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Reggio Emilia



In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Provocations

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.



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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Resources

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.

Start-up Resources

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.


Pedagogy Resources

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.

The San Francisco based Tinkering School has a blog just for educators. They have a great series going about tool training that is well worth reading, but they are sharing all kinds of stuff. 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.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Makerspaces and the Library

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.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Redux: Parenting Crossover

On 14, Jan 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I wouldn’t normally discuss parenting on this blog, but bear with me for a minute. With preschool programs for my daughter on my mind, I’ve been researching various educational and developmental philosophies, theories, approaches, ideas, etc. I’ve been really drawn to the Reggio-Emilia approach and the Montessori method. I like how autonomous the classrooms and teacher-student relationships are and how the students dictate what they want and are ready to learn. The Reggio-Emilia approach even goes so far as to not have a set curriculum, but instead allows the students to determine the topics of study and how they will be studied and experienced. I can even see shades of the unschooling method I’ve read about. The thing is, I always thought of this research and information as something seperate from my professional life. But I had a sudden insight the other day while reading an article in YALSA’s fall publication of Young Adult Library Services about teen spaces.

I suddenly saw a connection between these educational opportunities that I want so much for my daughter and the educational practices I should be relying on in the library. The Reggio Emilia approach accepts students as competent individuals who work with teachers to co-construct knowledge.

Teens, children, and adults these days are as much creators of information as they are consumers of it. True, not everything produced is great; we all have our moments. But, I think this idea is more of a mindset, especially for teens. They really see themselves as capable creators and we should too.

If librarians want to discuss how we are no longer the gate keepers to stores of information, we need to accept our role as tour guides. If we want to be the guide on the side, we can no longer be the sage on the stage. (Just to throw those familiar cliches out there.) We should be co-constructing knowledge and information with our students, not giving it to them as if we know and they don’t and as if there is some specific set of skills they need and we have. This is social media and the Internet. Things are changing all the time and a more flexible attitude and generalized skill set will serve our youth better than a checklist of skills and pieces of information they must have. That isn’t to say we aren’t experts and they are or that they need to learn nothing and everything. It just means we need to collaborate with them and see them as much more savvy and capable than we do and allow them to help us help them learn.

This may not be such a profound leap for everyone and I suppose in a lot of ways I was coming to these conclusions regardless of my reading, but the crossover from my research as a parent caught me off guard and inspired me. I would encourage anyone interested in that style of teaching to look into the Reggio Emilia approach. It isn’t meant for libraries and is usually used with early childhood education, but I still think many of the guiding principles are very applicable to the world today and to how libraries can teach.

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