Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How to Determine if You Need a Makerspace

The Makerspace. I didn’t get it. For years I didn’t get it. The Makerspace has been a buzz word in the School Library Media Center World for several years, but I couldn’t understand why. It doesn’t really have anything to do with books. It usually doesn’t involve traditional research. Why do I need to give up space in the slmc so kids can come and be loud and make a mess and not read?

School Library Media Center Starting a Makerspace

Then I met Mrs. Makerspace herself, Colleen Graves. She only knows who I am now because I keep tagging her on Instagram (@makerteacherlibrarian) and she graciously replies. Colleen led a Makerspace playground at a TCEA conference (Texas Computer Educators Association). So while at TCEA I decided to see what the hoopla was about.

I walked through the ballroom area where Colleen had set up her "toys." She looks so young, at first I mistook her for a high school student. She was so calm and casual, but incredibly knowledgeable about all of her "stuff", the electronics and robots. I was overwhelmed and didn't know where to start, so I just wandered. I looked, but I didn't touch. I still didn't get it. I'm not sure I really wanted to get it yet.

Colleen noticed me and asked if I'd like to try anything. I played for a while with the Little Bits and thought, “OK, this is fun.” Then I wandered over to the Makey Makeys and stared at the banana piano. "Try it!" she encouraged. I played with the Makey Makeys.

I used an iPad to control the Dash robot through a maze taped on the floor. Eventually, I sat down to take it all in and thought, “My students really would love this!” How could they not?  But then the doubts crept in again and my skepticism came back. Maybe in the computer lab, not the library. Maybe the Instructional Technologist should do it, not me. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the connection to these electronics and the media center.

Finally, I walked across the room and cornered Colleen. Without preface or introduction, I demanded, “Why should I have a Makerspace? Why in the library?”

I was ready for her apologetics. I was ready for her to justify it with research and some noble mission to connect surreptitiously with kids who don’t like to read, to get them in the media center as a maker, and later to get them in there to read.

But her response stopped me dead in my tracks. She simply looked at me and said, “Why not?”

That moment is frozen in my brain. Why not?

Why not?

Why not offer them what they aren’t getting elsewhere because of high stakes testing? Why not use the space rather than let it sit idle before school? Why not get nerdy and experiment and just see what happens?

I tried to research (because, ahem, librarian), and I found that as no two schools are the same, no two Makerspaces are the same. Their purpose, schedule, supplies and offerings are all suited to their schools and their populations and their time or money constraints.

I had to just take a chance and be a creator myself to create a Makerspace for my students.

So I did it. I created a Makerspace when I had no idea how it should look or what it should contain. For the first time in over 20 book fairs, I took all of my profit in Scholastic Dollars. I spent the bucks in the Scholastic catalog on bright red furniture, and maker kits, specifically Little Bits and Makey Makeys. I collected donated craft supplies. We received Legos from a DonorsChoose grant. I moved furniture around and started getting rid of our professional collection. Seriously, no one has checked out those books in 15 years, so now that bookshelf stores our Maker stuff.
Students in School Library Media Center Makerspace
Creating music with Little Bits Synth Kit

The next time classes came in, we talked about what a Makerspace is and when they could use it. I showed them what we had and taught them the basics. Then we got busy. I turned them loose as nervous teachers gave me sideways glances and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to assign them to groups? Are you sure they can handle 20 minutes of freedom? Are you sure they don’t need more instruction?”

I was sure. They experimented. They struggled to understand. They figured it out. They tried everything and created wonderful things. They got it.
Students in School Library Media Center Makerspace
Crowd favorite, the Makey Makey

Mrs. M told me she had never been able to engage one particular boy in anything. It is February, six months into the year. Now we couldn’t get him to stop. Mrs. V said I was right--even her most challenging class was engaged, making music with the Little Bits Synth Kit and foil keys attached to a Makey Makey. Mrs. J showed me a group of girls at the back of the room using old Stampin’ Up kits to decorate and write encouraging letters to each other, with no prompting from the adults. They just knew that one of their friends needed a pick-me-up, and so they did it. Be still my heart.
Students in School Library Media Center Makerspace
Crafting and creating

It’s still a mess and a work in progress. I am still ironing out the particulars of how many students may come and when.  I told the students and teachers up front that I was still learning and it might take awhile to get the kinks worked out, but we'll get it.

And now that we've got it, we love it and don’t want to go back to the days without it. I wish that I had done it sooner.

I'm not sure of my next addition, but we may venture into robotics or 3D printing.

Why not?

Do you have a Makerspace? If you don't, why not? What is holding you back? Space? Cost? Time? All of those issues can be solved, and some solutions change over time. I would love to hear about your experiences with deciding to implement a Makerspace or not, and what challenges you have faced.

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