Friday, April 1, 2016

My Own Maker Misconceptions

At Pioneer Middle School, we began serious work on the makerspace in November 2014.  Although I was excited about the idea, I was very hesitant to get started.  I had some misconceptions about makerspaces that I have cleared up a bit during the process.

Misconception #1: A makerspace is a very difficult thing to implement.
At first, the whole idea seemed very overwhelming.  I went to lots of PD sessions on the topic, but was worried about starting this on my own.  The best advice I received from another school librarian was to “just start.”  There is no requirement for supplies needed in a makerspace.  The only real stipulation is to provide students with the time and support needed for them to explore projects of their own interest.

Misconception #2: A makerspace will be expensive.
Although I see some really shiny makerspaces in other school libraries (jealous!!), a makerspace does not need to be expensive.  Our local BOCES was a huge help, as they have many coding resources (such as Bee Bots) that can be loaned to school districts.  The greatest help with getting the makerspace up and running was the other staff members in my school.  I simply sent out an email explaining the makerspace concept and that I was looking for craft supplies to help get things started.  After just a few weeks, my back room was filled with craft supplies!  The custodians were able to find a cabinet from a classroom renovation and this became our craft cabinet for the makerspace.  As far as coding things go, there are numerous free websites.  I organized the websites I found into a Symbaloo (great site!) matrix and then posted the Symbaloo to our library website.  This made it easy for the students to quickly access many different coding sites.  You can check out the Symbaloo matrix here: http://pioneerschools.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=1923

Our Symbaloo filled with coding resources.

Our makerspace today.  Supplies were mainly donated and the
cabinets came from the renovation in the high school.

All of this was free.  As work on the makerspace progressed, we were able to add more robotics and coding tools by finding grants and having a book fair fundraiser.  However, even if we were not able to secure any extra funding, we still had a makerspace! 

Misconception #3: It will be difficult to get buy-in from administrators.
This was actually one of the easier parts.  I spoke with my principal briefly about makerspaces, and she was supportive.  One of the topics we discussed was how makerspaces tie in closely to two of our district’s initiatives; namely, offering enrichment in the STEM disciplines and facilitating growth mindset in all students.  Once my principal understood the benefits of a makerspace (and that it wouldn’t involve any extra work for her!), she was thrilled.

Maker Club allows students to explore STEM concepts.

Misconception #4: It will be difficult to find other adults in the school to help.
We host Maker Club after school on Wednesdays.  At this time, we are not running the makerspace during the school day with any regularity.  I knew we would need more adults present in order to run Maker Club.  Mr. LoBianco, one of our special education teachers, hosted an Hour of Code event during the previous school year, so I knew he would be interested in helping out.  For the 2015-2016 school year, we have added one of the building’s Spanish teachers, Ms. McKenzie, to Maker Club.  She has always had an interest in computer coding, so she was passionate about helping with this project.  To find adults within your own building that may help, I would approach people that have an interest in coding/STEM concepts.  If all else fails, send an email to the staff and see what happens.  It is exciting and different, so people may surprise you with their interest.

Mr. LoBianco was eager to be a part of Maker Club.

Ms. McKenzie has a great interest in computer science.

Misconception #5: All the students will do is play.
This is something we were really worried about before starting our Maker Club.  We instituted a brief Maker Club orientation prior to students’ participation in Maker Club. We walk them through a PowerPoint presentation outlining the expectations for the club.  One of the things we told the students is that Maker Club is not play time, it’s create time.  This cut down on any instances of misusing the makerspace supplies.  We have had to speak to students about proper behavior, but usually a reminder is all it takes to get them back on track.  We also use an entrance and exit ticket system.  This is a way to keep track of what students are working on and what they would like to work on next time.  The ticket system helps to increase student accountability and helps us to know what supplies we should buy for the next time the club meets.

LEGO Mindstorms are a huge hit with the Maker Club crowd.

Recycled materials are a perfect canvas for art projects.

A great puppet made with supplies from the makerspace.

Misconception #6: We will only get the brightest, most well-behaved students in Maker Club.
I am ashamed to even admit that I felt this way.  Initially, I was envisioning that Maker Club would be a feeder for our school’s Lego League and Science Olympiad programs.  Although there is definitely some overlap, Maker Club has taken on a completely different flavor.  Not only are we getting students with great interest in STEM, we have also gotten students from a variety of other backgrounds.  Many of our regulars in Maker Club receive special education services, have behavioral issues, or are on the autism spectrum.  Maker Club has become a safe space where students can socialize with other students who have similar interests.  Students who may not experience much success within a classroom setting feel pride in their involvement in Maker Club and their work on the various projects they work on.  To me, this is the most important outcome of the club.

The last day of Maker Club for the 2014-2015 year.  What a crew!
 
The longer we immerse ourselves in the maker culture, the more I continue to learn from the Pioneer students.  Education isn’t a one size fits all arrangement.  I enjoy how our Maker Club give students the chance to explore their own interests, find new interests, and learn at their own pace and in their own way.  The benefits certainly outweigh the drawbacks, and I look forward to seeing what the students will imagine next.

6 comments:

  1. Wow! A great summary of what we have accomplished so far. Thank you for having the guts to try this and bringing me on board. We have created an awesome opportunity for our students to explore and grow.

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    1. This whole adventure has been a team effort. Thanks for being open to it!!

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  2. Excellent post! Looking to start this at my school. Thank you for your advice.

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  3. Glad to hear you are interested in makerspaces! It has been a fun adventure for us here at Pioneer.

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  4. Thank for this posting. You have some great ideas and so much going with your Makerspace. I'm working on building our Makerspace at our Middle School. I'm doing it little by little. Thank you for sharing your ideas. I've written a couple things down for ideas thanks to your post.

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    1. So glad you're starting a Makerspace! we have had so much fun with it here. Please don't ever hesitate to reach out if I can help in any way.

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