Recent Scenes from Our Makerspace and an Exciting Update!

lego table

Our library makerspace has been a bustling place over the past few weeks.  I’ve still been holding some periodic makerspace recess sessions where students can signup to come and explore the space and what it has to offer.  Several students have been coming on a regular basis on their own.  This started as one or two students asking to come and then those students told some other students.  Before I knew it, I had a good problem on my hands.  I’ve been trying to find a good way to organize the process of students coming to use the space on their own.

At the moment, the process is that students send me an email if they want to start using the space on their own.  I make sure to put an appointment on the library calendar to introduce them to the space and set some parameters of what they can and cannot do.  Once I feel like the student is responsible, he or she can start coming without an appointment but still needs to tell me the plan of which days to come.  So far, this has been working with the exception of clean up and organization.  Often, these students are in a rush because they are using recess time.  Just when they get going with their making, it’s time to leave, so there’s little time to cleanup.  This is on my agenda to figure out, but I will have some help with this very soon.

robot dog

I’m partnering with Gretchen Thomas at the University of Georgia and some of her independent study students.  As their project, these students will be coming each day of the week from 11-12:15.  I will be able to tell students and teachers that they can come any day at that time.  The UGA students will be responsible for creating a sign in sheet so that we can track which students are using the space.  They will also monitor how often each student is coming.  Although I love having kids come and use the space, I think it is still important that they spend some time outside.  The UGA students will ask the students to limit their days so that there is space for others to try as well as time to go outside as well.  The UGA students will also help me establish a routine for keeping the space in some sort of organization.  Most importantly, they will explore alongside these students using the space.  All of this starts next week!

Over the past week or so, some amazing things have been made and tried in the space.  These have happened during our weekly enrichment clusters as well as these exploratory recess times.

A student spent time tinkering with LittleBits during enrichment clusters.  He would try one combination of bits and it didn’t quite do what he wanted.  He didn’t give up, and instead, kept trying different combinations until he made a type of microphone.  His next step is to figure out how to make this something we could actually use without having to lean right into the bit to talk.

Other students tinkered with littleBits in different ways:

There has been a lot of exploration of MaKey MaKey by using existing tools online and controlling those with the alligator clips and playdoh.

A challenge has been getting students to move beyond using the MaKey MaKey with existing tools and stretch their thinking to designing their own programs that can be controlled by the tool.  We finally had a breakthrough this week as some students began designing things in Scratch and controlling it with MaKey MaKey.


Several students have been bringing in their own maker tools to share with the makerspace and classmates.  One student brought a robotic dog that can be controlled through an app and another student brought his snap circuits.  The Snap Circuits were very popular and students were screaming when they figured out how to snap pieces together to create an AM radio.


I’m still seeing a lot of tinkering with Sphero.  The students love driving Sphero around and playing the various games, but this is another tool where I want to nudge students to begin programming.  I think they need this experimental stage, but I know they can create amazing things once they get going.

I’ve seen a lot of interest in duct tape.  This is the one area where I’ve seen students read the instructions in our duct tape books as well as watch videos about making things with duct tape in order to design something.  Now, a group of students have branched off to start making their own creations from duct tape.  One student made a flower from tape and then decided to add it to her headband.

So far, I feel like our 3d printing has been very teacher directed.  Because of safety concerns, I’m afraid to let elementary students use the 3D printer alone.  Now, though, I have some students who are really capable of this.  They know how to design something in tinkercad, export to Makerware, slice for 3d printing, save on an SD card, load the SD card, and get the print started.  I was startled one day when I heard the 3d printer start, and when I raced over to see what was going on a student had gone through this whole process alone.  I did remind him that due to safety I really wanted to be around when something was 3d printing, but I was also proud that an elementary student was able to go through all of the steps to print something.  Now, he has passed on that expertise to several other students.  Their designs are very simple at the moment, but I think they will get more complex as they tinker with the tool more and more.

I’m excited that Gretchen Thomas is bringing yet another fun tool for us to try when she comes next week:  Google Cardboard.  It’s sort of silly, but it’s a cardboard viewfinder that you stick your phone inside in order to create your own virtual reality on a budget.  Since Cardboard doesn’t officially support iPhones, we also used our makerspace to print an attachment from Thingiverse that will let us use our iPhones for the cardboard tinkering.

I’m still pushing to weave makerspace into classroom curriculum, and I think a next step is going to be to hold some informal teacher exploration time.  I think if teachers give themselves permission to tinker and explore, they will immediately start to see a use for their classrooms.

It is overwhelming and promising to see how many independent projects there are in our school and that students are coming to the library as a place to work on these projects.  I was amazed when I paused and took a quick look around.

Crafting Opinion Writing with Puppet Pals in First Grade

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Almost every class in our school is doing some form of opinion writing at the moment.  Last week, 1st grade spent some time tinkering with the Puppet Pals app on the iPad to see how it worked.  We have also been reading books that feature some type of opinion such as The Sandwich Swap and Sylvia’s Spinach.

In class, the 1st graders have been writing an opinion piece, so they brought that piece of writing to the library to use the Puppet Pals app to record their script.  We started on the floor in front of the projector.  I projected an iPad and opened the puppet pal app.  I quickly went through the various screens and made sure everything still looked familiar to students from their tinkering sessions.

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Then, I showed the students a few extra steps they would need to do in order to save their video.  They would need to give their story a title and export the story to the camera roll on the iPad.  I also used this time to explain what my role for the day would be.  Since each class has about 20 students, twenty videos needed to be uploaded to Youtube and put into a playlist for the teacher to share in class and with families.  I really wanted this step to be done while the students were in the library, so I told the students that uploading videos was my only role during our work time.  The teacher was available to walk around and monitor and assist students who were recording, but more importantly, the whole class had expertise in Puppet Pals because of our tinkering and could help one another.  I encouraged them to ask one another for help if they got stuck so that I could focus on getting their videos uploaded.

During the work time, there was not a single student who came to ask me for help to use Puppet Pals.  There were certainly students who got stuck, but they relied on one another to figure things out.  I really saw the benefit of giving them time to tinker in the previous lesson.  They also were empowered to support one another rather than rely on an adult to help.

When they finished recording, they did their additional steps to export their videos and then formed a line in the middle of the library at my table.  I opened the video on the camera roll and selected to upload the video to Youtube.  I signed into my channel on each iPad.  The students helped me name the video and stayed until the video was uploaded.  Then, they went back to their work space and continued using Puppet Pals to tinker and try out a story of their own choice.

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Once all of the videos were uploaded, I selected them all in my account and added them to a playlist.

We worked for a full 45 minutes to record, upload, and continue tinkering.  There was little to no behavior problems.  Every student who had an opinion writing finished was able to film and upload a video.

Now the classes are thinking about a next step for Puppet Pals.  The students are very curious about creating a story with the characters in Puppet Pals, so I have a feeling that we will be crafting some narrative stories very soon.

Sharing Our Math Strategies Using Educreations

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Second grade has spent some time tinkering with Educreations.  Educreations is a screencasting tool for iPad as well as a limited web-based program for computers.  Teachers can create an account and then have students join their class similar to Edmodo or Google Classroom.  As students login and save their work, the teacher can easily see each student’s work in the admin panel.  With Educreations, students can create a screencast about pretty  much anything.  They can draw or type, upload their own photographs as backgrounds, and search for existing photos for backgrounds.  Each movement on the screen as well as the audio is recorded and saved as a flash video.  Each video has a link to make it easy to share a student’s work online with the world.

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Math is not one of the main areas that develops into collaborative projects in the library.  I think we naturally gravitate to reading, language arts, science, and social studies.  However, I would love to support math in the library!  This year we made one of our school improvement plan goals centered on something that could potentially be a project for the library.

Students will utilize personal learning devices to create math instructional videos that demonstrate ways to solve math problems. These will be shared within and outside the school community.

A few teachers have been exploring this, but the 2nd grade team decided to take this on as a grade level project.  After tinkering with the app in the library, I asked teachers to setup a class account and have students join their class.  To help them, I made a screencast:

When students arrived for the 2nd lesson in the library, we quickly reviewed the many buttons in Educreations.  The students did all of this review based on the tinkering that they did in lesson one.  I reminded them that this 2nd work time was not about tinkering.  It was about focusing on using Educreations to show our mathematical thinking.  I reminded students that this would be very different than just solving a problem on a piece of paper or a computer.  Showing our thinking means that we have to talk about what is going on inside our heads.  During our mini lesson, I created a quick example to show them what I mean by sharing what is in our heads.

educreations example


The teachers and I gave students 3 math problems to choose from for their first practice tutorial:  14 + 18, 26 + 13, and 57 + 39.  I did this lesson with 2 classes at a time, so we paired students together on an iPad.  One partner wrote one of the math problems down, created a tutorial, logged in to his/her account to save, and then logged out.  The other partner was there for technical support.  Then, the students switched roles.  They did this back and forth until time ran out.

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The main problem we ran into was when students would forget to logout of their account.  The next student would record a video and then it would save that video into the other students account.  When you press logout, the videos disappear from the iPad because they save into the individual student account.  This became a great piece of learning that I built into lessons with other classes.  I think it will just take some practice to remember these specific steps of saving.  Also, if there are existing Educreations videos on the iPad when a student opens the app, those should be deleted before the student logs in.  Otherwise, those practice videos get saved into the student’s account.  It’s not a big deal, but it does cause their account to be a bit messy and it takes up storage.

Students were very productive and focused during the recording of the tutorials.  There was almost no questions about how to use Educreations.  I was able to see a big benefit from taking time to tinker in the first lesson, and it is something that I want to continue to experiment with.

Now, teachers are reserving iPads to use in their classrooms so that students can continue to create math tutorials.  I sent a follow up email to teachers to let them know that I am happy to work with small groups, individual students, or even the whole class again if needed.  Some of the teachers want to schedule another series of lessons using word problems instead of basic addition problems.  When we do this, we will use the camera to take a picture of the word problem and make it the background.



Riley's math problem I Educreations_ - https___www.educreations.com_lesson_

Check out how Riley solved 57 + 39.

Kindergarten Researchers in Action

Planet Research (4)Ms. Kelly Hocking’s Kindergarten class is hard at work again.  They were so excited by what they discovered using the Storykit app, that they decided to continue their work by making their own nonfiction book.  Their last adventure was about creating their own versions of folktales.

You can read and listen to their folktales online:

Ms. Kelly’s class has been very curious about space, so they decided as a class that they would work on creating informational books about the planets and solar system.  Ms. Kelly put the students into groups of 2-3 and each group chose a planet or part of the solar system to research.

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In the library, I pulled our books about space as well as checked out some books from the public library.  I also setup 2 computer areas.  One area was focused on PebbleGo and the other area focused on TrueFlix.  Even though the content of TrueFlix is written for older students, I felt like the read aloud function would support Kindergarten researchers.

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In class, students filled out a KWL chart to bring to the library.  When they came to the library with their questions, Ms. Kelly and I did a quick intro to the 3 areas available to them.  I loved how Ms. Kelly set a realistic goal for students in this big venture.  She said, “I want you to have at least one fact written down before you leave today”.  Of course, most groups wrote more than 1 fact, but every group left the library with a successful experience of meeting their expected goal.  To support students in their research, Ms. Kelly, a parent volunteer, and I rotated among the groups to help students with navigating the information in front of them.  Students continued this research for the next week in class.

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Next, the students came back to the library to work on prep for their book production.  Their KWL charts were filled with facts that they had discovered.  Ms. Kelly even shared that some groups had conflicting information about the order of the planets, so they had done some fact checking as a class before they came.  During this 2nd library session, we started in the floor again to establish our expectations for the day.  Every group had small squares of white paper, a long sheet of lined paper with room for illustrations, and a pencil.

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The task was to sort through the KWL chart and identify the facts that would go into the finished book.  One fact was written onto each piece of white paper.  The whole group worked on this part.  Ms. Kelly, the paraprofessional, and I circulated among the groups to assist with reading the KWL charts, correcting spelling, and searching for additional facts if needed.

Once 4-5 facts were identified, students sequenced the facts into an order that made sense.  Again, the adults helped students read aloud the facts that they identified and facilitated sorting the facts into different orders until a final order was chosen.  Then, the adults taped the papers to the larger lined paper.

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If students had time, they thought about what they could use in the school to photograph for each fact on the sheet.  They made notes or drew a picture to remind themselves what they talked about.  Ms. Kelly ad I encouraged students to stretch their brains to think about what they could creatively use to take a picture.  One group had a fact about the crust of their planet.  They decided they would take a picture of a piece of pizza in the cafeteria and draw an arrow to the crust.

Students will continue this process in class throughout this week.  Next week, they are checking out iPads to photograph things around the school as well as type their text into Storykit and publish their own ebooks.  I can’t wait to see how their work turns out.  I will most likely push into their class at some point next week to help, or they may schedule a time to come work with me again in the library as they finish their books.

Projects like this show me that it is completely possible for our youngest students to create amazing work that is based in real facts.  They can explore technology that no other class has attempted.  Some of the key factors in a successful project are plenty of time, realistic expectations, adult and peer support, and lots of encouragement.  I love how Ms. Kelly doesn’t rush a project of this size.  She understands that for quality work to be produced, we must give students the space, the support, and the time to make the work happen.

The Power of Tinkering Before Assigning a Project

Educreations Day 2 (2)One of my library goals this year is to give students, teachers, and families opportunities to dream, tinker, create, and share.  That has meant many things during the course of this year, but one of the things that so many of our teachers are embracing with me is intentionally planning time for students to tinker with a new tool before we ask them to create a project with it.

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During collaborative meetings and virtual planning with teachers, I often ask if we can build in time for students to explore a technology tool with no limits, rules, or assignments.  The only assignment is to push as many buttons as you can and see what you can figure out about that tool.  In addition, there is an expectation that students will pass on their expertise to others as they figure something out through tinkering.

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There have been several instances of this type of tinkering happening this year.  Ms. Hocking gave her Kindergarten students time to tinker with storykit.  All of third grade tinkered with Puppet Pals before a folktale project.

This week, first grade is also taking time to tinker with the Puppet Pals app as they prepare for an opinion writing assignment in English Language Arts.


Finally, 2nd grade is about to start creating math screencast tutorials using the Educreations app for iPad.

As I’ve facilitated these tinkering sessions, I’ve started to adjust how the sessions run.  We start on the floor to talk about tinkering.  Students share some knowledge about what they already know about tinkering.  Some of the responses I’ve heard are:  a time to explore, a time to be busy, and figuring things out.  I follow this with my own understanding of tinkering.  I establish two big ground rules: 1. Push every button you see in an app and see what it does.  2. Share what you learn.

In most classes, I breeze through the app with very little explanation of what I’m doing just so that students get a quick preview of what they will be looking at and what they might end up with.  In Educreations, I wrote 2+2=____ and then drew out a picture of how I solved that math problem.  I didn’t talk about clicking on colors, the microphone, or really anything.  I just wanted them to get a quick view of the end result.

Then, students had a large chunk of time to explore on the iPads.  For 2nd grade, we did this in pairs, but some classes have been individuals.  My role was to walk around and observe.  A few students were tempted to ask me how to do something, but I responded with a “give it a try”.  Very rarely did I do something for a student.  The only time I intervened was when students needed help getting the app up and running or if the iPad had a technical problem.

As I observed, I would stop and ask students questions like “What did you figure out?” or “Why did you choose to do that in that way?” or “Now that you’ve seen how that works, would you do it a different way next time?”.  These were common questions that I used again and again and they certainly were not ones that I started with.  I was very tempted at first to just jump in and show students something, but I learned to step back and ask questions that allowed students to show what they know.

I saw students naturally leaning over and helping other students, but during my observations, I sometimes saw an opportunity for 2 students to partner and share their learning.  This was another role for me to serve as a connector between students.

The energy level was high, and there was some frustration.  However, I did not see any student give up, get completely off task, or leave without learning something about  how the app worked.

At the closing of each lesson, we gathered back on the floor.  I connected an iPad to the projector and had students come and demo their learning for the rest to see.  We tried to move as quickly as possible to share as many tips as we could.  A big observation for me during this time was how attentive students were.  I’ve never seen students watch a peer presenter with such focus.  Usually, they are having side conversations or tuning out to think about other things.  This time they were watching, listening, and giving connection signals if they had also figured out that part of the app.  If time allowed, I had students turn to one another on the carpet and share even more that they had discovered.  During the closing, I tried to connect what students had discovered with the actual project that we would be implementing next.  For example, a student did a demo of how you can erase while you are recording and I added that this might be a tool you would use while modeling subtraction in a video.

Now that this time of tinkering has happened, our next step is to do the work.  First grade will use Puppet Pals to create opinion puppet shows and 2nd grade will create math tutorials to share.  I’m eager to see how productive students are now that they have had time to get familiar with the app before a curriculum standard expectation was placed on them.  My want to continue to explore the power of tinkering and how it can support the work that we are trying to achieve with students.



Keeping Project Momentum When the Schedule Gets in the Way: One Use of Google Hangouts

Barrow Peace Prize Criteria   Google Docs

Our 2nd grade is deep into their project on six people from Black History.  Most classes are finishing up their research for our Barrow Peace Prize Flipgrid project.  Before students begin the writing process, we want them to understand what the Nobel Peace Prize is and consider the character traits that someone might have who receives this award.  Every class needs the exact same lesson, but they need the lesson before students can really move forward with their writing.  Sometimes the library schedule can get in the way of these kinds of projects.  I don’t want the library schedule to cause a project to be delayed simply because we can’t fit everyone into 30 minute slots across a day or two.  This is the perfect time to use technology to maximize our time.

For the 2nd time, I did a Google hangout with an entire grade level in order to save time.  Before the hangout, I setup a Google Hangout on Air and sent the participation link to all of the teachers via email.  I also created a Google doc where we could do some brainstorming and invited all four of the 2nd grade teachers to be collaborators.  I made sure that the link to the doc was “view only” for anyone else with the link.

Before the hangout started, I opened the hangout, turned on my cam, and muted my microphone.  As the four classes joined, I could easily hear if their microphone and video was working or not.  Then, I could use the control room tool to mute each teacher’s microphone while we waited on all classes to join.  Periodically, I came back on the microphone to update the classes who were waiting and remind teachers to open our shared Google doc.

The purpose of the hangout was to help 2nd graders get familiar with Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Peace Prize as well as to develop a list of characteristics for our own Barrow Peace Prize.  After a quick intro, I read the book Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Peace Prize by Kathy-jo Wargin and illustrated by Zachary Pullen.  Then, I told the students just a bit about Malala Yousafzai, the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  We watched just the beginning of a CNN video of her acceptance.

Then, I invited each class to look a the shared Google doc and brainstorm the qualities that we hoped would represent the Barrow Peace Prize.  I muted all microphones while classes discussed and added to the doc.  While that was happening, I shared the viewable link to the doc on Twitter so that an audience could watch the list be constructed.

We immediately had multiple viewers of our work in progress.

Each class had an opportunity to step the microphone and share just a bit of what they discussed.  I was in charge of calling on each classroom and muting and unmuting each teacher’s microphone.

Finally, I closed by reminding students to use their research as well as the character trait list when writing their piece about their person from Black History.

What would have taken 3-4 hours on the library calendar took only 30 minutes and now the 2nd grade can move forward with the writing process.  I want to check in with the 2nd grade teachers to see how things felt on the other side of the camera, but from my side, this seemed like a great model for whole grade lessons that lend themselves to a hangout.  I certainly wouldn’t want all lessons to be like this one, but this format felt right for this situation.

Black History Research Using Encyclopedia Britannica and the Google Research Tool

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Our 2nd grade is once again developing a Black History research project.  We took some innovative steps last year to connect this project with an authentic audience around the globe.  This year, we are trying to add a few new layers.  One of the pieces that we weren’t happy with last year was the idea of a postage stamp.  Students were trying to persuade an audience to vote on whether or not a famous person from Black History should be on the next postage stamp.  While we loved the project, we knew that the postage stamp was out of our control and not realistic.  This year, we decided to create our own prize that we could award to one of the people from Black History, and we are calling it the Barrow Peace Prize.  As part of our project, we will learn about Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Peace Prize.  That part of the project will come soon.

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At the moment, we are deep in research.  Each teacher scheduled 2 hour-long sessions with me.  We decided to focus on 2 research tools in the library and 1 research tool in class.  In class, students will use PebbleGo.  It is the most familiar database to our teachers and students and a great tool for independent research.  We wanted the library research tools to be a bit more involved with the support of me, the classroom teacher, and any collaborating teachers.  The 2nd grade teachers developed a Google Doc graphic organizer with some framing questions.  There was a space for students to add their research as well as cite their source.  At the bottom of the organizer was a space for images.

Practice Barrow Peace Prize Research   Google Docs 2

Most teachers shared this doc with students through Google Classroom, but if they weren’t using Google Classroom, they shared via Drive and students made their own copy.  This step was done before coming in the library.

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In the library, we started with Galileo, our state research databases, for session 1.  We focused specifically on Britannica Elementary.  I did a brief mini lesson for students on how to search for a person, how to read to find answers to questions, how to change the levels of the text, how to turn on text to speech, and how to cite a source.  Then, students had time to research with the support of peers and the teachers in the room.

Wilma Rudolph    Britannica School

During session 2, we focused on using the research tool in Google Docs.

Practice Barrow Peace Prize Research   Google Docs

I LOVE this tool, but I did feel like it was a step up for the trustworthiness of a database.  We had to add a layer of conversation about evaluating the sources we were using.  I showed students how to open the research tool under the tools menu.  Then, we practiced a search together.  I showed them how to look at images, quick facts, and specific websites.  They loved how you can do a preview of a website before you actually open it.  Finally, I showed them how the research tools makes citations so easy.  By simply dragging pictures into the doc, the images are cited.  By clicking on “cite” on a website, the website is added to the doc.  They loved the simplicity of this.

Again, students went to work answering their questions and citing sources.  The teachers and I had individual conferences to help students search for information, clarify terminology like “contributions” and “accomplishments”, and wordsmith with students to put facts into their own words.

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Our next step is to spend time writing persuasive pieces about our people.  We will also identify the criteria for the Barrow Peace Prize so that students can work that into their writing as well.

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Students are also taking their images that they found during my session into the art classroom.  Our art teacher is working with students to create images that represent their chosen person.  The image might be a drawing of the person, but it might also be something that represents that person.

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I love projects that pull together so many standards, skills, and subject areas.  This is shaping up to be another standout project of the year.