Making Space for New Library Learning
A Makerspace Journey
Making Space for New Library Learning:
A Makerspace Journey
This project is submitted to the College of Graduate Studies and Research in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education in the Department of Curriculum Studies, University of Saskatchewan.
By Michelle R. Davis
Copyright © 2016 by Michelle R. Davis
Educational Technology and Design
University of Saskatchewan
April 30, 2016
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This project documents a teacher-librarian’s firsthand experience of investigating, planning, developing and implementing an elementary school library makerspace. The project reflects a school-based team effort, and has been guided by the expertise of an external facilitator. It documents the various stages of our team’s progress and details our rationale for the benefit of other educators within the West Vancouver School District and beyond. It is anticipated that this makerspace documentary might become a template and a resource for other educators who require guidance in developing a school library makerspace. The project was conducted as a quality assurance study, documenting and evaluating the process of creating a library makerspace while ensuring that standards of quality were met.
I would like to thank my family and friends for their unfailing support, patience and encouragement throughout my graduate journey in Educational Technology and Design: you are my “rock and my glue”!
To my amazing “makerspace colleagues”, I owe you much gratitude for your belief in maker education, and for joining me on this journey. Your dedication, passion, and investment in your work as educators is unequalled. I could not have asked for a better team.
L.D. you have no idea how much your own work has influenced me and my direction for this project: you continue to inspire me and many others along the way. Making = Joy!
I am thankful to our Parent Advisory Council at GE for their support of the learning commons and makerspace vision at our school. In addition to making this vision possible through financial support, they encourage our efforts and partner with us to strengthen our community, making it a great place to learn!
Thank-you to the West Vancouver School District, for its continued commitment to innovative practice and for supporting this practice through the provision of Innovation Grants.
Finally, to each of my professors in the U of S ETAD program:
Dr. Jay Wilson, Dr. Marguerite Koole, Dr. Richard Schwier, and Dr. Dirk Morrison, thank you for consistently demonstrating excellence in teaching. Your time, support and encouragement have meant everything. Although I was 1179 km away, I always felt a belonging to the ETAD family.
“Humans are an amazingly creative species, and the limits of human imagination fundamentally know no boundaries. With this in mind, the limits of libraries are not in books or websites. Libraries are places where people can dream with their eyes open” ~ Stephen Abram (2015)
Stephen Abram’s quote speaks to the library’s unlimited horizon as a resource commons for fueling the human imagination. Libraries are no longer viewed as mere storehouses for books or databases. Rather, they are evolving as learning hubs and learning commons that provide patrons with the means to become content creators and not just consumers. These changes in libraries represent much more than a space makeover. They point to a significant shift in philosophy: the role, function and scope of libraries are changing.
Joan Frye Williams (2008) captured the essence of some of these changes in an American Library Association (ALA) panel session on the Future of America’s libraries. According to Williams, the business of libraries has changed dramatically. Joyce Valenza (2008) summarized Williams’ three main points from her panel presentation in her blog post, Library as Domestic Metaphor:
1. Our business is the idea business. It’s not about the books or information or databases as objects or commodities. It’s about ideas and connections.Ideas will not be outsourced to Bangalore.
2. Our business is about relationships. It’s about catalyzing connections. It’s not about information containers. Library users think of themselves as members,not users or customers.The word member assumes library as community. Our real work is about relationships not transactions.
3. (Here’s where the metaphorical thinking gets ripe.) Our libraries should transition to places to do stuff, not simply places to get stuff. The library will become a laboratory in which community members tinker, build, learn, and communicate. We need to stop being the grocery store or candy store and become the kitchen. We should emphasize hospitality, comfort, convenience and create work environments that invite exploration and creativity both virtually and physically. We want our users (members, students, teachers) to trust us enough to allow us to participate (as cited in Valenza,2008, para 4).
School libraries are also experiencing a dramatic shift. The nature of today’s school library learning commons is what I call a “Library Plus” model. In my blog, Curiosity Commons:Of Libraries and Learning, I describe my own elementary school learning commons as “a shared learning space for our entire community that is both physical and virtual. Our Learning Commons maintains everything we value about school libraries while addressing the diverse and changing needs of today’s learners” (Davis, 2015). In essence, “library plus” refers to added value for the learner. Yes, school libraries are still in the literacy business. However, they have potential for much more. As Williams (2008) asserts, school libraries can be idea generators, relationship builders and hubs of creation and making (as cited in Valenza, 2008, para 4). And teacher-librarians have an opportunity to be the change agents to make it happen.
According to the Canadian Library Association (2014), “School library programs should be a force for change at the centre of teaching and learning…To meet their learning potential and participate fully as successful learners and contributors our students need learning opportunities and new environments deliberately designed to engage and inspire”(p. 7). Therefore, not only do our traditional school library environments need to evolve, they need to propel the changes that address the diverse needs of today’s and tomorrow’s learners. These changes require engaging new environments and inspiring new pedagogy.
You can read more about the changing nature of school libraries in my e-pub chapter entitled “The New School Library: Reinvented, Reimagined and Restructured” in this freely available iBook: People, Education, Technology, a collection of essays about educational technology and learning.
One of the newest features on the shifting library landscape is the makerspace. Loertscher, Preddy and Derry (2013) described a makerspace as “an evolutionary step in library facilities’ design and programming. It is a destination for thinking, learning, doing, creating, producing, and sharing; a space that takes advantage of multiple learning styles” (p. 48). In a relatively short period of time, makerspaces have cropped up in libraries across North America, and worldwide. In fact, according to Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada and Freeman (2015) in the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, makerspaces are expected to be increasingly adopted in schools as “a method for engaging learners in creative, higher-order problem-solving through hands-on design, construction, and iteration” (p. 38). Makerspace education is expected to have a significant impact on student learning and skill building with the “potential to empower young people to become agents of change in their communities” (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, and Freeman, 2015, p. 39). By all accounts, makerspaces will likely become and remain a prominent feature of the library landscape for some time.
When I first learned about library makerspaces, the idea took root and grew. Makerspaces as a concept and as an educational possibility resonated with me—and with everything that I knew about children and learning; about building connections, mentoring relationships and changing mindsets; and about the innate human desire to create, make and build. Intuitively, I knew that these spaces could have a transformative influence on student learning and engagement. I also knew that I would eventually create one within my own school libraries.
Recognizing the need to support my intuition with research and professional literature, I created the blog Curiosity Commons: Of Libraries and Learning as a means to share my readings and research about makerspaces. This blog eventually became my final product for an independent study entitled ETAD 898, “Makerspaces and Participatory Learning in Libraries”. You can read the course description here. Although my research and readings on makerspaces is ongoing and will never be fully complete, the work that I accomplished for this independent study helped me to feel poised to create a school library makerspace within my own teaching context.
This project documents my first-hand experience of creating a makerspace within an elementary school library learning commons. This makerspace development reflects a collaborative effort that includes several phases: investigating, planning, decision-making, implementing and projecting for the future. Showcasing the work of a school-based team, this project reveals the various stages of our progress and details our rationale for the benefit of other educators within the West Vancouver School District and beyond. It is my hope that this e-book can become a resource for others who require guidance in the process of creating their own school library makerspaces.
This document shares the beginning of a makerspace story, as the middle and ending have yet to unfold. I invite you to experience the start of our journey.
There is no one-size-fits-all definition for a makerspace. Neither is there requisite criteria for what comprises a makerspace and what doesn’t. Quite simply, educational makerspaces enable student making. Makerspaces can vary according to their context, purpose and even the age group for which they are designed. Rather than committing to one specific makerspace definition, I believe it is helpful to consider several versions of “what is a makerspace?” to glean what making and makerspaces are all about. The best way to comprehend the nature of a makerspace is to observe one in action. You can watch a brief video on “What is a Makerspace?” here.
In my blog I explore several definitions and explanations of makerspaces under the tabs Makerspace Definitions and Related Definitions. Additionally, library media specialist, Diana Rendina does an excellent job of highlighting makerspace definitions in her blog post Defining Makerspaces: What the Research Says. For a straightforward makerspace definition, I prefer the one that Roslund and Rodgers (2014) offer in their book Makerspaces:
The word makerspace is a general term for a place where people get together to make things. Makerspaces might focus on electronics, robotics, woodworking, sewing, laser cutting, computer programming, or some combination of these skills. In fact, really cool things happen when makers combine materials and ideas from different kinds of skills and tools. The kinds of tools found in makerspaces reflect the interests of the community (p.9).
This definition is especially useful, as it points out several characteristics of makerspaces: makerspace activities are rooted in community interests, the act of making occurs within community, and makerspaces can encourage multidisciplinary approaches.
Finally, with permission, I have included teacher-librarian, Colleen Grave’s, infographic on “What is a Makerspace?” as a visual definition of what is involved in making and makerspaces.
“Our children will be the creators and architects of a world we cannot even imagine”~ Lee Crockett (2011).
Eleanor Roosevelt (1963) made the following assertion over 50 years ago, yet it remains just as relevant today:
It is not too much to say that our whole attitude toward education must be changed. The training of the past—too long inadequate even for the purposes of the past—will not serve in preparing the youngsters of today to meet new conditions; above all, conditions which none of us can clearly foresee. It is one thing to provide a simple skill that can be applied to a given situation. It is quite another thing—and a new and revolutionary thing—to prepare young people to meet an unknown world, to solve unforeseeable problems, and to adapt their skills, their intelligence, and their knowledge to new situations that are developing with lightning speed (as cited in Moorefield-Lang, 2015, pp 107-108).
Preparing today’s young people for tomorrow’s world can be a daunting task. Both Crockett’s and Roosevelt’s words stress the importance of adapting educational methods to address the future needs of our students. While certain education basics will retain their value, there are new skills, literacies, fluencies and competencies that students will require to attain success in their own future. In fact, according to Gray (2016), a senior writer at the World Economic Forum, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” is changing the workplace fast, and we will need to adapt our skills to be ready for it” (para. 2). While Gray (2016) addressed the skills of those currently in the workforce, imagine the impact of such rapid changes to the job market once our current students reach graduation. The World Economic Forum projects the anticipated evolution of required job skills from 2015 to 2020—the time period that it will take for my current grade 8 students to reach high school graduation—in an infographic found here: Top Ten Skills.
For a different perspective on 21st Century skills, watch The Adaptable Mind by the Moxie Institute. In this eleven minute video, the film creators identify five essential skills that we will need to flourish in this century. This film resonated with me, and I chose to include it within my project, as the identified skills reflect those that students use within makerspaces and can develop as makers. According to Shlain (2015), “We’ve arrived at a time when your human skills are just as important as your knowledge”. I am very thankful to the film’s creators for their permission to embed their film within my project. Film discussion guides and other resources are also available here: Film: The Adaptable Mind, Discussion Guides & Resources.
Makerspaces can address a growing need for today’s students to gain the necessary skills to be successful in the 21st Century workforce. According to the Young Adult Library Services Association (2014), “Making has been shown to be an effective tool to help young people build 21st century skills and inspire them to consider STEM-focused careers” (p. 6).
“The Maker movement is an innovative way to reimagine education”
~ Peppler & Bender (2013, p. 23)
Evolving skillsets, shifting economies, a new industrial revolution: these global realities compel changes in schools and maker education is being looked to as a means to catalyze this change. According to Peppler and Bender (2013), the maker movement teaches us the following lessons about advancing innovation in schools:
1. “The maker movement is driven by makers” as opposed to a more top-down approach to introducing innovation, which is typically adopted by educational institutions and bodies.
2. “Maker activities organically invite cross-generational and cross-cultural participation”, while schools often struggle to effectively generate these types of home to school connections.
3. “The maker movement welcomes all types of making...This cross-disciplinary and interest-centeredness contrasts with traditional school participation in which disciplines are isolated from each other and problems or projects are imposed upon learners” (pp.26-27).
Makerspaces invite students to be innovators, creators, inventors, designers, collaborators and problem solvers, while engaging them in multidisciplinary endeavors that have real-world value. With the excitement of maker culture taking root in schools, it’s easy to see why there is a growing enthusiasm for its potential to transform education, providing an alternative narrative to the long-standing story of traditional practice.
Halverson and Sheridan (2014) also address the potential of the maker movement to reshape education and the ways in which we define learning:
Bringing the maker movement into the educational conversation has the potential to transform how we understand “what counts” as learning, as a learner, and as a learning environment. An expanded sense of what counts may legitimate a broader range of identities, practices, and environments – a bold step toward equity in education (p. 503).
In addition to the benefits of skill-building and preparation for the future, makerspaces can instill in students a sense of confidence and empowerment. According to Harvard’s Agency by Design whitepaper on Maker-Centered Learning (2015), “The Big Takeaway” from their research is as follows:
Students learn a tremendous amount through maker-centered learning experiences, whether these experiences take place inside or outside of makerspaces and tinkering studios. There is no doubt that students learn new skills and technologies as they build,tinker, re/design, and hack, especially when they do these things together. However, the most important benefits of maker education are neither STEM skills nor technical preparation for the next industrial revolution. Though these benefits may accrue along the way, the most salient benefits of maker-centered learning for young people have to do with developing a sense of self and a sense of community that empower them to engage with and shape the designed dimension of their world (p. 7).
As both a powerful and empowering avenue to learning, the maker movement has broad implications for education.
Makerspaces can provide an ideal platform for integrating BC’s new Applied Design, Skills and Technologies Curriculum that has been re-envisioned as a program for grades K-12. The goals and rationale of this new curriculum align perfectly with the goals of makerspaces and maker education. According to the BC Ministry of Education (2015):
The Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies curriculum builds on students’ natural curiosity, inventiveness, and desire to create and work in practical ways. It harnesses the power of learning by doing, and provides the challenging fun that inspires students to dig deeper, work with big ideas, and adapt to a changing world…It fosters the development of future problem solvers, innovators, and skilled tradespeople who can contribute to solving problems not yet anticipated with processes and technologies not yet imagined in order to improve their lives, the lives of others and the environment (pp. 3-4).
The BC Ministry of Education (2015) has clearly established “making”, the “maker mindset” and “design thinking” as desirable outcomes for BC students in the 21st Century (p.2). Maker education will officially be woven into BC’s ‘curricular fabric’ when this new template is made available by September 2016.
Following the question, “Why a Makerspace?” comes the inevitable query, “Why the Library?” The traditional “shush spaces” of libraries may, to some, seem like an odd choice to position such an active, noisy, messy medley of tools, student makers and their creations. However, libraries are evolving and expanding their services to accommodate the ever-changing needs of their patrons. Libraries have always existed as democratic hubs of knowledge creation, and makerspaces can support this vital role in our school communities. Scott (2012) addressed the establishment of a makerspace within the library as a part of the shifting roles of the library and the librarian in her article Making the Case for a Public Library Makerspace. Scott (2012) argued:
Promoting literacy through instruction has long been a part of the librarian’s job. Today, the concept of literacy encompasses much more than just reading and writing; it has evolved into “transliteracy,” commonly defined as the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms and tools. As new technologies emerge in our communities, library patrons turn to libraries and librarians for instruction in the use of new technologies, for help and troubleshooting, and in some cases as their only means of access to those technologies… A makerspace is, in a sense, a new stage in the evolution of the library computer lab. Our job now becomes providing access to new technologies and instruction to support new literacies (para. 2).
According to Figueroa (2015), “Makerspaces are playing an increasingly important role in libraries” (para. 8). Many public and academic libraries have blazed a trail by establishing making as a part of their programming. School libraries are following close behind. Furthermore, the research on makerspaces in libraries is largely favorable. As Slatter and Howard (2013), asserted, “The general consensus of the literature is largely supportive of the library makerspace movement” (p. 274).
What follows are several reasons why school libraries are ideally suited for an educational makerspace:
1.The Library/Learning Commons Offers Open Access and Equity.
Creating a makerspace within a school library/learning commons (LLC) ensures that all members of a school community can access its resources and programs. Moreover, funds allocated to a makerspace within the library learning commons can go towards resources that can benefit all students. As Ekdahl and Zubke (2013) argued:
Ensuring access to the LLC is the most democratic and cost-effective investment of scarce educational funding, staffing, technologies, and resources. Here, in an LLC…the entire educational community is welcomed and supported. Rather than competing for scarce resources, staffing, and funding, the LLC is a place where these are optimally shared (p. 10).
Libraries can be much more than places that provide access to information. They can provide equitable, open access to maker resources, community partnerships, content creation and innovative practice.
2.The Library/Learning Commons is the Centre of Learning and Inquiry.
Library/Learning Commons are designed to be hubs of learning, inquiry and discovery within schools. Placing a makerspace within a school’s learning hub is a natural fit. According to Gustafson (2013):
In many schools, the library is already at the intersection between students’personal interests and goals and the assignments and methods taught in the classroom. There is tremendous connection here between the ideals of the library and the Makerspace—both are centers of learning and discovery, hubs of innovation and collaboration, and places where free access to many kinds of materials is a core value (p.36).
3. Makerspaces closely align with the Canadian Library Association’s (CLA) new Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada.
While makerspaces originated as communities of informal learning and practice, educational makerspaces also align with formal learning outcomes and standards. As models of participatory learning and inquiry, makerspaces exemplify several of the goals and standards outlined by the CLA’s new Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada (2014):
- “LLC is an active participatory learning centre modelling and celebrating collaborative knowledge building, play, innovation and creativity” (CLA, 2014, p.11)
- “LLC leadership team and teacher-librarian work with teachers to design challenges to empower student-led collaborative learning” (CLA, 2014, p.11)
- “Learning experiences are co-designed and planned with students to empower real-world and relevant learning experiences” (CLA, 2014, p. 15)
- “Learning experiences support the personalization of learning for all learners” (CLA, 2014, p. 16).
- “Physical LLC spaces invite networking and participatory learning opportunities within and beyond the school” (CLA, 2014, p. 19).
- “Learning experiences are developed to invite creativity and innovation” (CLA, 2014, p. 20).
4.Library/Learning Commons Collections are Resources that Further Support Making and Creation.
Library collections of how-to books and books about creating, making and innovating can support makerspace activities, while making activities can encourage further reading and research. As Abram (2015) argued, makerspaces can actually broaden access to our library book and database collections:
Our collections of print and digital resources support all of these types of spaces and the maker movement. Indeed [a makerspace is] not competition for or a replacement of what we do, but fundamental to our core businesses of learning and research (p. 4).
5. Makerspaces extend the Library/Learning Common’s relevance and diversify its offerings to support a larger range of users.
Makerspaces have the potential to attract entirely new library users—the ones whose needs or interests may not have been met previously with traditional library programming. As Slatter and Howard (2013) asserted, makerspaces can allow “libraries to extend their relevance to a new set of users” (p. 274). Furthermore, makerspaces diversify a library by adding resources and activities that can support a greater range of learning styles (Abram, 2015). According to Abram (2015):
Maker strategies support those who may be great learners but may not be the greatest readers unless they find the right motivation to read. Maker activities can support their learning preferences and talents while giving them a motive to research and read—in print and online (p. 3).
You can read more about makerspaces in libraries from the perspective of a public librarian in this article: Why Making, (and especially, why in a Library?) by Terry Lawlor.
For further reading, my blog outlines several benefits of maker education as a part of my examination of Makerspace Pros, Cons and Considerations. I have re-created the list below, as each of these benefits can provide a further rationale for providing makerspaces in schools:
1. Making and Tinkering are Powerful and Empowering Ways to Learn.
2. Makerspaces are Learner-Centered Opportunities.
3. Makerspaces Offer Authentic Learning Experiences Connected to the Real World.
4. Makerspaces Help to Prepare Students for the Future.
5. Makerspaces Address Differentiation and Multiple Intelligences.
6. Makerspaces Engage Community and Invite Cross-generational Learning.
7. Makerspaces are Inter-disciplinary Reflections of Real Life.
8. Makerspaces Can Function as Catalysts for Change.
There are many more compelling arguments for why we should incorporate making and makerspaces within our schools and school library/learning commons. This chapter highlights just a few.
Finally, this “School vs Learning” infographic by Sylvia Duckworth based on work by George Couros, reveals a thought-provoking contrast between school and learning. To better understand how maker education contrasts with traditional approaches to schooling, insert the word “Making” for “Learning” in this comparison. Thank-you to @sylviaduckworth and @gcouros for their permissions to include this infographic in my project.
In many ways our makerspace journey originated two years ago. In September 2014, when I was first hired in my current position, I was tasked with transitioning a traditional elementary school library into a 21st Century Library Learning Commons. I devised a two-year, three phase plan to accomplish this task:
A Three Phase Approach
2014 - 2015
Phase One: Create a Virtual Learning Commons
Phase Two: Recreate the Physical Learning Commons Space
2015 – 2016
Phase Three: Develop a Makerspace
In retrospect, this was an ambitious plan, especially on two days per week! However, with tremendous team-effort and supportive administration, colleagues and parents, we have been able to accomplish these original goals. Although our makerspace development was scheduled as the third phase of our library to learning commons transition, part of its foundation was built in the first year. Much discussion, visioning, fund-raising and planning occurred before we officially began our makerspace efforts.
It’s important to note that we did not set out to tack a makerspace onto a traditional school library model. First, we needed to tackle the much bigger issues of changing the culture, revising the pedagogy and renewing the role of the library within the school community. Such changes do not happen overnight—nor are they achieved within a single school year. This is an ongoing transition that will take several years to evolve. Prior to creating a makerspace, we needed a paradigm shift.
The Cambridge Dictionary (2016) defines paradigm shift as “a time when the usual and accepted way of doing or thinking about something changes completely”. Initiating a paradigm shift within a school library is no small feat and it can be difficult to know where to begin. Following a discussion with my principal and some reflection, I chose to create a Virtual Learning Commons as a means to initiate “the shift”.
The Virtual Learning Commons or VLC that we created is based on the model proposed by Loertscher, Koechin and Rosenfeld (2012) in their book, The Virtual Learning Commons: Building a Participatory School Learning Community. We used this book as a resource and a “how to” guide for creating our Virtual Learning Commons, or “Wikibrary” as we now call it. Davis (2014b) asserted that:
A Virtual Learning Commons (VLC) is an extension of the physical Learning Commons(LC) and goes beyond the traditional library website. Rather than a static, one-way portal of information, the VLC is a collaborative, virtual hub that supports participation from the entire school community. The purpose of a VLC is to offer just-in-time learning and resources for the learning community that are available 24/7. By their nature, VLC’s are constantly expanding and evolving, inviting the involvement of students, staff and even parents (p.1).
To learn more about the Virtual Learning Commons you can access my VLC Livebinder Link here.
To undertake the task of creating a VLC for our school library, I formed a team that included myself as the teacher-librarian, my principal, and a grade 6/7 teacher. Our team then applied for a district Innovation Grant to support our year-long efforts. District innovation grants are intended to support learning teams in collaborative inquiry for the purpose of improving student achievement. Our central inquiry questions for this grant were as follows:
- Will the creation of a Virtual Learning Commons (VLC) website serve to effectively educate the school community about the nature of a learning commons (the shift in pedagogy and the new function of the school library?
- Will a VLC encourage more student engagement in learning; parent engagement with the school; and staff collaboration with the VLC? (Davis and Wallace, 2014, p. 1).
Our ultimate goal was to use the Virtual Learning Commons as a vehicle to drive change. Through its implementation, we created opportunities to educate our community about the learning commons, its philosophy and pedagogy and how it differs from a traditional library. To create anticipation, we added a “Makerspace” tab to our VLC site with some introductory resources on “What is a Makerspace?” This inclusion of the makerspace concept on our new website provided a springboard for discussion, generating both interest and excitement within our community for what was yet to come.
With our VLC innovation grant project underway, in October 2014 I turned my sights to a second grant application: a robotics kit. In order to procure an exciting “starter tool” for our makerspace, I applied for a My Class Needs grant, requesting a set of Cubelets, which is an interactive, interlocking robotics kit. In my application I explained the purpose for this robotics set and how it would impact our school community:
A Makerspace is an exciting and evolutionary step in school library programming. This space will provide opportunities for our students to explore, create, design, build, tinker and share while addressing multiple learning styles and interests. I would like to use a “Cubelets Kit” - an interacting and interlocking robotic tool set - as a starter tool for creating a Makerspace in our _______School Library. I would use this tool, pairing it with other building sets, to provide hands-on inquiry opportunities for our students in the learning commons. Using the UTEC Maker model for school libraries (Loertscher, Preddy & Derry), we would initially focus on the “Using” and “Tinkering” stages of UTEC to allow students to sample, question and research what others have created. Our Makerspace will be designed to encourage open-ended inquiry and structured learning activities (Davis, 2014a, A Makerspace in the Learning Commons).
You can access the entire My Class Needs grant application and progress report here. As you can read in my submitted progress report, the introduction of the Cubelets robotics kit was a huge success. Even before we had officially initiated a makerspace, we had created a “maker momentum” amongst our students. In my blog, I wrote about the introduction of Cubelets in an October 25th, 2015 entry entitled “This Changes Everything!”
In order to accommodate a makerspace, we needed to address the library’s physical space – opening it up to possibilities. Our traditional school library was brimming with books and book cases, with little flexibility or room for the kinds of participatory and collaborative learning encouraged by a learning commons and makerspace. There was no dedicated instructional space and the existing technology was dated, with desktop computers that were no longer being serviced by the district. Furthermore, a dedicated workspace hosting a laminator, a large paper cutter and deep shelving took up a large portion of one end of the library.The library layout was large—the size of two full classrooms—open and bright with loads of potential. It just needed re-engineering.
To redesign the library’s physical space I consulted two core documents to guide my efforts and ensure that we adhered to established standards and best practice. The first was the Canadian Library Association’s (CLA) Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada 2014.
The CLA (2014) defined the Library Learning Commons as follows:
A learning commons is a whole school approach to building a participatory learning community. The library learning commons is the physical and virtual collaborative learning hub of the school. It is designed to engineer and drive future-oriented learning and teaching throughout the entire school. Inquiry, project/problem-based learning experiences are designed as catalysts for intellectual engagement with information,ideas, thinking, and dialogue. Reading thrives, learning literacies and technology competencies evolve, and critical thinking, creativity, innovation and playing to learn are nourished. Everyone is a learner; everyone is a teacher working collaboratively toward excellence. Some metaphors for the school library learning commons might be:learning laboratory, idea factory, studio or even “great room” in the school and community (p.5).
The second document that I accessed was From School Library to Library Learning Commons: A Pro-Active Model for Educational Change. Using its performance standards and checklists, I was able to address various aspects of our library’s infrastructure such as the following changes recommended by Ekdahl and Zubke (2013):
- Tables and chairs are easy to move and to reconfigure to provide workspaces for individuals, small groups, and whole classes.
- There are comfortable seating spaces for quiet reading, story-time, independent study, class sessions, and shared reading.
- There is a flexible presentation space in one or more instructional areas that include an area for computer access.
- The TL teacher-has undertaken a thorough assessment and weeded the existing print collection in order to reduce its footprint and increase space to enhance instructional capacity (p. 9).
With the help of our district cataloguer and my library teaching assistant, we extensively weeded the collection from December 2014 to March 2015. This enabled us to remove four large book shelves to increase space. I saved two full boxes of picture books for a makerspace “re-purposing books” project for a later date.
You can learn more about designing library/learning commons spaces in my Designing Learning Spaces LiveBinder here.
“Money follows vision” is a quote that a wise mentor of mine often used to stress the importance of inspiring others with a vision and direction. In February 2015, I presented the vision for our school’s library to learning commons transition to the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), requesting funds for flexible furnishings and new technology. Sharing my three phase plan, I briefly touched on the concept of the makerspace. I had intended for the makerspace to be a “mere mention” in the conversation, as it was not slated for development until the following year. Yet, I had piqued their curiosity. One parent queried:
“Can you tell us more about this makerspace?”
As I shared briefly about makerspaces, something in the room shifted. I had struck a chord of interest: something resonated. Later, my principal would inform me that the PAC was impressed with the direction for the library/learning commons and would enthusiastically support the process. In the end, our PAC far exceeded my request, providing our library/LC with the funds for new technology in the form of a set of iPads and new flexible furnishings for our space. They also committed to set aside a budget for our makerspace for the following year.
After achieving significant physical changes in our library/learning commons we decided it was time to rename the space. We wanted the name change to signal the learning shift that was about to occur in the library. A colleague and I hung the words, “Learning Commons”, near the first entrance, installing spotlights to highlight the change. Later, we added additional words to the walls like “Invent” and “Create” to foreshadow the library transition and addition of a makerspace. “Read” was installed on a book shelf to signify that the all-important focus on literacy would not be lost in transition. Finally, in the few days before school began in September 2015, we hung the word “Makerspace” above the main entrance to the library learning commons. The positioning of this word was strategic. Its central location signifies that our entire learning commons is a makerspace, not just a dedicated corner of the room. The signage says, whether you are a robot tester, a computer coder, a sewer, a story creator, a video creator, a crafter or an origami enthusiast, this space is for you!
In April 2015 I did a tour of local learning commons (LC) to learn from other maker pioneers. I have documented my visits to The Makerspace at S.A.I.L: Surrey Academy for Innovative Learning, in Surrey, BC and a mobile makerspace setup in the learning commons at St. Georges Secondary School in Vancouver, BC in my blog section entitled Local Makerspace Visits. I also visited Fraser Heights Secondary School’s learning commons where they were making plans to dismantle the computer lab adjacent to the LC and develop a digital makerspace in the 2015-1016 school year. Johnston Heights Secondary School’s Learning Commons was another stop on my tour. From these LC visits and discussions with other teacher-librarians I gained valuable perspective on how others have envisioned and adopted maker learning within their library contexts.
In May 2015, our school’s annual open house and studio coincided with a grand opening of our learning commons and the big “reveal” of our virtual learning commons (The Wikibrary). I presented on the nature of the learning commons and virtual learning commons to a room packed with attendees including our district Superintendent, a Director of Learning, several school board personnel, the parent advisory council (PAC), parents and teachers. It meant a great deal to have a significant show of support from our school and district community. For this event, the PAC requested that I create a “wish list” of books for our learning commons for parents to “adopt a book title” for our shelves. I took this opportunity to build our library learning common’s “makerspace literature” collection and created a book wish list based on the BC Summer Reading Club 2015 Theme: Build It! – which happened to be a makerspace theme that year. I chose several of the book titles from the public library’s lists of recommended summer reads. Not a single makerspace book title was left “unadopted”; therefore, we were able to add over 25 makerspace-themed books to start our collection.
In June/July 2015, I had the privilege of attending ISTE 2015, the annual conference for the International Society of Technology in Education. My primary goal for this conference was to saturate my schedule with as many makerspace sessions as I could during the three days I was in attendance. I was overwhelmed by the number of makerspace offerings. With sessions like Knights of Make-A-Lot, Mobile Learning Playground: Block Party at the Makerspace, the ISTE Librarians Network Forum on makerspaces, Service Learning Through 3-D Printing and too many more to list, the conference opened my eyes to endless educational maker possibilities. It also introduced me to many new “maker educators” to add to my Twitter PLN. I left inspired and determined to equip my school library/learning commons with a makerspace of our own.
September 2015 marked the official beginning to our makerspace development. With our vision cast and the groundwork laid in the previous year, we were ready to progress with developing a library/learning commons makerspace. One of the first orders of business was to inform our staff community about the upcoming changes that would occur in the learning commons for the 2015-2016 school year and provide an opportunity for questions. In September, during our first staff meeting of the year, I made a presentation entitled: “Learning Commons 101”. Some of the topics I addressed included the following:
- The goals and instructional program of the school library/learning commons
- The benefits of flexible versus fixed scheduling in the library/learning commons
- The development of the makerspace
- The grade 6/7 student Tech Team
Communication with staff at the outset of the year was a vital part of building our makerspace foundation. It gave teaching and support staff a “heads up” that changes were forthcoming and provided a rationale for the changes at the same time.
One of the most transformational changes that we made to our library/learning commons programming was to adopt a flexible scheduling model in September 2015. This change has proven to be one of the most effective means to incorporate maker education within our program. According to McGregor (2006), flexible scheduling refers to “a scheduling arrangement that allows for variation in library use, rather than having each class scheduled into the library for a regular, fixed period”(p. 1). Previously, our school community was accustomed to a fixed schedule of library blocks, which left little room for flexible collaboration and open access to accommodate “just-in-time” learning. However, this fixed library scheduling model did not reflect best practice. As McGregor (2006) argued, “the existence of rigid or fixed schedules in school libraries militates against the use of the library when needed for learning, whether on a collaboratively planned basis or in recognition of the “teachable moment” (p. 2). Therefore, to accommodate both the need for flexibility and the teachers’ desire for regularly scheduled book exchange times, I moved class book exchange sessions to the days that I was not at the school. This shift opened up my schedule (two days per week) for collaborative teaching. We were able to move fluidly to this collaborative, flexible scheduling model for four reasons:
1. Our school library times were already designated as collaborative sessions with the teacher-librarian, and not as teaching preparation coverage for teachers.
2. We have a part-time Library Teaching Assistant (T.A.) with regularly scheduled library hours from Monday to Friday. The availability of a library T.A., who takes responsibility for cataloguing and can supervise student book exchanges when the teacher-librarian is not available made this transition possible.
3. Our school has successfully embedded a regularly scheduled Collaboration Block, which enables teacher groups (primary, intermediate, upper-intermediate) to meet with the teacher-librarian to collaboratively plan inquiry units. This model is enabled with teaching coverage by the music teacher and the school administrators. It is a regular part of the teacher-librarian’s schedule and helps to ensure that inquiry units are resource-rich and address research/digital literacy skills. It now acts as an opportunity to embed maker-learning and makerspace pursuits.
4. Our school administration recognized the need for this transition and fully supported the schedule change.
When other teacher-librarians ask me, “How do you fit it all in?” with regards to balancing my regular T-L role and responsibilities with maker education, I respond, “flexible scheduling and embedded collaboration blocks” adding the aforementioned reasons.
Establishing a collaborative, school-based team was the next important step to our makerspace creation. Thoughtfully developing a makerspace with long-term goals involves much more than naming a space and adding some resources; it necessitates a school culture shift. Therefore, developing a makerspace team was essential to share in the decision-making and the work load of creating the space. Our school-based team included me, as the teacher-librarian, an intermediate teacher and the school principal. We established our team early in September 2015 and applied for a district Innovation Grant (IG) in October 2015, to support our inquiry into makerspaces. Additionally, as a means to support another school with its makerspace endeavors, we invited a vice-principal (who is also a teacher-librarian), from another of our family of schools, to join our Innovation Grant team.
Our Innovation Grant project inquiry focused on makerspaces and participatory learning within the school library. We outlined our main inquiry questions as follows:
- According to Martinez and Stager (2013), “children should engage in tinkering and making because they are powerful ways to learn” (p. 3). Therefore, our central question is how can we design a school library makerspace that engages our students in participatory learning and provides them with opportunities to innovate, invent and solve problems in a safe, yet stimulating environment?
- How can we engage our school community: students, teachers, parents and the extended community (local businesses, other learning organizations, and other mentors) with the maker mindset and invite them to participate in and contribute to our makerspace with their time, expertise and resources?
- Will the implementation of a makerspace expand our school community’s concept/understanding of what learning “looks like”? Can a school library makerspace provide authentic learning experiences and opportunities for our students to demonstrate their intellectual competence and creativity? (Davis, 2015).
You can access the full content of our grant application here: Makerspaces and Participatory Learning in the School Library: An Innovation Grant Application.
Laura Fleming, one of the first pioneers of the school library based makerspace, advocates for a theme-based approach when planning a makerspace. In her article, A Thematic Approach to Planning Your Maker Space Fleming (2015) promoted the following sequence to makerspace development:
1. Understand your learners.
2. Assess existing curricula, programs, offerings within your school community.
3. Consider global trends and best practices.
4. Develop themes.
5. Order equipment and materials (Makerspace Planning infographic).
Fleming’s (2015) planning sequence is cyclical, and is designed to ensure makerspace program sustainability and relevance for a community’s unique needs. As Fleming (2015) argued, “Supporting themes in your maker space allows you to address the diverse learning styles of your students by providing a suite of multimodal materials and resources to better meet their needs” (para. 8).
I chose to adopt Fleming’s thematic approach for our own makerspace as its sequence of careful planning and community consideration made educational sense. It also prevented us from getting sidetracked by a resource-driven approach, where we simply “buy cool stuff” and try to integrate it within our school programs.
“Your makerspace should directly reflect the needs, wants and interests of your school community as well as provide opportunities for deeper exploration into concepts new to your school community. No two makerspaces should be the same” ~ Fleming, 2014
To educate our student community, I shared about the nature of makerspaces with our grade 6/7 classes. By providing some simple definitions and featuring a few short video clips on makerspaces, like this one, I was able to introduce the makerspace concept and pique student interest. Next, I shared a list of makerspace activities that I believed were feasible options for our learning commons context or were potential options to explore in a different space. I further explained the activities that students were less likely to have encountered. I compiled these makerspace options from an extensive list that I found in John Burke’s book, Makerspaces: a Practical Guide for Librarians. To invite participation, I asked the grades 6 and 7 students to vote on the following maker activities:
Maker Activity Student Voting Results
I did not restrict the number of activities on which the students could vote. I also added an extra voting option entitled: What maker activity would you like to add? This process of makerspace introduction, activity explanation, and voting lasted an entire class period. It also represented part of phase one: “Understand your learners” from Fleming’s (2015) Makerspace planning approach.
Student-Generated Makerspace Activity List Voting Results
During this voting process, our learning commons was a buzzing hive of animated conversation and questions. All students were fully engaged in the process and one student exclaimed, “I don’t know what to choose; I want to do it all!” It was an exciting way to kick off the school year: launching the prospect of highly engaging learning opportunities, on day one of September classes.
Involving student choice at the beginning of our makerspace build was an essential part of the process. While researching makerspaces, the consistent message that resurfaced in many of my readings was that makerspaces must be rooted in a community’s unique interests and needs. As Fleming (2014) argued in her article, If You Let Them Build It, They Will Learn, “Your makerspace should directly reflect the needs, wants and interests of your school community as well as provide opportunities for deeper exploration into concepts new to your school community. No two makerspaces should be the same” (Planning Your Makerspace section, para. 1). Allowing our students to voice their opinions and ideas at the beginning provided a direct connection with the space and its resources. It was my hope that beginning our makerspace in this manner would create genuine student ownership of the space and sow the seeds of a true making community.
Introducing our younger students to the makerspace was a different story. I chose not to introduce the makerspace concept to our school’s younger student population using this “introduction and voting” method. This was partly due to time and opportunity restrictions. Moreover, I felt that the makerspace idea would be difficult for younger students to engage with when presented in this conceptual manner. For this age group, I believe that the best way to introduce making is to immerse them in the process: to understand by doing. This is how we approached the makerspace introduction with the younger grades.
Our makerspace team examined the upper-intermediates’ voting results to identify five makerspace themes for the 2015-2016 school year. Our initial choice for the five themes were as follows: Robotics, Video Creation, Fabric Shop: Textiles and Sewing, Engineering and Building and Take-Apart-Technology. Later, after much discussion, we decided to replace the Take-Apart-Technology theme with Design Challenges. After assessing and prioritizing students’ needs, we decided that our students required the collaborative experience of working together on design challenges. Furthermore, exposing students to design thinking offered many valuable benefits that would also transfer into curricular areas. Take-Apart-Technologies, while a valuable pursuit, could wait for another day.
In October 2015, I visited the learning commons and makerspace at Georges Vanier Elementary School in Surrey, B.C. While immersed in our planning phase, I wanted to observe a model of a well-established elementary school library/LC makerspace. This space did not disappoint! During this visit, I also had the opportunity to examine firsthand the quality of the green screen and lighting set that I had considered purchasing from Amazon.ca. This experience informed the purchase of our first makerspace resource: a green screen and lighting for our Video Creation theme. You can read more about my visit in my blog entry, Local Makerspace Visits.
By November 2015, our makerspace team was prepared to address phases two, three and four of Fleming’s (2015) planning model: Assess, Consider and Develop. After examining our school’s curricula and programs, considering global trends and best practice and acknowledging our budget of $1500.00 from the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), we were ready to solidify our makerspace theme selections. This progression through Fleming’s (2015) thematic planning model did not just happen in one meeting. It occurred somewhat organically through conversations in the hallways, emails and staff room chats. As mentioned previously, our school adheres to a model of a designated collaboration block each week, where the teacher-librarian meets with teachers to plan units of inquiry. Many makerspace planning and discussions occurred during these scheduled collaboration blocks.
What follows is our rationale for selecting each of our five themes, following student voting and the assessment and consideration phases:
Robotics versus Woodworking: While woodworking is a valuable pursuit and it was the grade 6/7 students’ top choice, it would have been difficult to accommodate and maintain in a library setting. We decided that we would explore woodworking later on, in our undercover area of the playground, and through workshops offered by local woodworking artisans. Robotics, on the other hand, was accessible since we had already acquired two robotics resources through grants (Cubelets and Little Bits Electronics). Robotics also tied nicely into the curriculum and provided for engaging coding opportunities for students. Our decision to pursue robotics and coding was further affirmed with an announcement by BC’s premier, Christy Clark, in January 2016: BC to add computer coding to school curriculum.
Video Creation versus Photo Editing: The next top contenders reflected by student votes were photo editing and video creation. Through a follow-up discussion with the students who had selected photo editing, I learned what they had in mind: the purchase of several Go Pro HD cameras and other types of high quality and expensive cameras that would have devoured our budget. Our goal for the first year was to introduce a good variety of makerspace activities to engage all learners; therefore, it was not feasible to pursue this type of photo editing as an initial pursuit. Many students and several staff members expressed a keen interest in exploring video creation and using a green screen. Video creation is an activity that could easily be integrated into every curricular area and with all grades. Furthermore, this theme would enable our school’s grade 6/7 tech team to create digital content for our virtual learning commons –The Wikibrary site. We decided to pursue a Video Creation theme by purchasing a green screen, lighting and the Do Ink App to begin.
Fabric Shop – Sewing and Textiles: Our school community has a strong connection with textiles and sewing. A number of our school parents are skilled and professional seamstresses and several of our upper intermediate students take sewing lessons and enjoy sewing as a hobby. As this theme represented a passionate interest for many of our students, we felt it was important to include it. Furthermore, sewing using both machines and hand stitching represented a nice balance of high tech and low tech maker activity. This theme fared well in the student voting process, offered a unique balance to the other selections and was an activity that was accessible to all of our K-7 learning community. Finally, textiles and sewing offered a very affordable option for our makerspace as many of its resources could be donated or purchased inexpensively.
Engineering and Building: Our makerspace team decided on the installation of a giant Lego wall in the learning commons as a means to explore our Engineering and Building theme. We felt that building challenges with Lego bricks would be an accessible maker activity for every grade. Furthermore, we believed that this resource could be re-imagined in limitless ways. While Lego Creation was not a top contender in the grade 6/7 voting results, we had not depicted an actual Lego Wall installation as an option when the voting occurred. We also needed to consider that the younger students had not been given the opportunity to vote on maker resources. We chose the Lego wall to represent these learners. We were excited at the prospect of creating the very first Lego wall in our school district! Its installation would significantly set apart our library’s learning space as something unique and symbolize the kinds of learning experiences that we value and embrace for our community.
Design Challenges: Adding design challenges to our makerspace was a means to introduce new skillsets and a different mode of thinking to our students. The authors of the K12 Lab Network Wiki from the Institute of Design at Stanford described design thinking in the following manner:
Design thinking is a methodology for creative problem solving. You can use it to inform your own teaching practice, or you can teach it to your students as a framework for real-world projects. We believe that creative confidence comes from repeated practice using a human-centered creative process to solve problem scenarios called design challenges. After using the process on these challenges, people will have another tool, the design thinking process, to apply towards solving real life problems (“Welcome to the K12 Lab Network wiki”, para. 1-2, 2015).
Applied design and design thinking are addressed in BC’s new Applied Design, Skills and Technologies curriculum; therefore, we felt that an early exploration of these skills would be desirable for our makerspace.
With the adoption of our five themes, our team was ready to develop a makerspace blueprint. This involved planning for the integration of these themes with curriculum and library programming, plus allowing for open-ended maker exploration. For an example of some of our early planning discussions and to gain a snapshot of our brainstorming process, you can access our meeting notes from a November 4th Makerspace Team Planning Meeting Here. By early November 2015 we were also ready to move to the final phase of Fleming’s (2015) Makerspace Planning cycle: Ordering Equipment and Supplies.
Our Makerspace budget was an allotted $1500.00 from the Parent Advisory Council. My first purchase from this budget was a green screen and lighting from Amazon.ca and the Do Ink App for our Video Creation theme. I felt confident that this green screen was a solid purchase after examining the product in person and discussing its merits with the teacher-librarian who had purchased it. The Do Ink App was recommended by our district’s Elementary District Innovation Support Leader.
At a November 2015 meeting, our makerspace team excitedly made plans for the installation of our giant Lego wall. This was our first big step towards creating a fixed makerspace station in our learning commons. We took photos of the space where we thought the Lego wall should reside and submitted these to our district facilities, along with a link to Diana Rendina’s fabulous blog entry on How to Build an Epic Lego Wall. Then we researched Lego baseplate sizes and pricing. Our initial Lego wall plans underwent a few revisions, including its positioning and original size. We ended up removing a whiteboard from one end of the learning commons to accommodate the Lego Wall build which resulted in a 9 (38 cm x 38 cm) grey Lego baseplates by 3 (38 cm x 38 cm) Lego baseplates surface area. Facilities began the Lego wall build in December 2015, the last week of school before the Christmas holidays. While observing the carpenter install the Lego plates onto the plywood base, one student commented:
“This is the best Christmas present our school has ever received!”
We also ended up receiving unanticipated funding for this Lego wall project. Through a generous, legacy gift donation from a former graduating class from our school, the Lego wall and our initial Lego collection were fully funded. This donation freed up a significant amount of our makerspace budget from the PAC for other purchases.
Serendipitously, this Lego wall was installed beneath the word, IMAGINE on the back wall of our learning commons!
Through our makerspace planning process, I’ve learned that science storage rooms can be wonderful sources of discovery and “Aha!’ moments! In ours, I found an abandoned collection of Lego kits, plus many other wondrous, long-forgotten resources to fuel student imaginations and innovation within our makerspace. I was able to collate this “found Lego” with our purchased sets to expand our collection. However, we found that in order to engage an entire class with Lego building, we still required more Lego. Therefore, we did a “Lego Ask” in our school’s weekly news bulletin which resulted in some helpful contributions:
Lego Donations Needed: One Cup of Lego
The new Lego wall in the ____________Learning Commons has been a huge hit with our students. We wish to sincerely thank the ________graduating class of 2014 for their generous fundraising efforts and the legacy gift donation which made this creative addition possible. Our “Lego engineers” have been busy building imaginative structures, taking great pride in their creations and using these as a springboard for creative writing.
As a part of the 2014 grad class Legacy gift, we were able to purchase two bins of Lego as a starter set. However, we are finding that we would benefit from more Lego to keep our builders equipped. Therefore, we are asking our school community if you would consider donating one cup of Lego to add to our collection and enable greater building projects. All donations can be dropped off in the Learning Commons. Thank-you for your consideration.
Once our Lego wall build was set in motion, our team decided upon our other makerspace purchases for the year. To support our Fabric Shop – Sewing and Textiles theme, I purchased two sewing machines, a 15-piece sewing kit, several thread kits, sewing scissors, pinking shears and some fabric swatches all from Ikea. We also solicited fabric and other donations from our school community to stock up our sewing station. With the two grants that we had received from My Class Needs for Cubelets and Little Bits Electronics, we were already well-underway with our resources for the Robotics theme. However, our unexpected legacy gift for the Lego wall left us with a larger-than-anticipated budget. We decided that a greater variety and number of robots would be useful to more effectively engage large classes at the intermediate level. Therefore, I purchased a Sphero and two Ollie robots in December 2015. Later, after learning more about the exciting world of Vex IQ robotics through a specialist in our district, I purchased a Vex IQ Super Kit. Following these purchases, we still had budget remaining for any making consumables that we would need to purchase for the remainder of the year.
The arrival of our new resources precipitated the need to address secure makerspace storage. Our goal was for the storage to be flexible and portable, so that the resources could be easily moved around the learning commons, or even transported to other locations within the school as needed. Storage also needed to be lockable, to secure our more expensive items. These types of storage units can be pricey; therefore, we needed a creative solution. Every year our PAC facilitates a Scholastic Book Fair and the library receives books and other rewards as a result. Through our Scholastic rewards points we were able to obtain shelving units (see pg 39) with lockable castors. Each of these units provides 16 shelves and 16 clear plastic bins. Plus, the shelves are removable in order to accommodate larger items, such as our sewing machines, which fit perfectly! The clear bins were also ideal for Lego storage. The only feature missing was the means to secure our resources, so our district facilities assisted by installing locking mechanisms to each side of the units. Storage solution solved, we were able to move on to launching our makerspace.
“…Imaginations shared create collaboration, and collaboration creates community, and community inspires social change.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams, Author, Naturalist
For our makerspace team, September to December 2015 was a period steeped in learning, reflection and collaboration with other likeminded “maker educators”. As a part of the district innovation grant, innovation teams are required to meet a total of six times, with three of these sessions attended by an assigned facilitator. Following the initial facilitator’s workshop and Innovation Launch Meeting, teams are permitted to invite an outside facilitator who is an expert in the field of their inquiry focus. Therefore, we invited a district teacher-librarian and making teacher (her actual title!) from the Surrey School District to join us for two of our sessions. However, our invitations didn’t stop there. Realizing that there were several other innovation teams within our family of schools that were focusing on makerspaces for their inquiry projects, we invited them to join our facilitated sessions. Makerspaces, by their very nature are collaborative communities. Therefore, it made sense to model this collaborative sharing of resources – even human resources— in our efforts to create makerspaces.
As a result of our collaboration, we ended up with a larger team that included representatives from four schools: three elementary schools and one high school within our “family of schools” in the district. Through our efforts, we hope to ensure a “K-12 continuum of making” in our schools – a fortuitous byproduct of our inquiry efforts and collaboration!
On November 24th, 2015, our three makerspace teams met for the morning with our facilitator who inspired and wowed us with her passion for and knowledge about makerspaces. What we learned from our facilitator and from each other re-affirmed the value of our efforts to enable making in our schools. After taking six pages of notes during this session (yes, six!) it was challenging to distill what I gleaned down to a single takeaway. I’ve managed to pare it down to three main ideas:
It was a rich morning of discussion and resource-sharing. Each of us left feeling inspired and fueled to get our makerspaces underway.
“Schools are turning to makerspaces to facilitate activities that inspire confidence in young learners, and help them acquire entrepreneurial skills that are immediately applicable in the real world” (NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, p. 39).
In January 2016, the first week back following the Christmas break, our brand new Lego wall was “open for business”. In many ways the Lego wall’s completion and the start of the New Year coincided with our makerspace momentum. By this time, we had all of our new resources in place and we were poised to begin. We just needed to give things a little push. Moving forward, we also needed to address areas of best practice in educational makerspaces to use as guideposts in our implementation process.
The uTEC Maker Model
“Makerspaces seem to be popular because they bring out the best in all of us — evidence that we can all contribute. We can contribute to a better world and grow through the creative genius associated with problem solving” (Loertscher, Preddy & Derry, 2013, p. 51).
To guide our efforts, we referred to the uTEC Maker Model to give us some identifying language around student making behaviors. According to Loertscher, Preddy and Derry (2013), “The uTEC Maker Model visualizes the developmental stages of creativity from individuals and groups as they develop from passively using a system or process to the ultimate phase of creativity and invention” (p. 49). There are four levels of maker expertise identified by the uTEC model:
U for Using: Enjoying; Sampling; Engaging; Playing; Participate in or experience what others have created
T for Tinker: Playing; messing around; Questioning; Researching: Making personal changes to others’ creation
E for Experimenting: Building; Trying/Failing; Repurposing: Modifying and testing theories; Learning from failure/success
C for Creating: Inventing; Producing; Entrepreneurship: Novel product; Ideas; Inventions (p. 49).
In our early explorations with maker resources, much of our activity hovered around the “Using” level of expertise. Our students needed time to sample, play and participate with tools that others had created. This early phase is an essential step for developing makers.
“At any random moment, the makerspace may appear to be simply a chaotic melee of students, tools, and strange creations. However, in reality, it is a well-planned design to allow students to discover the concepts the teacher intended them to learn all along” (Kurti, Kurti & Fleming, 2014b, p. 8)
To a casual observer, an empty makerspace may seem like nothing more than a collection of tools within a dedicated space. However, a well-designed educational makerspace is much more than this; it reflects thoughtful planning, a philosophy about learning and careful management. According to Kurti, Kurti and Fleming (2014b), the makerspace environment should follow and promote the following principles:
- Invite curiosity
- Inspire wonder
- Encourage playfulness
- Celebrate unique solutions
- It’s OK to fail
- Breaking things is not a cardinal sin
- Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate! (pp. 10-11).
You can read more about these guiding principles in “The Philosophy of Educational Makerspace: Part 1 of Making an Educational Makerspace”. As we proceeded with our project’s implementation and engaged with our student learners, we wanted to ensure that our efforts reflected this philosophy of the educational makerspace as proposed by Kurti, Kurti and Fleming (2014b). In many ways, the openness of our learning commons, with its surrounding windows served us well. As students moved through the hallways observing classes engaged in the makerspace, the inevitable question was, “When will it be our turn to try that?”
What follows is a description of our early forays into incorporating maker learning into our school library/learning commons programming. It explains how our makerspace team utilized each of our maker resources, finding natural connections with curricular areas as well as carving out time for students to experience the joy of experimental making.
Grade 6/7 Tech Team
Just begin. This is the conventional wisdom applied to makerspaces. If you overthink it, wait until conditions are perfect, or pause until you have perfected your understanding around a certain maker resource, you will never exit that starting gate. I learned this lesson early on and I’m still learning it. You can read more about my musings on this topic in my blog entry: Makerspaces: Fearlessness Required.
Thankfully, I have what I call my student Tech Team: an enthusiastic group of grade 6 and 7 students at my school who are fearless in the face of new technology, even when I am not. Our student Tech Team applied and trained to be a part of this new program through our learning commons in September 2015. They have been pivotal in the implementation of our makerspace. With almost every new resource that I purchased, the Tech Team were among the first to test it out and report their observations back to me. While much of this process looked like play, we called it “product testing”. For example, the student Tech Team were the brave pioneers who opened the Little Bits Electronics boxes for the first time and figured them out in front of me. Through excited choruses of “Look, Mrs. Davis! Watch what this can do!” and “Come and see what I made with this!” we experimented our way to understanding and familiarity with many of our new makerspace resources. It was the same with the Green Screen and Do Ink App: “Mrs. Davis, check out our Hollywood red carpet video we made”. It was repeated with the overwhelmingly complicated Vex IQ robotics.
When a group of Tech Team students built their first Vex IQ Robot, after spending much of their lunch hour poring over the instructions, and a good portion of the next class block building it, their efforts culminated with high fives, cheering, and a lot of jumping up and down. Working with this team of students has taught me much about the nature and wisdom of a makerspace: let students discover, tinker, test things out, fail, iterate and arrive at success themselves. Be the guide and facilitator. Hover and observe. Then, let them teach you.
“Playfulness is an extremely important tool in the engagement of learning. Students who play will learn without even knowing it has happened” (Kurti, Kurti & Fleming, 2014b, p.10).
Having a Lego wall within our learning commons has invited play, creativity and innovation into our environment. However, without the right impetus, it might simply exist as a wall of grey Lego plates at one end of a room. My job was to determine how to best introduce this exciting new maker resource to our school community, illustrating both its potential and purpose. For those accustomed to a traditional library model, the introduction of a Lego wall might seem incongruous with the library’s role. Therefore, I decided that our introductory Lego wall activity needed to be rooted in literacy. I began with an activity that used literacy as both a springboard and a follow up activity.
Beginning with our Kindergarten class, I invited students to the learning commons to read together the picture book Clink by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Matthew Myers. Clink is a heart-warming story about a robot who wishes to find a home. The story and pictures work well to illustrate a variety of robots and their various imaginative functions. The book’s endpapers also depict robot blueprints, which led to some great discussion about the nature of blueprints and how we use them to plan a design and guide the building of a creation. After reading the story, we instructed the students that their task was to use their imaginations to create their own robot out of Lego on the new Lego wall. What happened next was a delight to behold. The students were each provided with a clear plastic bin to fill with a “handful” of Lego with which they could build their robots. Their decision-making process began immediately as they selected various Lego pieces and determined what the nature of their robot would be. I enjoyed listening to the detailed descriptions of their robots and the rationale for why they required certain pieces to depict an array of fascinating functions.
Stories began to unfold. Every student-created robot was completely unique and had its own story, which the students shared openly as they built. This activity led seamlessly to the next, which was to invite the students to write and illustrate a story about their robots. We kept each class’s robots intact on the Lego wall for one week, so that students could show their creations to their families and to enable us to photograph and document their creative work. I proceeded with this activity until every primary and intermediate class had been given the opportunity to share a story, build and document a creation, and then write about it. Afterwards, teachers shared with me that their students were keenly invested in the writing process and wrote more than usual because of their engagement with the activity. They were invested because it held meaning for them.
The Lego wall sits poised for creative opportunity. As a means to invite other uses for our Lego resources, I sent our staff the following email to prompt new ideas. Its subject line was: The many uses of Lego (and a Lego wall!) in education:
I thought I’d share a few Lego resources that might inspire new ways to use those colorful bricks in teaching:
We look forward to exploring our Lego wall’s potential as a makerspace resource in the months and years to come.
The hum and the whir of sewing machines with spinning tops of winding bobbins signaled the official beginning of our Fabric Shop. Taking the cue from my student Tech Team, I had learned to step back and invite student ownership of our maker resources. Therefore, I informed a few of our grade 6/7 students, who were keen and practiced seamstresses, of the arrival of our new sewing machines. I invited them to join me in the learning commons during the lunch hour to set them up for me. I didn’t know what to expect when an excited group of girls trooped into the room, right at the bell, to assist. In fact, if I had held any expectations, these girls would have quickly exceeded them. In no time, they had removed the sewing machines from their boxes, spun the new bobbins, threaded the machines and organized all of the new sewing notions into clear plastic bins for me. Furthermore, without prompting, they created stitch samples of every type of stitch available on our new machines, plus provided fabric samples of various stitch tensions. As teachers passed by the learning commons during that lunch hour, they couldn’t help but stop and grin at the sight of such engaged sewers joyfully working their craft. These student makers had created a Fabric Shop makerspace with the span of a lunch period.
During the term we created two specific maker projects with primary students using our Fabric Shop: Sewing and Textiles resources. The first was a “Sew Much Fun” project that incorporated literacy with the theme, “it’s okay to be different” and the curricular area of learning about shapes. We completed this project with the Kindergarten class with the support of parent and grandparent volunteers, along with a number of grades 6 and 7 student helpers. This cross-generational involvement created a true “makerspace feel” in our learning commons. The second primary maker project involved 70 grades 1, 2 and 3 students creating memory pouches to tie in with a Social Studies unit and a field trip. This sewing project also involved both parent and intermediate student helpers.
Sew Much Fun!
For our “Sew Much Fun!” Kindergarten project we used literacy as a springboard, reading the book It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr to the class to begin. Parr’s brightly coloured picture book focusses on the theme of accepting the differences in others. The students then created monster stuffed-creatures out of felt, using a variety of shapes that they had learned about in their class. The Kindergarten students did the majority of the making for this project which included the following: cutting out their felt monster pattern, cutting out the shapes that would form their monster’s facial features, hand stitching the shapes onto their monster, and later inserting the stuffing into the sewn stuffie. While we had a lot of support for this project, our goal was for the K’s to complete this creation on their own. We completed this project over two “making sessions” and during this time our learning commons was transformed into a vibrant Fabric Making Shop. We had avid hand sewers sitting in various huddles engaged in hand sewing their stuffies, parents stationed at sewing machines, ready to assist with stitching around the perimeter of the stuffies, and assistants wandering amongst the groups rethreading needles and knotting ends. Once completed, the monster stuffies became the subject of books which the Kindergarten students created for an extension activity. In the end, the Kindergarten teacher informed me of how proud the students were of their work and the results. One student shared with her, “I will keep this forever.”
Seventy primary students, seventy pieces of burlap, over seventy beads and seventy strips of leather ties were all involved in the creation of Memory Pouches for a primary Social Studies project and our second Fabric Shop maker event of the year. The students would later bring their pouches along on a field trip to collect an item that could fit inside their pouch to create a special memory.
As a precursor to introducing Robotics and Coding, we celebrated Hour of Code on December 7,, 2015 during Computer Science Education Week. To recognize this day, and introduce our students to the world of coding, we invited a school parent— who designs video games for a living— to give a presentation to our intermediate students on coding. Following this presentation, the students enjoyed practicing some basic coding using activities provided on the Hour of Code site. According to Burke (2014), “Community is the defining element of the maker movement on both a local and international scale” (p. 12). For this event, we were able to model two significant hallmarks of maker education: engaging community (by inviting in a local expert) and providing students with an authentic, real-world example (by demonstrating how an expert uses coding in his profession).
Equipped with four different types of robotics, this theme became a major focus for our makerspace this year. Initially, we decided to pilot our robotics resources with two grade 4/5 classes, providing them with some background on robotics and then inviting them to complete “product testing” as a means to explore and learn about robotics. You can access some of our introductory videos that we shared with students in this document: Introductory Robotics Resources. Our grade 4/5 product testers spent several sessions in the Learning Commons, with their Robotics Product Review sheets clipped securely to clipboards, rotating through three stations of robotics: Cubelets, Little Bits Electronics and the Sphero and Ollies. Product-testing proved to be highly engaging, hands-on sessions for students, that provided them with time to experiment, play and discover while completing a guiding task.
Coding and Robotics
Our grade 6/7 students experienced our new robotics resources in a similar “stations” format, yet without the product testing component. They balanced their robotics exploration with research sessions in the learning commons, rotating through both activities within a class period. For these students, we later added a coding component to their robotics introduction. To tackle coding with robotics, I invited our district’s Elementary District Innovation Support Teacher to provide guidance to the two grade 6/7 classes on how code using Sphero and Ollie robots, using the Tickle App. To keep these larger groups engaged, we divided the class in half, with one group learning to code using Code Monkey and MIT’s Scratch program on their laptops, while the other group coded with the Sphero and Ollie robots. These students impressed us with their coding skills. They progressed quickly from simply programming the Sphero ball to stop at a set point, to more advanced programming that involved complicated navigation through obstacle courses devised by the students. Each grade 6/7 class experienced two coding sessions, during which time there were lots of enthusiastic cheers, high fives and grins of success.
While our student Tech Team has had the opportunity to experiment with our new Green Screen, Lighting and the Do Ink App, at the time of writing, we have not yet involved classes with these resources to create videos. The Tech Team has been working towards familiarizing themselves with using the Green Screen so that they can provide instruction to others within our school. However, we have found other, unexpected uses for this resource.
Our Green Screen kit also came equipped with black screen and white screen fabrics. We have used the “white screen” and the metal framework to explore Shadow Theatre for an intermediate drama unit. This rather serendipitous discovery has led us to explore “dramatic making” in our learning commons!
According to the BC Ministry of Education (2015), “Design involves the ability to combine an empathetic understanding of a context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and critical thinking to analyze and fit solutions to the context” (para. 4). Design thinking and making are included in BC’s new Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies Curriculum for K-12. While engaging with the design process may seem like a tall order for grades 4 and 5, our intermediate students astounded us with their capabilities and responses to our makerspace Design Thinking challenges this year!
Using educators’ Design Thinking Projects and Challenges resources from the Institute of Design at Stanford, we introduced the concept of Design Thinking to two grades 4 and 5 classes through fun challenges. Our first challenge, the Spaghetti and Marshmallow Exercise, required students to build the tallest, freestanding tower that they could in 10 minutes using specific resources. The second challenge, the Five Chairs Exercise, required students to design chair models based on the needs profiles of specific users. Through the creation of these structures, students had the opportunity to collaborate, to explore design thinking mindsets, and to address designs based on human need. Their creations were unique, think-outside-of-the-box responses that provided valuable insight into their thinking processes. Furthermore, it was through these challenges that we observed students progressing through the developmental stages of the uTEC Maker Model from “Using” others’ products to “Creating” novel inventions of their own.
Giant Milk Jug Igloo
Once our grades 4 and 5 students had practiced with smaller challenges, they were ready to tackle a larger scale design challenge: building a giant igloo out of milk jugs. To introduce this activity, we challenged the students’ knowledge of igloo instruction with an interactive activity from NOVA called Igloo 101. As it turned out, collectively, we did not know as much about Igloos and their construction as we thought we did! Therefore, we learned a lot of valuable details from this activity. Next, we watched a short, time-lapse video of a real igloo being built. Finally, we presented students with their collaborative challenge: to determine the best method for designing and building an igloo out of 400 milk jugs. Student groups were provided with an Igloo Building Proposal sheet and were instructed to brainstorm as a team, working through the guiding questions. Their final objective was to create a detailed proposal that explained their design and strategy, their required resources, and any anticipated costs. The students would then present their proposal before a panel of judges. To help students to understand the real-world connection to this activity, we explained that engineers and other professionals often bid or compete for projects tendered by companies, by creating and presenting formal proposals.
Over a series of classes, students analyzed, brainstormed, hypothesized, researched and experimented with other types of materials to determine how to best construct the igloo. They wrote up their proposals, drew intricate diagrams, and rehearsed their presentations. In the meantime, we solicited our school community for 400+ milk jugs. On the day of the presentations, our judging panel—my principal and I—were amazed by our students’ problem solving abilities. Their group proposals revealed a rare window into their understanding and analysis of a problem and their strategies to create a design solution to solve it. Many of their responses were truly delightful and funny as well; they often surprised us with their unique approaches and reasoning!
In the end, we selected two teams that displayed excellence in their collaborative efforts, well-detailed and realistic strategies and estimates, and an organized description of their process, materials and costs. While we announced the winning teams at a large group gathering, I also addressed areas of excellence from each team’s efforts, acknowledging that every group had put forth a commendable effort. Everyone was given the opportunity to build the igloo, while the two winning teams were given a special responsibility of coordinating and supervising the building efforts.
Once we started construction, our “igloo engineers” were thoroughly absorbed in the process. I observed firsthand: Making = Joy. Students were overhead saying things like, “This is the best day ever!” as they approached their building task with earnest enthusiasm. Through this igloo design challenge we observed our students displaying many of the dispositions mentioned in the uTECH Maker Model: organization, teamwork, problem-solving, persistence, inquiring, designing, communicating and leadership. Of all the maker activities we pursued this year, I would identify the Igloo Design Challenge as one of my favorites. Here’s why: it was through this activity that I truly comprehended the powerful nature of maker learning and observed its many benefits for our students. As Kurti, Kurti &Fleming (2014b) stated:
Maker education fosters curiosity, tinkering, and iterative learning, which in turn leads to better thinking through better questioning. This learning environment fosters enthusiasm for learning, student confidence, and natural collaboration. Ultimately, the outcome of maker education and educational makerspaces leads to determination,independent and creative problem solving, and an authentic preparation for the real world by simulating real-world challenges. In short, an educational makerspace is less of a classroom and more of a motivational speech without words (p. 11).
At the time of writing, our milk jug igloo is almost completed. To celebrate, we plan to hold a “Read In” in our igloo, adorning it with special lights at the students’ request. Soon, our students’ efforts to build this igloo will be featured in a local newspaper, after the editor requested a story, upon seeing the students’ creation. This experience has indeed been like a “motivational speech without words” (Kurti, Kurti & Fleming, 2014b, p. 11).
For further information and resources about Design Thinking, you can find a compilation of 45 Design Thinking Resources for educators here.
For an introduction to Design Thinking you can access a Process Guide here.
Looking back, I marvel at how much we have accomplished within the span of a year that is not yet over. Our school’s makerspace is the accomplishment of many. It is the direct result of collaboration, support, expert guidance, and an unwavering belief in the power of educational making. Now the question remains: where do we go from here? At a March 2015 presentation to our Parent Advisory Council (PAC), I shared our maker progress and our plans for further development. I also requested a makerspace budget for the next year. Having seen the results and manifestations of student making, our PAC is supportive of our makerspace efforts and understands the need for funding. Parents are also willing to get involved by volunteering their time and skills. There is an interest to expand our resources and broaden our making footprint. Our parents’ support of our makerspace has been heartening. Maker seeds have been planted and we are just now enjoying the first fruits of our labours. With continued support, I am hopeful that we will soon reap a “community garden version” of a makerspace within our school.
Moving forward, it is a goal of our makerspace team to carve out time for “Open Making”. We want to create opportunity for our students to explore interdisciplinary endeavors, where a cross-pollination of ideas, tools and skills can lead to new innovation and creations. Makerspaces are learning environments that should support both informal and formal learning, encouraging independent exploration. This undertaking will involve the efforts and support of our entire community. In the coming year, we will need to develop a plan and a schedule that will accommodate open making times. Increasing the accessibility of the makerspace and maker resources to all students will be a primary objective in this process. Supervision and training of both volunteers and students will also need to be addressed. The implementation of B.C.’s new Applied Design, Skills and Technologies Curriculum in September 2016, will likely push making and design thinking discussions to the forefront. It is my hope that this new curriculum will highlight the benefits of making and encourage a new wave of makerspace supporters within our community.
Makerspaces are models of life-long learning. To this end, we want our makerspace to invite community and cross-generational involvement, bringing in more local experts to share their passions and expertise with students. This year, we have already experienced the benefits of bringing community into the classroom to volunteer with students and to share their skills. We hope this model will grow. Establishing a makerspace in our school has led to other community connections, as well as further program offerings. For example, the interest generated by our Fabric Shop theme has led to a lunch-time sewing club, available for students in grades 3-7, and offered through La Movida Sewing and Design Studios. We are also hosting an after school, Video Game Design program offered by UME Academy two days per week. Makerspaces can be community invitations, offering skills, mentorship and a sharing of passions and interests.
At our final Innovation Grant team meeting with our facilitator on April 15, 2016, we discussed the many ways in which maker learning can be documented and shared. In the near future, we plan to use Edublogs as a means for our students to document their creations and share about their learning. We have already met with the Elementary District Innovation Support Teacher to discuss this blogging platform, and have plans for her to support our initial blogging efforts with the grades 4 and 5 students. Other platforms for sharing maker learning discussed at our IG meeting were as follows: creating a Twitter feed for the makerspace, using iBooks Author or creating products with Shutterfly, using a Flickr account or loading videos onto Vimeo. As we make progress towards incorporating an open making model, we will encourage students to keep a record of their designs and iterations using a makerspace journal. Finally, our team has also discussed the possibilities of adopting a digital badge system or some similar means to recognize student skill-building and accomplishments within the makerspace. As we support our students in documenting their learning and developing their making portfolios, we can help them to identify as makers, creators, innovators and problem-solvers.
June 11th and 12th 2016 mark the dates of the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire. The Vancouver Mini Maker Faire (n.d.) describes this unique event in the following manner:
Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers,science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “Makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned (A Brief History of Maker Faires section, para. 5).
Our makerspace team hopes to promote this upcoming event, encouraging our school community to learn about the exciting nature of maker faires and to discover what other local makers are creating. In the future, our goal would be to host our own version of a mini-maker faire, as a regular feature of our school’s annual studio that showcases student work. Finally, when I squint just beyond that future horizon, I can envision a district-sponsored mini maker faire-- exhibiting all students’ innovative creations that they have designed within their own school’s makerspaces. Now wouldn’t that be something?
“Experience is knowledge. All the rest is information”
Sometimes, when you are so engrossed in something you are passionate about, you forget to look up. This happened to me on a few occasions this year: while in the midst of threading a sewing machine, or sidestepping a roving robot, I’ve looked up and found someone looking back at me, through our learning commons windows, with a quizzical expression on his or her face. This was inevitably followed by a, “I have to ask…” query. Since we started our makerspace this past fall, we have had a steady stream of visitors, curious to know how maker education works and what it looks like. I enjoy these opportunities to share what I’ve learned and what I am continuing to understand about students and making. One of the first things I comment on is the “transparency of student thinking”. This has been my primary observation of students engaged in maker learning; their thought processes become deeper and more transparent. As Kurti, Kurti and Fleming (2014a) asserted, “Great educational makerspaces inspire students to own their learning and deepen their thinking by exploring the world with all their senses” (p.8) Whether it’s building a creation on the Lego wall, working through a coding problem, or figuring out a design challenge, our students are frequently thinking out loud in the makerspace. Perhaps it’s because they are given the opportunity to do so, because as teachers we are stepping back and facilitating the learning, rather than leading it. To me, this thinking transparency is an amazing thing.
One morning I observed a student enter his classroom, scan the whiteboard to read the day’s agenda, then blurt out when he read what was written on the board for the first block of the day:
“Makerspace, Yessss!” This was followed by a vigorous fist-pump.
With the introduction of our makerspace I have witnessed many “eyes-light-up” moments. These are not just the moments when we introduce cool new resources like robots or the Lego wall. These are the “Aha!” moments when a student team finally figures out how to build something after persevering for some time. Or, it’s the moment when students solve a problem for themselves to make something work. Then there are those times when students declare that they have discovered a new career goal, after being exposed to something new, like computer programming. With the creation of our makerspace I have observed a significant increase in student engagement. Even parents’ eyes light up. When I have the opportunity to explain what we have been doing in our makerspace, a common response is: “School was never like this when I grew up.” With our makerspace implementation, I have had more connections with parents and increased discussions about the powerful nature of hands-on learning.
“For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime” ~ Seth Godin on “The Future of the Library”
As a teacher-librarian, I have always enjoyed making connections with students through sharing a love of reading and books. With the addition of a makerspace to our learning commons, my opportunities to connect with students have increased. When our students are engaged in creation and absorbed with problem solving, they are motivated to share what they’ve learned or are keen to show what they’ve accomplished. Very often they seek the opportunity to teach me something as well. One of my favorite questions to students this year has been, “Who wants to show me what they’ve done/learned?” This incites a flurry of beckoning hands and enthusiastic, “I do’s” or “Come sees”. Our makerspace has given me more opportunities to share in student successes, to encourage them in the midst of their frustrations, and to grow and discover alongside them as a learner myself.
“Play is the highest form of research.” ~ Albert Einstein
There is no denying that making is fun. There is an aspect of play involved in the makerspace that creates within students an openness to learn and an invitation to risk and try, even in those who are typically “reluctant engagers”. When I describe our makerspace progress and efforts to others, I am usually grinning; I am having fun too. I believe that making has the potential to bring out the best in our students and to nudge them onto unexpected paths of discovery.
When our makerspace visitors ask for advice on how to get started, I share three things that I have learned. First, “Don’t go it alone!” Creating a culture of making within a school is not a venture to tackle in isolation. Certainly, it would be a lonely road. Ours has been a journey, made all the richer, because it was shared. As a team, we have accomplished much more than one person ever could. Secondly, “Start small and be intentional”. Root makerspace decisions in community choice and direction; that way you can plant seeds of ownership. Finally, “Be prepared for challenges”. Acknowledging that not everyone will immediately understand or embrace maker learning can help you prepare for potential resistance. Makerspaces (within libraries) challenge deep-seated notions of a library’s purpose and role. For some, they may challenge what learning “looks like” or what “counts as learning”. In many ways, those who create makerspaces in traditional settings like schools and libraries are what Michael Fullan calls “change designers”. According to Fullan (2013), “The biggest obstacles to change are inertia, skepticism, and indifference. The product and the process have to overcome these stalwarts of the status quo” (p. 62). So get your elevator speech ready! Roll up those sleeves and prepare for some rewarding work. When building a makerspace, the benefits will well outweigh the challenges. We need more “change designers” in the world.
This is a sampling of what some of our staff and parents had to say about our makerspace this year:
You can access References for this project here: