By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, Nov 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I was totally baffled when someone asked me at the beginning of the makerspace what curriculum we would be using. That implied, at least to me, that there was some series of activities and standards and skills I would teaching to the kids. I know not all curriculums are teacher- or skill-driven, but I wasn’t quite sure what using a curriculum would mean for me. So, what exactly is the role of the adult in the Makerspace? After working in the makerspace and seeing how other people run theirs I think the answer is, it depends.
A big part of your role will be determined by your personality. Personally, I can handle a lot of noise, chaos, and questions flying fast and furiously. I let the kids come in and get to work on whatever it is that strikes their fancy. I can help teach them skills (if I have them) or find someone who can. I help hold things here and glue things there. If that kind of thing bothers you, you may want to be more strategic in how you set up the makerspace. You’ll also want to have more planned activities where you can lead a group or groups of kids and keep a lid on the chaos.
Another factor is what the purpose of your makerspace is. Mine is to expose kids to new experiences, tools and materials and let them go. If you want to do some more formalized making then your role is going to be a lot more proscribed. You might set up an activity before each session and take the kids through it or, at the least, monitor their progress through it.
Your role can also be determined by the kids in your space. Are they younger or older? Do they need more or less prompting? Do they need a lot of hand holding? Do they need a lot of help learning how to use the tools? My kids are younger and while they don’t usually need help coming up with ideas they do need help using the saw (they aren’t tall enough to get good leverage to cut). Sometimes they get stuck and need a little help moving past a roadblock. All that means I’m more hands-on than someone who might be working with high schoolers might be.
Finally your space may play a role in determining what you do. Larger spaces may be more conducive to having a lot of projects going at once. Whereas a smaller space may require you to run a tighter ship. And if you have to set up specific activities for a smaller space you may have to keep the kids reigned in and give them more direct instruction.
As it is, I run our makerspace out of boxes that have to get unpacked and repacked each day. So part of my role is to keep us contained and set things out so the kids can actually use the materials. I help them out when they ask, especially with tricky or unfamiliar materials and tools. I also set up a little provocation each day to inspire, intrigue, and entice the kids. But mostly I’m there to keep an eye on things, make sure they have the things they need to be creative, and get out of their way.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Nov 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
One place my makerspace struggles is keeping the kids engaged when they are in between projects or, especially, when they are waiting for help or materials. Part of this has to do with the ages of the kids in the makerspace. They’re young (second and third grade primarily) and while I wish they could be totally independent they can’t be. A second grader sometimes needs help sawing or setting up the drill.
I found an inspired solution to this problem in one of the makerspace presentations I went to at the CUE fall conference. The presenter said she sets up little activities for the kids (more on your role and curriculum in the makerspace in next week’s post), but that the instructions should fit on a post-it if you need them at all.
In Reggio classrooms teachers set up what they call provocations. These are little set-ups with materials and context that hint at what kids can do with the materials, but still allows for some interpretation and individual exploration. Drawing on this, I decided to start this practice in the makerspace. Kids can go there if they are bored, if they are waiting, if they need inspiration, if it looks interesting or I may send them there if they are off task (I haven’t actually done that yet and I don’t want to make it a punishment, but there are a couple friends that may need some specific redirecting).
I came across this article on the Inquire Within blog about how creativity and passion can’t happen on demand. It’s a lot more organic than that. I totally agree with this article and how it advocates for having creativity and passion built into the day in all lessons, however, sometimes you only have the allotted time to build and work with materials, as we do in the makerspace. I like to use the provocations to expose the kids to ideas and concepts and help get them into a maker mindset.
Some provocations we’ve done so far:
- Take apart: old laptop, set of tiny screwdrivers
- Hammering & Drilling: table full of wood scraps clamped down, bowls of nails and screws, drills, hammers, and drill bits
- More exploring buoyancy: Can you make boat that will float? Supplies: tub of water, bin of Legos
- Exploring buoyancy: Can you make a boat that will float? Try different shapes and sizes. Supplies: tub of water, bowl of tiny aquarium stones, roll of aluminum foil
- Markers and graph paper
- Marshmallow challenge: Build the tallest, most stable structure you can in 18 minutes. You can make teams or work together. Supplies: 1 marshmallow, 20 spaghetti noodles, 1 yard tape (masking), 1 yard string, kitchen timer
- Slime Kitchen Recipes: Here’s my list, recipes, and planning for this one. The link will open a pdf in a new window. It’s a little longer and more involved than the others and was driven by the kids starting out using up all our glue, glitter, and some cornstarch and water.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, Nov 2014 | In Remix | By Elizabeth Wroten
Two weekends ago I attended the CUE (Computer Using Educators) fall conference. I really like this conference because it is for education (a lot of the professional development I do is really just for librarians) and it has tons, and I mean tons, of session options. It runs over two day, a Friday and a Saturday.
I went last year and attended one session that was all about makerspaces and the maker movement and it is what really started my mission to get a makerspace up and running. My husband and I talked a lot about it and we got the after school enrichment administrator and the art teacher on board. And then we let the ball drop. I was busy at home with our daughter and my husband has plenty on his plate.
This fall we picked up again when the head of the middle school gave us a little kick in the pants and started the conversation up again. We pretty much picked up where our plans from the previous school year and had fallen off and now I’m running the makerspace.
This year at CUE there were a ton more sessions about makerspaces I tried to attend them all, even if they were more about getting started than about actually running it. It was such a relief to hear people talking about the same things I have been thinking about for a couple years now (in conjunction with makerspaces and with the Reggio approach that I’ve been researching). It was also a relief to hear that other people are just jumping in and learning as they go along much like I am.
My biggest take-aways:
– We need a dedicated space. In our own space I won’t be having to clean everything up and tuck it tightly into bins every afternoon. I can leave projects out and this helps the kids pick back up where they were and keep projects going for extended periods of time. I know that this kind of thing will help kids delve more deeply into projects and learning.
-I want a 3D printer. Last year I saw a session on copyright by Christine Mytko. This educator is amazing. She made copyright cool. This year she was talking about 3D printing and you should have seen the stuff she has had her kids learn how to do. It was stunning (her site has more). I know a 3D printer isn’t absolutely necessary, but if I could use one to get the kind of learning she got out of her kids it would be incredible.
-It’s wonderful to know that there are people who want this in education. Sometimes I feel very lonely and out-there with my educational ideas. Unstructured time for kids? Letting a second grader use a drill and hand saw? Yes! Let’s have some faith in kids and let’s give them time to be creative and thoughtful and follow what they are interested in! It was nice to hear that others think about this the way I do.
-If you do have activities set up, they should fit on a post-it. Instructions should be simple and the set up should help make what needs to be done evident. (I will talk more about this in my next makerspace post).
-I need to read Invent to Learn and Tinkering from Make magazine.
In all, I’m so glad I went to this and got to talk about makerspaces some more.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Nov 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Below are a few resources you might find helpful in creating and maintaining a makerspace. I think I’ll add to this as I go along because I imagine I will come across more and more sites, ideas, and articles that will be worthwhile.
Makerspace Playbook: This is an awesome publication from Make Magazine’s makerspace arm. It will give you lists of supplies to consider, space considerations, set up considerations, etc. I read this when we were first doing planning and found it invaluable even if our makerspace ins’t run or structured exactly like the one they create in the playbook. Okay, so here’s where this gets hairy. Here is the link to request a free copy of the Playbook. When we were getting started a year ago I just printed it out from somewhere and here is a link to the pdf to print or save. I don’t know why I can’t find where to simply download a copy instead of requesting they send you one. I did find a direct link to the pdf, though, but am not sure if this is totally kosher to post it. I will, but if anyone thinks it’s unethical let me know.
Also check out the Makerspace Education Initiative. They have great resources.
I also highly recommend the book Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert if you are creating a makerspace for younger students. The learning space this book helps you create is essentially a makerspace. She also has great advice about how to help kids bring their own interests to the learning space and how not to step on their ideas or thinking.
I cannot encourage you enough to look into the Reggio Emilia approach to education. They are essentially the maker movement for kids (although they started right after WWII in Italy, long before the hipsters). Some of the core principles of a Reggio education are: student-/interest-led projects and learning, a belief in the capability of kids, the One Hundred Languages (which are essentially any media or material kids use to make their learning visible), detailed documentation of what students are doing that makes their thinking visible, provocations or set-ups that are thoughtfully created to entice children to play with them and tie in with some aspect of what they are learning about, and the environment as the third teacher (so the importance of setting up the learning space). If you want books I suggest Project-Based Homeschooling because this is closest to creating a makerspace (as opposed to an ECE classroom). There are a lot of great blogs out there, but for a good mix of pedagogy and projects (so that you aren’t stuck with tons of ideas for preschool art projects) try The Curious Kindergarten, Miss Reggio, and TransformED.
Diy.org: diy.org is a makerspace resource that gives out digital badges for mastery of a huge variety of hobbies. I would say you could use this as a curriculum of sorts. There are certainly tons and tons of choices for topics and activities here.
Ideas & Inspiration
The Show Me Librarian Makerspace post: Amy Koester, the Show Me Librarian, is all about STEAM programming in her library. She has tons of fabulous ideas and she supports making. This particular post pulls together a treasure trove of makerspace resources.
Wonderopolis: an awesome site that features a “wonder-why” style question every day which it goes on to answer.
Make: The website for the magazine. Has a HUGE selection of projects with step-by-step guides. They also have a store for purchasing supplies. It can’t hurt to have a couple copies of the magazine out in the makerspace for inspiration either.
How To Smile: Here’s a fantastic website that was put together by children’s science museums around the country (including the Exploratorium). The site features tons of STEM projects and experiments. It’s organized around various topics such as chemistry, math, energy, etc. It also has badges and points you can earn if you are so inclined.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 16, Oct 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
One lesson I am learning pretty quickly with the makerspace is not to be afraid to throw things away. Because funding is tight for us I kept looking at little pieces of metal and plastic and cardboard and thinking I should hang on to them. They could be used again. So I would brush the glitter off them and tuck them back into our bins for the next meeting.
I started to notice, though, that the kids were casting those pieces aside when looking for inspiration and for what they needed. I would try and offer these pieces when they asked me for help finding scraps. They would give it the hairy eyeball and say they were looking for something else. The kids weren’t being wasteful (most of the time). They just didn’t want a half colored or glue caked scrap of wood or cardboard.
At some point it wasn’t worth the time I was spending sorting the stuff. I started to throw out the worst bits and pieces. No one seems to miss them and the supplies that are a bit used look a lot more appealing and are getting sifted through more. Our supply bins look fresher at the end of the day when things are tidier and not full of the same messy scraps. Now if it’s a mess, I throw it out. Apparently the kids are more concerned with aesthetics than I thought they would be.
I understand if you just don’t have a budget and need to squeeze out every last cent from your materials, but don’t be afraid to let the worst bits go. I save larger scraps, anything that isn’t mangled and as many wood scraps as I can. But anything that is marked up, cut in several places, covered in glue or tape or is generally nasty looking, it goes into the trash.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Things are going really well so far in the MakerSpace. The kids have really surprised me with their ability to just walk in, pick something up and see its potential. This is especially true for the younger kids. In some ways I’m sure this kind of place attracts those types of kids, but I expected to need to do a little more prompting. I also just want to note that one of the middle school students wants to build a soapbox derby car! That is so awesome!
So today I wanted to talk a little bit about getting the space set up just to give anyone who might be thinking about doing this some thoughts on how I went about it. Of course your funding and space will be a big determining factor in what you can have, but we did this fairly inexpensively. I highly recommend hitting up school supply sales and the Dollar Store when you actually need to buy materials.
One of the first things I did when I was initially planning was to determine what kinds of general activities I wanted to have available (art station, recycled materials, etc.). I decided until we had our own space I wanted large plastic bins to corral everything and that the supplies really shouldn’t exceed what could fit in those bins. Then I made a list of the supplies I wanted in each of those bins (I will share those below).
Next I determined what I should buy and what we could ask the school community to donate. I bought mostly office supplies, a couple tool kits, the bins, and a couple sewing kits. The rest was donated (with the exception of the electronics, although we got a few of those for taking apart). I will warn you, you will probably get a fair amount of junk that people just want to get out of their house. I cleaned through it and tossed a number of things that were just not going to entice a child to use them (a rusty pick axe, for example). We got TONS of fabric and not a single kid has gone near any of it. We even got a couple sewing machines donated. I really highly recommend hitting up your community, be it the library community or the school community, for donations. People are often willing to give this stuff away and it will save you a boatload of money and time. They may also become a good resource for guest speakers and guest experts.
One last thought about supplies. Don’t go overboard initially. Get some of the stuff and then step back and see what the kids are drawn to. In our case it’s been the recycled materials. They haven’t touched the fabric or even the craft supplies much (except for the glitter, oh my, the glitter). You can always add more supplies as you go along and expect to not have something a kid is looking for. Those are teachable moments where you can help them find a sufficient substitute or tell them you will get it and have it the next time they come. I’m still filling requests for pie tins and wire and Q-tips. That’s pretty much how we supplied the MakerSpace. A combination of purchased materials and donated materials. It was relatively simple once we had a space so don’t let the idea of needing a 3-D printer or CNC machine daunt you, you don’t need a complicated set up.
In one of my upcoming posts I will talk about the structure of the hour the kids are there (there isn’t much of one) and how I’m working on getting the kid to explore some new materials.
- Deconstruction Box
- screwdrivers of various sizes
- small hammers
- toys, electronics to deconstruct
- Sewing Box
- sewing machine
- fabric remnants
- sewing scissors
- ipad for tutorials
- Art Box
- blank paper
- construction paper
- graph paper
- pencils (drawing and colored)
- stamp pads
- doodle books (Ed Emberly)
- scissors (several sizes)
- tape (several types)
- glues (various types)
- Recycled Materials Box
- paper towel and toilet paper tubes
- pie tins
- bottle caps
- milk jugs
- berry baskets
- Studio Box
- digital camera
- disposable camera?
- video camera (Flip?)
- digital voice recorder
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 23, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Last week I was lucky to be able to attend the ALSC Institute. I absolutely love going to conferences. I am such a introvert and am happy living in my own little land here on the blog and in my MakerSpace, but conferences really force me to get outside that shell. Despite being introverted I also love to collaborate and even though conferences don’t exactly facilitate collaboration, they do give me the opportunity to hear other people’s thoughts and perspectives. Even if they aren’t solving a problem I have or aren’t working on a project exactly like mine, I can often find tidbits that I can apply to my projects and problems.
I was especially excited during this conference to see so much information and enthusiasm for STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). Beyond creative, flexible thinking, makerspaces are often a lot about STEAM. I found a lot of ideas to take back to my MakerSpace. I also found a personal connection. I always enjoyed science and math (okay, maybe not in seventh grade, but that was an anomalous year) and now that I’m home with my daughter I’m really making a concerted effort to expose her to STEM concepts.
Seeing the authors speak was also a treat. I love when they share their personal experience with libraries, librarians, and reading. But they always offer insight into a lot of other subjects. Steve Sheinkin spoke directly to my distaste for the traditional model of teaching seen in schools. He worked as a text book contributor and was always having to cut what he found to the most interesting tidbits of information from the historical stories. This ultimately led to his career as an interesting history book author. The first panel examined how hard it is being a tween and how awkward they were at that age. I think most people feel that way and it’s always reassuring to hear that these people who we admire felt just as ridiculous as we did at that age. I was especially taken with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s talk on Saturday. She gave me an entirely new appreciation for how the art in a picture book works with the text. I kind of knew they were supposed to work together, but that was a whole new level. And it dovetailed nicely with a comment Mac Barnett made at the talk the previous evening about how he wished more reviewers paid attention to the interplay between art and text in picture books. Duly noted.
As a mostly stay-at-home mom, it’s also nice to have an opportunity to really think about and be involved with my career. Going to these conferences isn’t cheap and it means being away from my daughter- something I don’t necessarily want to do. But every time I go I am glad I have done so.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
So last Wednesday I officially started running a makerspace! The opportunity popped up and I jumped on it and it all came together pretty quickly. I wrote a post about ten months ago about makerspaces, what they are and what their potential is and why I think they’re important. You can go here to read that piece.
I’m running it at the school where I used to work. Sadly the MakerSpace is not connected to the library (yet, some plans are in the pipes, but I need to get into the swing of things first). Space is really tight, especially this semester as they are building a new science and math building, so we’re currently based out of the art room. Last year, after going to several conferences that had sessions about makerspaces my husband and I tried to get one up and running. We just dropped the ball as life got busy (as it does), but we had laid a lot of groundwork and planning with both the art teacher and the after school enrichment administrator. So when the middle school head propsed talking to my husband about makerspaces he brought me, and our pre-planning, along. The art teacher is amazingly supportive and incredibly generous to let us use her space and the MakerSpace is being run through the after school enrichment program. It’s a drop-in alternative to study hall for middle school students and lower school kids can sign up for it as a class which means they will be there every Monday and Wednesday afternoon.
I’m still ironing out some things, like missing supplies, but the kids were so incredibly engaged. I’m really excited about this whole thing. It has a lot of potential. Now to get the kids circulating through! I’m going alternate updates on the MakerSpace with my Throwback Thursday posts, so hopefully you can see how it’s going.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 07, Aug 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
By way of my husband I came across a really interesting job opening at a Bay Area independent school. Sadly, it isn’t one I would be applying for simply because we don’t live close enough to Walnut Creek. But it got me thinking about updating my resume and about working on some different projects. The title and description are:
Information and Digital Literacy Specialist
- works with the Librarian, the PC Specialist, the Mac/iPad Specialist, and the Director of Technology as a member of the Information Media Team
- the candidate must have
- a knowledge of STEAM and Maker movements
- experience working with the students and teachers on planning, implementing, and assessing authentic, integrated, hands-on projects in innovative work spaces
- strong research and organizational skills
- a knowledge of media/information literacy and integration of electronic resources
- a proven ability to assist teachers and serve students in a variety of environments
It’s not technically a library or librarian position, but I think a lot of librarians, especially school librarians would be well suited for the job. I was particularly interested because I think at this point I want to stay (and am stuck) in school libraries. They’re also looking for some skills and interests that I’m interested in, particularly the Maker Movement and the project-based learning portion.
Just thought I would share. I haven’t done a lick of research on this, not even a simple Google search, but I am curious if anyone else has run across this type of job (maybe not with the same title) before?
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Nov 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
On this blog I try to keep a separation between my professional development and my personal life, but back in October I attended two conferences (CUE and Internet Librarian) that brought some of my personal research into play. Over the past 6 or more months I’ve been really researching alternative educational philosophies and options for my daughter’s education. I know it’s a little early, but our public school system is abysmal and our private schools are less than impressive. The more I read about these philosophies (primarily Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and Waldorf) the more I agree with their underlying principles of student-led learning, teacher as mentor or co-learner, the incorporation of art and creativity, an emphasis on imaginative play (which is almost totally gone even from our local private schools), and a mixture of “subjects” that include more practical activities like cooking, cleaning, and developing hobbies.
I know libraries continue to see budget and staff cuts and keep having to do more with less. The new popularity of makerspaces and the insistence of some that they be part of libraries doesn’t help that situation. Neither does the fact that they feel a bit like some hipster fad. I can totally see how they aren’t right for many libraries and would be downright impossible for others to pull off. But I also think they’re a really important opportunity, especially for school libraries, to help curiosity, creativity, and outside-the-box thinking. Three of the sessions I attended at my conferences focused on makerspaces and I found myself very inspired by them, largely because the idea dovetails so nicely with the educational philosophy I have found myself drawn to in researching for my daughter.
So what exactly is a makerspace and what happens there? A makerspace is just any space that has been designated for free creating that is open to either the public, or, in the case of stand-alone makerspaces, people who pay a membership fee. Oftentimes it will be a place that has equipment that you would not have at home because it is large, expensive, or specialized, like CNC machines or letter presses (although I have to admit we own one of those) or 3D printers. They tend to be spaces that encourage people to collaborate, bounce ideas off one another, and teach each other. Some makerspaces aren’t permanent, they “pop up” when a cart of materials is wheeled out into an open room. They can be large, they can be small, they can be medium. Some makerspaces have a specific focus for the types of projects created there, like printing (again with the letter presses!), others simply provide an open flexible space and a variety of classes (like the University of Nevada, Reno’s Science and Technology library that has whiteboard walls and offers classes from lock picking to Nerf nights themed around zombies and science). Making doesn’t have to be complex or expensive and any age can do it. Think toddlers with blocks, school kids with a bunch of cardboard boxes and some tape, and high schoolers with some wood scraps and a few basic tools. All making is, is creative thinking and imaginative play. It also frequently taps into STEM (another buzzword) and STEAM. Kids building with blocks to explore architecture. Kids using Minecraft to build in a virtual world. Kids creating art to express what they are learning about biology or math. Kids learning how a camera works by taking one apart and experimenting with one. Kids writing a play and making costumes to share what they have learned about a historical figure or event. Making can be cooking, baking, or brewing.
To me, the most important piece of making and makerspaces is that it emphasizes process over product. I think far too often in school, and even the work place, the product is more important than how a student got there. Even though that process can be incredibly enlightening. I would rather a student made a mistake and turned out a less-than-perfect product, but learned from the mistakes and made adjustments later than produced something perfectly the first time and was able to simply move on without much reflection. Product is obviously important, but it isn’t the end all and be all that our educational system makes it out to be. Makerspaces provide a great opportunity for students (and people) by giving them a space where it’s okay to fail and try again.
Makerspaces also provide a place where students can direct their own learning and follow their own interests. So much of our schooling focuses around a pre-set curriculum that requires learning facts that someone else has deemed important. Sure there’s value in what we learn in school, but, at least for my daughter, I would be happier if she learns how to learn (metalearning), learns where and how to research when she has a question and learns to love learning than learns a list of historical dates. That doesn’t usually happen when someone else is telling you what to learn, what questions to ask and to answer. A makerspace allows students to explore what it is they want to explore. They learn to ask questions and then set about answering them without someone telling them how. And, again, they learn how to fail and what to do when that happens. They learn to play and have fun learning. They learn to be creative and flexible thinkers.
All of this isn’t to say that because makerspaces are great I think libraries need to become makerspaces, nor do I think all libraries should create a makerspace. You need to know your institutional culture, your time constraints, your space limitations, and your budget. It’s important to note, though, makerspaces don’t have to be large or expensive (bring in some rolls of masking tape and a stack of newspapers or save large cardboard boxes and see what a group of kids can do). They don’t have to require loads of extra staffing (roll out the materials during a lull). Certainly a lot of what makerspaces stand for and encourage are tenets of libraries. I know where ever I end up when I am back in the workforce I will certainly consider creating a makerspace.
To go along with this post I would like to create post with a list of makerspace resources for anyone interested in learning more. My hope it to compile that over the next week, but I can’t be sure it will happen especially with the holiday coming up. At any rate, when it is up I will put a link in this post to it.