Open Makerspace: Take Two

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Since our library makerspace has been available, I’ve tried as much as possible to have it open for students to use for their own tinkering and making as well as for classes to use in collaboration with me in the library.  This has not been an easy process, but I’ve tried several things and learned a lot.

A couple of months ago, Gretchen Thomas from UGA helped me get an open makerspace time started each day.  It was from 11-12:15 and an independent study student from UGA helped me facilitate students.  The problem with this time was the unpredictable nature.  We didn’t have students sign up ahead of time, so some days there would be an overwhelming number and some days there was just a few.  Also, all the students wanted to do different things which was very hard to manage.  During one of the weeks, we went through $75 worth of duct tape and students weren’t really making anything that they were happy enough to take with them.

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I’m not one to give up, so Gretchen and I did some talking over email and decided to try something new.  We would pull back the makerspace to Monday-Thursday.  Rather than have every day be a free for all, we decided to create a signup sheet.  We also decided that each day would have a focus so that the UGA helpers could begin to develop some expertise in specific areas and students could be more productive by focusing on one or two resources.  Again, this was all an experiment to see how it played out.

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So far, it has been working really well.  On Friday of each week, students sign up for the upcoming week.  They can only sign up for one day at the moment because we have only allowed 7-10 people per 30-minute time slot.  This number may increase as we see how manageable larger numbers of students might be.

Our schedule consists of:

  • Monday 3D design and Sphero
  • Tuesday littleBits and Sphero
  • Wednesday 3D design and Sphero
  • Thursday crafts and Sphero
  • There are also some independent projects woven in such as MaKey MaKey and Lego Robotics

We decided to put Sphero on the schedule daily because of the student demand and the fact that we  now have 13 Spheros.  It is easy to setup and cleanup quickly, and students can do it independently while the other pairings such as 3D design take a little more support.

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On Thursdays, Gretchen’s Maker Dawgs class sends a few students with a planned craft.  Duct tape was a huge hit, but as I’ve said, we found that students were using lots of duct tape without really getting anywhere.  We decided we would try different kinds of crafts with more of a focus on producing something to take away.  This focus might help students see the kinds of things they might create, which we hope leads to new ideas from students.  One week students created Origami.  This past week, the focus was Shrinky Dinks.  Many students had never experience Shrinky Dinks.  The Maker Dawgs brought in a Shrinky Dink maker, which basically looks like an Easy Bake Oven.

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Also, Gretchen made Shrinky Dink name tags for all of us.

The Maker Dawgs paired the Shrinky Dinks with friendship bracelet making, so some students combined Shrinky Dinks onto their frindship bracelet.  It was a very popular and productive makerspace time.

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Our newest problem is how to print all of the 3D creations that students are making.  That’s the next thing on my list to figure out.  Students want to print right away, and it’s hard for them to understand that designing can take a few minutes but printing can take a few hours.

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We take each challenge as it comes.  We expect the miraculous, and we don’t give up.

Mini Maker Faire with UGA EDIT 2000

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Today Gretchen Thomas from the University of Georgia brought one of her EDIT 2000 classes to the library for a mini maker faire.  She and I have been brainstorming about how to give students more opportunities to come and use the makerspace in the library for tinkering and exposing students to various types of making.  These conversations have come from my constant requests from students to come and use the makerspace.  I struggle with finding a balance between the standards-based lessons and projects that I offer in the library, weaving in the makerspace into curriculum, and the students’ desire to just mess around with the tools in the space.  Gretchen has been coming to lead maker recess times with me.

Today, her EDIT 2000 students brought multiple maker centers for students to explore.  These UGA students are mostly undergraduate students from a variety of backgrounds.  Some of them plan to be education majors while others have a range of other majors.  I love the range of expertise and interests that live within these classes.  Gretchen’s students designed a center that would explore some aspect of making.

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One center explored optical illusions.  These students displayed a book of optical illusions and helped students create a drawing of their hand that looked like it was lifting off the page.

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Another center was a cup stacking challenge.  These students had multiple clear plastic cups and students spent time stacking the cups into different formations to see how tall they could stack as well as which shapes seemed to hold up better.  I loved seeing all the strategies that students tried in order to stack and unstack the cups.  They were fearless and really demonstrated what it means to tinker, fail, and try again.

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Students loved the paper airplane center.  These UGA students had books about paper airplanes and materials for making planes.  Students spent time making their planes and then testing them out in the library.  I loved watching planes flying around the library and hearing teachers ask “are students supposed to be flying airplanes around?”.

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I saw several students refold their airplane to try something new in their design, so once again there was a strong demonstration of tinkering, failure, and perseverance.

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Some of our stations involved technology or could be incorporated into technology.  One station was space for students to explore how to create speakers for iPods or iPhones using cups and paper towel rolls.  Students were eager to take their creations home and try them with their own devices.

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One of the most lively centers was the marshmallow launcher.  Students used rubber bands and Popsicle sticks to create a tool to launch marshmallows.  They tested their creations and made adjustments to see how they could make their marshmallows launch higher and farther.  Again, it was fun to see marshmallows flying through the air along with the planes.

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Another lively center was Video Star where students got to create their own costumes and form a mini flash mob dance to be recorded in the Video Star app.  These videos will be coming soon, so I hope to add a few to this blog post when they are ready.  It was interesting to see some students show their personality, come out of their shell, and be totally engaged when given an opportunity to make a music video.

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A different take on making was the center that explored spices.  These students had a variety of spices that you might put in fall pies and students spent time examining the spices and creating their own mix.

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I loved hearing what they planned to do with the spices when they get home.  One boy wanted to make a cake for his teacher and even talked about making a new fried chicken recipe.

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Three of our centers were facilitated by kids.  Two kids were Gretchen’s own kids and one was a neighbor.  They had centers on Minecraft, Goldieblox, and badge making.  They ran their centers like pros and I was reminded of how powerful it is when we give kids a voice to share their expertise with others.

Our entire 5th grade rotated through this experience across the course of an hour.  Students were able to visit about 3 centers.  After the centers are assessed and used at another school, they will be making their way back to our school for students to use in our makerspace.  I am so thankful to have Gretchen and her students so close to us.  She is willing to give any crazy idea a try and see what happens.  In this case, I think there were many miraculous moments.

As students left, they had smiles on their faces, energy in their bodies, and ideas flowing in their minds.  I invited them to think about how what they discovered fit into what they are doing in their classrooms.  I wish that I had been able to have them express some of these ideas before they left, but perhaps I can capture some of these reflections in another way such as a Flipgrid or Google form.