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!