration, but eventually I got it  (#win). Having younger siblings, I would hop on my kid brother or sister’s training wheel bike and would be entertained for a hot minute and then be bored. Why did I want training wheels when I knew how to ride a real bike?

 

I went through a similar cycle when learning to adjust to a road bike. But again – I eventually mastered it.

 

So why do you care about my adventure in biking?

 

As enthusiastic as I am about makerspaces in education, at some point, we have to take the training wheels off. There are thousands of maker products on the market that come with project guides, activity kits, and curriculum guides. And that is wonderful! But we’re forgetting that those guides and kits are just TRAINING WHEELS. They were just meant to give you the foundation skills and confidence needed to take it to the next level. So what is the next level, you ask? YOU TELL ME.

 

That is the whole idea of the maker movement and sometimes I feel we are totally missing it.

 

 

The maker movement is designed to produce the worlds next inventors and innovators. Not the worlds best replicators.

 

 

So who knows what they’re going to do with the smoke alarm they just took apart.  I attended a conference a few months ago and I overheard a conversation about MakeyMakey. A woman (with the best intentions, I’m sure), was explaining to her colleague that MakeyMakeys are used to make banana pianos and PlayDoh controllers.

Wait. WHAT?

 

No. No. No. No. No.

 

There is a time and a place for step by step project guides. I’m not saying I hate Instructables or the project suggestions that come with littleBits (or any other product for that matter). However, when Instructables and How-To books are becoming the only “options” in our makerspace, despite having thousands of “options”, we’re limiting our students. Which is so anti-maker.

 

So what is the time and the place for how-to guides?

When we first began our makerspace, my kids weren’t familiar with even the basics of circuitry. If I said “robot” they envisioned an android shelving library books. So I had to do some teaching of the skills and show kids how certain things can be used.

 

And this isn’t as easy as it sounds. I didn’t want to “teach littleBits” or “teach Snap Circuits”. I wanted to teach electronics. And that is why we need to teach things that are transferable. Teach things in terms of “input” and “output” rather than “pink” and “green”. I don’t want to teach Dash and Sphero. I want to teach coding.

 

If you’re teaching your kids the SKILL and not the PRODUCT, they will be able to transfer those skills and build something new.

 

So how do I let go?

 

Just do it. There isn’t a guide on letting go. Or a process. Or an outline. Or an Instructable. (there are, however, some amazing self help books on letting go and an incredibly annoying song on letting go).

 

But for those of you that NEED something, here are some tips.

 

  • When you design “challenges”, make them open ended. For example, “make something that moves” is a LOT different than saying “build a robot with 4 Cubelets”
  • Beware of circulating kits or stations. Again – there is a time and a place for these. But also keep in mind that a lot of  makerspace products were meant to interact. If kids at the littleBits table are only allowed to play with littleBits, how are they supposed to learn how the skills transfer? I remember when my kids took littleBits, Legos, K’Nex and some LEDs and made an old Justin Beiber poster light up and talk. That was cool and there was no Instructable on that.
  • If you’re just starting a makerspace, consider skipping the “how-to” guides altogether. I promise kids will figure it out. Going back to my bike analogy, the new research suggests that skipping tricycles and training wheels is better for kids and they suggest starting kids with balance bikes.

 

 

Seriously people, Henry Ford didn’t invent the Model T with a how-to guide.

Amazing Opportunity – The Paradigm Challenge

Things have been so busy with conferences coming up (and kids, and work, and life), I haven't had much time to blog. But this opportunity was too good not to share!

Finding this was pure luck (or fate). I was streaming my twitter feed (when I should have probably been doing something else), when I found this post:

Some of you are aware, but this is my first year not in the classroom. While I absolutely LOVE my job, there are days when I miss my kiddos so much. The day I first learned about this challenge was DEFINITELY one of those days. 

This would be such an amazing opportunity for them to let their genius shine. 

Holy PRIZES!

We'll get to the grand prize in a minute, but 100 other teams will also be winners. With cash prizes ranging from $200 to $100,000 (yes, ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND), I know my kids would be interested.

So...what's the grand prize?

Well, in addition to the ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS, your entire team will receive a 4-day/3-night trip to Los Angeles to attend the prize ceremony. You'll also get escorted to the limo in a fabulous dress/tuxedo in a LIMO. You'll also receive some spending cash and tickets to cool stuff to do while you're in town. (Remember guys, that's where Disney Land and Universal Studios is!)

 

And what is that $100,000 for exactly? Well - it's up to you and your team. Want to invest it? Want to donate it? Want to set it aside for college? Want to launch your own business? Go for it. Chase those dreams and don't stop chasing.

And how could I forget! TEACHERS ARE ALSO ELIGIBLE FOR CASH PRIZES. Support the winning team and you could snag yourself a $5,000 educator grant?

 

But really, the biggest prize is so much more than trips and money. It's inspiring others to try and make the world a better place. It's inspiring kids to try and fail and try again. It's helping kids find their passions. Of course that's the real grand prize. And everyone can win that one.

So what is the challenge?

The Paradigm Challenge is an annual competition that inspires youth to use STEM skills plus kindness, creativity, and collaboration to make a difference.  The 2016-17 Challenge aims to generate new ideas to reduce waste in homes, schools, communities, and around the world. 

Here is a great video overview for you and to show your students!

I love the theme of this challenge. It's not just about making something. It's about making something that has an impact. That solves a problem. That helps someone (or lots of people). As a librarian, I love that it requires students to do research. And think about the rich discussion surrounding intellectual property and copyright. Wow. (is my librarian showing?)

Students need to find a problem (and not just any old problem, but one they're passionate about). Get them fired up!

Once they find a problem, they need to research what is causing the problem, what (if any) solutions are out there, AND if there are any solutions already out there, WHY is the problem not solved?

As a maker, I love the idea of working through the entire design process AND working collaboratively to solve a problem. This project requires both!

If you're not already familiar with the Launch Cycle (as featured in the book Launch by John Spencer and AJ Juliani), now is the time to familiarize yourself.

Click on the image above to download this and many other posters

Who can participate?

The challenge is open to anyone ages 4-18 (by May 1, 2017). You must have parent permission to participate. There are three divisions for cash prizes (4-8, 9-13, and 14-18)

There is no minimum or maximum team size.  

How do my students enter the challenge?

Once your students create an account, they'll get access to a dashboard. In their dashboard, they'll see the 10 steps they need to complete the challenge. 

As you can see, I only have 20% of the challenge completed because I've only done one task (choose my avatar). 

As I mentioned before, I love how the Paradigm Challenge incorporates so much research. Some of the activities require kids to read about the current state of the environment, and others require kids to learn about methods to reduce waste (composting, solar energy, and others). 

Once you get to the part where you're "creating", keep the following judging criteria in mind.

a. Efficacy : How effective is the idea?

b. Feasibility: How possible is the idea?

c. Originality: How innovative is the idea?

d. Presentation: How clear is the idea?

e. Collaboration: How well did the team members work together with each other and with other persons.

 

Support for Teachers!

Don't worry teachers -The Paradigm Project doesn't want you going at this alone. They've created an entire portal just for educators.  Complete with lesson plans, inspirational videos, flyers, letters for parents, posters, and so much more. 

And if you have a question, just reach out. They are support responsive and will help you and your students in any and every way possible.

Michelle Lewis is the Outreach Coordinator and you can contact her directly at michelle at projectparadigm.org 

So what are you waiting for? Deadline is May 1st!

click above to get started!

Create an Amazing Low-Tech, No-Tech Makerspace (Demco Guest Blog)

I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to do a guest blog for Demco's Ideas and Inspiration blog. It's an absolute wonderful resource and there is an abundance of information about makerspaces and space design on this blog.

Most of you know that I am incredibly passionate about low-tech makerspaces and I am so happy to be able to share my passion in this post. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Unless you live under a rock or are completely off the grid when it comes to technology, you’re probably aware of the maker movement. However, if you need a refresher, I made an infographic. The maker movement is such an exciting time for students and teachers alike! Yet, while a part of you is excited, the other part of you is flooded with the reasons why you just can’t start a makerspace right now.

 

  • “I have no money.”
  • “I’m just not super comfortable with technology.”
  • “We don’t have devices at my school.”
  • “I don’t have the space.”
  • “I don’t have the schedule that allows me to teach the kids how to do the stuff.”

Read the entire blog post here

Stop Thinking About Starting a Makerspace

I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do a guest blog post for Common Sense Media’s Graphite blog on makerspaces.

That’s awesome for two reasons.

1 – I love Graphite! Graphite is a tool that has an abundance of reviews and ratings for websites and apps. If you’re looking for a tool to accomplish a task, there are hundreds of collections published on every topic imaginable.

2 – I love Common Sense Media. As a middle school librarian I’m always looking for in-plain-English reviews of books. Particularly books with “questionable” topics. Common Sense Media reviews are done by both parents and students that have READ the book and provide specific examples. (I’ll post more about that soon)

I was allowed to write about anything connected to #makerspaces. This was difficult for me. How do I narrow that down? So I decided to shake things up a little bit.

I wrote a post on why you should STOP thinking about starting a makerspace.

 

Read all about it here.

 

Make Writing

I know I’m a little biased, but I think we have a pretty amazing makerspace. It’s getting bigger – and messier – every day and the kids are creating some incredible stuff. Until recently, the makerspace was pretty contained to the library. This certainly wasn’t to exclude maker activities from occurring elsewhere – it just happened.
While at one of our ELA planning meetings, we were discussing the lack of enthusiasm kids have for writer’s workshop. What was once a time for kids to express themselves creatively, was now a time that kids dreaded. How sad? I loved Writer’s Workshop as a kid. We had to fix this. They had tried creative prompts, incorporating movies and music, but they were still “bleh”.
As we were brainstorming, an 8th grade English teacher brought up the book “Make Writing” by Angela Stockman. Oddly enough, I had just finished reading my advanced readers copy since I’m a member of the Hack Learning VIP program. All of a sudden we both were sitting at the edge of our seats ready to do it!
The idea of Make Writing is so basic that it is genius (but doesn’t it always happen that way).
Think about it…

Writer’s Workshop is intended to give students a creative outlet.

Makerspaces are intended to give students a creative outlet.

Put them together and you have magic. 

Three easy steps:

Step 1: We reserved the LGI because we needed a large space. We put all three ELA classes together (approximately 75 students).

Step 2: We brainstormed all of the creative things we could have the students do. We made this Tackk to share the options with students.

Step 3: Sit back and watch 🙂

Below are some images from the fun. And it really was SO MUCH FUN! I’m not lying when I say that 8th grade BOYS were RUNNING to English class. Two days prior a fire alarm could’ve gone off and these boys wouldn’t run. They’d be far too worried about how much “swag” they have when exiting the building “like a boss”. (Seriously though)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what have I learned?

  • The “makerspace” isn’t really a “space” at all. It’s more of a culture and a mindset. In reality, what we call the “makerspace” is really just convenient access to the storage of everything.
  • The makerspace doesn’t have to be an extension activity or an add-on. There are so many ways that you can incorporate making into the curriculum. Advice: take the most boring topic you can think of and incorporate making.
  • Begin with “suggested” activities to get the creative juices flowing, but don’t limit their creativity to just those activities.
  • If assigning a grade, try to focus on the process and the planning rather than the final product. It’s important to stress that mistakes will happen and you only truly fail if you give up. Sometimes the greatest inventions occurred on accident.

Be sure to connect with the three teachers that made this all happen!

@rowens1
@sjhegge
@misseggert

 

All About the sARndbox: An Augmented Reality Playground

Update: sARndbox “In Plain English” video

Our kiddos made their own video explaining the AR sandbox 🙂
I’ve been posting a lot on social media about our latest makerspace creation and so many people (okay, 2) have asked how we did it (and provided a lot of encouragement on the days I thought it might fail – thanks #TCEAtribe). Hopefully this blog post answers most of the questions. Once I go through all of our video footage (the kids took over 4 hours of footage), I’ll post some more videos on our process. As always, if you have any questions or need clarification, please just reach out to me at @LibrarianLister.
I wish I could say we came up with the idea, but we definitely didn’t. Oliver Kreylos, a computer scientist studying 3D scientific visualizations and computational geosciences at UC Davis designed and programmed the AR sandbox software. He made the software available as open source – YAY! – so we, and YOU can go grab it. #GoOpen. We first learned of these sandboxes at the Young Innovators Fair in Philadelphia this January. Myself and another teacher took a group of 20 very curious middle schoolers to this event over our Winter break. It was phenomenal.
Shortly after the Fair, we got asked to present something relating to makerspaces at the Taste of Hershey. The Taste of Hershey is our school’s foundation’s biggest fundraiser. A bunch of restaurants and businesses come together for a day of fun conversation and great food.
There are a lot of resources out there on Augmented Reality sandboxes. Of which, I understood none completely. If it weren’t for my genius, computer-programming and mechanically inclined students, I would truly have a box with sand.
This blog post is an attempt to put the many resources into plain English and I’ll provide links along the way so you can see more.

WHAT IS IT?

There are quite a few videos out there about the AR sandbox (trust me, we watched them all!) but this one does a great job of just answering the big “WHAT IS IT” question.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

AR Sandbox uses a computer projector and a motion­ sensing input device (an Xbox Kinect) mounted above a box of sand. The Kinect detects the distance to the sand below, and a visualization ­­ an elevation model with contour lines (aka. a topographic map) and a color map assigned by elevation ­­ is cast from an overhead projector onto the surface of the sand. As the sand is moved, the Kinect perceives changes in the distance to the sand surface, and the projected colors and contour lines change accordingly. When an object (for example, a hand) is sensed at a particular height above the surface of the sand, virtual rain appears as a blue, shimmering visualization on the surface below. The water appears to flow down the slopes to lower surfaces.

HOW IT’S MADE?

Here are the must-have’s to create your own AR sandbox:
  • A sandbox that is a 4:3 ratio (this is so it matches the ratio of the projector). It’s not a big deal if your box is bigger than the 4:3 ratio, just know that your projection won’t fill the entire box. You can either build your sandbox out of wood (what we did) or find something to use as a makeshift sandbox (think dresser drawer or a plastic storage bin).
    • Ours was 32″ x 24″. In hindsight, I might have made it a little bigger but since we did a lot of transporting, I’m glad ours was smaller.
    • If building your sandbox out of wood (as we did), I’d recommend water sealing it or lining it with a plastic tarp of some sort. Ours is not a permanent fixture so we did neither.
    • TIPS: Your INTERIOR measurements are what’s important. So if you’re using 2″ thick wood for your sandbox walls, you’d want to factor that in when building the box.
  • Caulk to seal the inside of the sandbox. I guess this wasn’t super necessary but our kids liked using the caulk gun.
  • Sand that will cover your entire sandbox with at least 4″ of sand.
    • We used Play Sand from Home Depot and added a little bit of water when we did the demonstrations. This way we could do a bit more molding. We used 3, 50lb bags ($3.90 x 3 = $11.70)
    • Some places recommend white sand such as this kind from Sandtastic but its much more expensive ($31.99 x 6 = $191.94)
    • You can also use Moon Sand ($58.04 x 8 = $464.32) or Kinetic Sand ($49.99 x 14 = $699.86) if you want a crazy experience.
  • A computer with at least the following:
    • Running the 64bit version of Linux
    • At least an Intel i5 (preferrably an i7 processor) running at least 3GHz. The better the processor, the faster the Kinect can scan and simultaneous project what it’s rendering. Ours was about a 3 second delay because of our 5 year old i5. We found an i5 processor in an old computer in the technology “death room”.
    • 2 GB of RAM to run the software.
    • A hard drive with at least 20GB free for the installation of Linux and the software
    • A sweet graphics card. We used a GTX 950 ($177.99) but I would not go any lower than that. Ideally, go with the 980TI ($619.99) as it will look much more like the quality in the video above. We have a lot of students that build their own computers for fun. One of our students that was instrumental in building this had a 950 that we used.
  • A first generation xBox Kinect for the Xbox 360 (not the Xbox One!) A lot of kids have upgraded to Xbox One so we had several kids bring in their “extra” kinects.
  • A short throw projector. (Teachers: Think ceiling mounted projector for SMART board vs. the ones you’d set on a cart in the back of the classroom). Originally we used an old projector from the technology “death room” but the bulb died the day before the “show” (#storyofmylife). So much to the displeasure of my technology department, I stole the one from my library classroom. (#sorrynotsorry)
    • You’ll want a projector that has HDMI or DVI that way you can take full advantage of the graphics card. You can still use a projector that has a VGA component, but it will definitely cut back on the quality output.
  • Something the mount the projector and Kinect above the sandbox.
    • Your Kinect should be mounted at the same height as your box is wide. (Our box was 32″ wide, so we mounted the Kinect 32″ high)
  • A vacuum (see images below)
  • Mountain Dew, Italian Four Cheese CheezIts (“must haves” according to middle schoolers)
  • Camera to document everything
  • Patience.
  • Perseverance.

Basically, it will look like this.

Or, if you can’t read middle school, this:

MORE FROM THE ADVENTURE

Before we built the box, we built the computer. We tested the projection and 3D rendering by this very sophisticated prototype made out of masking tape (see above)
We stayed after school one evening to build the box. My husband cut the wood and did some pre-drilling. The rest was up to the kids. A few kids had never used a drill before. Boy were they ever stoked!! Once we had the box assembled, we needed to figure out the mount for the projector.
I was super nervous about this part because it needs to be perfect. Reading through some of the help forums, I knew we needed a way to make this super study, but also somewhat adjustable. Sorry but that was way above me. We left that evening with an “eh…let’s sleep on it” kind of feeling.
And then I got to school the next day and one of my students was waiting with this masterpiece:
Uh…yeah. I know, right? He took a fence post, attached one part of the projector mount to it. Then, he took a steel pipe and put it in adjustable camps to which he soldered another steel pipe so we could mount the Kinect.
I’m not sure what made me happier – the solution to our problem, or the look of accomplishment on Joey’s face ALL day. (Definitely the latter). 
The pictures above were taken before school actually started. The kids came by, saw Joey’s creation, and didn’t even go to their locker before they started putting it together.
Once we had everything set up, we put the box on an old laptop cart so that it was study and could house the
The last step was calibration and boy was that a task! We spent a solid 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon just doing the calibration. And we still didn’t perfect the water simulation piece. At 4:30 on Saturday, we went home praying that the thing would work tomorrow.
So on Sunday morning (raining, of course), I brought my Ford Ranger to school and packed up everything. I went to take the sandbox to my car and it wouldn’t fit through the door. SERIOUSLY?!
So we quickly moved it to a smaller cart (an old projector cart) and just prayed that it wouldn’t fall.
Eventually, we got it there.

AND. IT. WAS. AWESOME.

The community response on the AR sandbox was overwhelmingly positive. People thought this was a project for gifted and they were so surprised to learn that this wasn’t a project at all, it was just a bunch of kids interested in learning more about this.

As I was editing this post, we received a phone call asking us to present at the Business Leaders Breakfast next week. I guess I’ll be dismantling that projector in my library again 🙂

OTHER RESOURCES

  • This resource has some CAD blueprints of the AR Sandbox (in .dwg files)
  • As with every complex creation comes its own help forum. This was a life saver in our final moments.
  • This Facilitation Guide was meant for museums, but has a lot of great tips for teachers too.
I hope this helped some of you get an idea of what in the world I was posting about the past month.
This is our next project:
A game table made from a cheap IKEA end table and a Raspberry Pi.

It Didn’t Work…but It Wasn’t a Failure

Last year I immersed myself in maker education. I followed everyone imaginable, read every book published, and learned as much as I could. As my knowledge grew, I became more and more excited about what a makerspace could look like at my school. Our district was also immersing itself in blended education and was big on the idea of the library as a Learning Commons. After working with our Director of Infrastructure Technology, Director of Instructional Technology, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, and my building administrators, a makerspace vision was developed.

I also made this infographic.

Knowing I would be on maternity leave for the 1st marking period, I did as much planning prior to the start of the school year. Unfortunately/fortunately, my bundle of joy arrived nearly a month early and I wasn’t at the spot I needed to be in order to officially “start” the Makerspace.

I returned to school a few weeks ago and had the official “grand opening” of the HMS Makerspace. Kids flocked to the library. I mean FLOCKED. It was chaos. Beautiful chaos. And I loved it! It was the best distraction from being away from my children.


And after a few days, the beauty disappeared and it was just chaos. Pure and simple. 



And I was devastated. 



So I paused. I put everything on hold and just watched and observed. I needed to know what was going wrong in order for me to fix it. And I’m so glad I did. I learned that some of the “best” things about my school and my library were actually working against the way I had set up the Makerspace. 

Wide Open Spaces

Our library is this large, open space with huge ceilings and glass wall/window overlooking our courtyard. It’s a beautiful space. Unfortunately, the echo is AWFUL. Imagine having a library in a natatorium without any sound barriers (yeah, it’s that bad). So the echo is great if you’re trying preserve the traditional quiet library space, as even a whisper travels across the room. Without saying too much more, you can see why this is an issue.

Staggered Classes and Study Halls

Our middle school operates on a traditional 7 period day, but each grade level has a slightly adjusted schedule (don’t worry if you don’t understand, I don’t either). Students visit the library before school, after school, and during “flex” (study hall). Since each grade level has a slightly adjusted schedule, 7th grade could be in core classes while 8th grade is having their flex period. I work on a flexible schedule which is AWESOME, except for when the class overlaps with flex (which it ALWAYS does). Because of problem #1, I am forced to close the library for flex when I have a class scheduled.

Not Everyone Wants to Use the Makerspace

This was big for me. I think I was trying to make the entire library a makerspace. I think I was so excited to eliminate the notion of the “traditional” library, that I forgot that it still serves a purpose. School libraries are first and foremost a place to support the students and the curriculum. And while the makerspace has a huge curricular impact, it addresses one piece of the pie. I still needed a place for students to read quietly, work on homework, and makeup tests. Not every student comes to the library to code or make Justin Bieber’s eyes light up with LittleBits. And while it seems obvious now, it took me a while to realize this. Fortunately, everyone around me realized it and pointed it out to me. Some kids explained that they couldn’t concentrate in the library. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to enjoy the makerspace, but they had priorities and I was making their decision difficult by tempting them with these cool things. Teachers explained that they really counted on the library as a place to send kids if their study hall was noisy and kids needed to focus.

What to do?

It was clear that we had students that wanted to come to the library for the makerspace and students that wanted to come to the library for a focused, academic purpose. Unfortunately, because of our open floor plan, they were on top of each other. So I was sitting in my office drawing up some plans of how I could once again rearrange the library (my maintenance department was going to kill me). And then it hit me. My office. Let’s move the makerspace into my office. 

It took me all of 30 minutes to clean out my office. It was only my second year at this school so I hadn’t accumulated much stuff. Further, I hated being in there anyway. Even though the office has glass walls (which makes it PERFECT for the makerspace), I always felt as though there was a barrier between me and the students. Again, barrier = PERFECT for this situation. 

I had already scheduled my maintenance department to come in and help me move things, but while they were there, I ran by an idea that I found at AASL. And it worked AWESOME! We have these beautiful, sturdy oak tables, but they aren’t the best for flexible spaces. So we purchased some castors and my maintenance department replaced the feet with wheels 🙂 It’s awesome! Now I have beautiful, study furniture that is also moveable!
So here are some pictures of our “NEW” Makerspace. Although its a little cramped, it doesn’t seem to bother the kids.

LittleBits station (on our “new” moveable tables)
MakeyMakey station (my old desk)

Ozobot station
I learned so much through this process. 

1. Makerspaces aren’t a one-size-fits-all model. Keep your school’s vision and mission at the heart of the space.

2. Creating a makerspace doesn’t mean abandoning your library.

3. Succeeding after a failure is SO much more rewarding. And after all, isn’t that what we’re trying to teach our kids through maker activities?

The #1 Makerspace Resource: Your Students!

If you are looking to start a makerspace at your school or library, there are a wealth of resources available to help you get started. I would be so lost if it weren’t for many of these. They also have a lot of research supporting the maker movement.

In addition, there have been a few key individuals whose blogs I follow religiously.
Renovated Learning – blog of Diana Rendina @DianaLRendina
Create, Collaborate, Innovate – blog of Colleen Graves @gravescolleen
Worlds of Learning  – blog of Laura Fleming @NMHS_lms

These resources have been invaluable to me in determining projects, designing the space, and the many planning and logistics that are involved. They’ve also helped me anticipate and work through any issues that may arise.
What these resources didn’t provide was the voice from my students and teachers. No matter how many reputable sources or blogs I consulted, I wasn’t getting the input and feedback that really mattered.

Student Voice from Day 1

I’ll be honest – starting a makerspace was not on my list of things to accomplish this year. But in October our 7th grade students were in the midst of their campaigns for class president and many of their campaign posters had things about the library. Some of them recommended adding a second floor, some of them recommended adding a pool table. One of our students suggested a LEGO wall for the library. I had no idea what it was until he showed me an image he found on Google. Turns out, that image was from Diana Rendina’s blog. Anyway, this was the start of it all. Although that student wasn’t elected class president, we decided to continue with the LEGO wall. We had about 6 students involved and they planned the entire thing from start to finish. Take a look at their Google Doc here. 
A ton of learning went into the planning of the LEGO wall. The kids researched the required materials, did all of the math to figure out what was needed, and then did research to compare prices. Once we had a materials list and a cost, we brainstormed some ideas for fundraising. Things got really interesting here! We had everything suggested from a car wash (in November) to selling $0.25 bags of chips in the library. In the end, we followed in Diana’s footsteps and I did my first DonorsChoose project. The kids were awesome at marketing the project. In fact, their parents were some of our biggest donors. It makes sense that parents would contribute to something that directly impacts their child.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about our makerspace (yet). Instead, I really want to focus on why I think its going to work – the students. All of our purchases, arrangement, and programs have stemmed from the students. We have a group of students called the “Creative Council” (they wanted to be called the Imagineers but then they had an argument about copyright…again more learning). This group serves as representatives for their grade to provide input on our library space. Essentially, there job is to ask their peers what they want and then report back. Our 7th grade team decided to post a huge banner in the hallway asking “what do you want to see in the library?” WARNING: DON’T DO THIS. Especially if you’re in a middle/high school. Let’s just say we got some pretttyy interesting and grossly inappropriate responses.

So if you’re currently thinking about starting a makerspace (or even if you already have), please include your students on the decision making process. Just because something is successful in another makerspace, doesn’t necessarily mean it will be successful in yours. So while there are loads of great resources out there (and growing), the most important resource is right in front of you.

P.S. When asking your students for suggestions, be prepared for some wild and crazy ideas. We’ve had suggestions for a petting zoo, skate park, a pool table. We also had a suggestion for a beehive and a goat to put in our courtyard to mow the lawn. And while those ideas won’t work, it was so fun having the discussion. And remember, amidst those 50 crazy ideas, you’ll have a few amazing ones!