Design Challenge Makerspace

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I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. We are so fortunate to have the University of Georgia right next to our school and even more fortunate to have instructors like Gretchen Thomas who collaborate with local schools.  Gretchen and I have been collaborating for about 3 years now, and each year we try some new things.  We’re always looking for ways to improve the makerspace time at our school as well as the opportunities available to students.

Gretchen teaches an undergraduate course at UGA all related to maker education, design thinking, STEAM, and more. Every Tuesday and Thursday, at least 4 of her students come to our library to work with students who sign up for our open makerspace time.

This semester we are once again trying something new. Rather than try to do something new on Tuesday and Thursday, students sign up for a 2-day makerspace that gives them time to work toward finishing a project rather than feeling rushed. In addition, we are thinking about design challenges as well as seeking solutions to authentic problems.

Sketching plans for @sphero chariots #librariesofinstagram #steam

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This week, we had our first UGA group of the semester and they offered a chariot building design challenge.  Students had access to Strawbees, popsicle sticks, cups, straws, tape, paper, scissors, and anything else in our maker supply cart.  Students from 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade came to the sessions.

So many chariot designs #designchallenge #steam #librariesofinstagram #makerspace

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The UGA group started out my explaining what a chariot is.  Then, they gave students the task.  Design a chariot that can be pulled by a Sphero robot.  Students grouped themselves in groups of 2-4 and brainstormed designs on paper.

Sphero chariot in action #makerspace #librariesofinstagram #steam #designchallenge @sphero

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Next, students started construction of their chariots.  There was a lot of trial and error during this process.  Designs on paper didn’t always translate to physical designs so adjustments were made.  The UGA students also got out some Spheros so students could check their design to make sure the Sphero fit in the right places.  No driving was done on day 1.

Students left their designs on the table in the makerspace so they were ready for day 2.  On day 2, students finished designs and began testing their work with a Sphero.  Most designs did not work out on the first try, so students brainstormed modifications and got to work. I loved listening to their thought process in deciding what was problematic and how they could fix that aspect of the design.

I also saw students considering the settings of the Sphero to change the driving speed in order to navigate an obstacle course of coffee cans and ramps with their Sphero.

I really loved this two-day model because I saw students able to finish a project and actually take time to redesign.  Students loved coming to makerspace 2 days during the week rather than just one.  We’ll keep considering how this supports students creation and how it might get in the way of opportunities.

I also have a group of students who are wanting to work on individual projects and Gretchen is going to help me pair UGA mentors with these students as a 2nd piece of makerspace.

We’ll see where this goes, but the potential is looking pretty miraculous!

Closing Out Fall with a Makerspace Recess

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The fall semester is coming to a close at UGA, which means our open makerspace times on Tuesdays and Thursdays is about to take a small break until January.  To close out the semester, the entire Maker Dawgs class returned to Barrow to host a makerspace recess.

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Setting this time up take a little more work than having makerspace in the library, but each time we take our makerspace beyond the library, I’m reminded about how it makes the opportunity visible to students.

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Gretchen Thomas arrived early and started setting up tables under our pavilion on the playground. Each table featured something we’ve done in makerspace across the semester.

  1.  Duct tape bows and bow ties
  2. Kindness pins and necklaces
  3. Buttons
  4. Popsicle kazoos
  5. Strawbee architecture
  6. Cubelets

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Since we were outside, we could also have stations that are more difficult to do inside like sidewalk chalk art.  As UGA students arrived, they each took a station to facilitate any students who wanted to try that activity.  When students arrived at recess, they immediately gravitated toward the makerspace to see what was going on. One of the most common things I heard was: “I didn’t sign up”.  It was so fun to say that the makerspace was open to all.  Since we had numerous helpers and could spread out, it didn’t matter how many students wanted to participate or how loud they were.  Because of this, we saw students who had never been to makerspace suddenly get to experience what we do.

I know that I can’t do the scale of makerspace that we did today by myself, but I do want to think about how I can offer small opportunities to tinker with our makerspace tools in spaces where students are already gathered.  The tricky piece comes with managing the library while I’m in another space. Without a helper, I have to think about the best times I can do this while I have a volunteer or our computer technician in the library.

A great day for making at recess. #worldkindnessday #choosekind #makerspace

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As typically happens in makerspace, we saw big groups of students who might not play together on the playground suddenly crowded around the same table sharing materials, collaborating, chatting, and sharing their creations. There’s something magical about the atmosphere of a makerspace and the community it builds among makers.

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I need to keep this thought at the front of my mind as I move into the 2nd half of the year. How can I maintain the makerspace opportunities we have as well as expand the opportunities to students who haven’t had a chance to participate?

As always, thank you to Gretchen Thomas, her Maker Dawgs students, and UGA for exploring this complex topic with me each semester. We’re doing great work together.

The Makerspace Is Open with a New Badging System

img_8887UGA is back in session which means our makerspace is cranking up again.  We already have some curriculum connections planned for special projects, but our students look forward to the weekly open makerspace times on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11-12:30.

1st and 3rd grade are building towers with strawbees in makerspace. #tlchat #makered #projectsparkuga @andreabeatyauthor

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Gretchen Thomas and her UGA class collaborate with us to provide a weekly time where students can signup to explore various tools and projects in our makerspace.  Four UGA students come each time and lead up to 15 students every 30 minutes in the makerspace so that I can also teach classes at the same time.

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Gretchen and I are have learned a lot during our collaboration together, and I love that she’s always pushing her class to try something new.  For our first few sessions this year, the UGA students are presenting a maker-related book to the students and an activity to accompany that book.  There’s not really enough time to read the entire book and still make something, but they at least are able to show the book, talk a bit about it, and then make something with the students.

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For our first session, the UGA students read or showed Iggy Peck Architect.  At the end of the book, they invited our students in 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades to become an architect and use Strawbees to build the tallest free standing tower.

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I loved watching the UGA students decide how much information to give the students versus when to let them discover things on their own.  In one group, they just gave them the Strawbees and straws and said “build”.

Then, in another group they gave some examples of how the straws and Strawbees could connect to one another.  The amount of guidance definitely impacted the type of structures made.

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I don’t know that we have a firm answer on how much structure to offer to the students, but I’m glad that we are always thinking about how much is too much.  I think we certainly stayed conservative on how much we told the students.  Every structure was different and students found things that worked really well and things that failed miserably.  In the end, the important thing is that we really didn’t have students who gave up or who even got extremely upset because they didn’t “win”.  That’s the true spirit of making.

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One new addition this year is something we’ve talked about for a long time.  So many students come to the makerspace, that it’s hard to track who has learned what tool or skill.  I really wanted a badging system but didn’t think I had time to make it.  Gretchen and I have talked through this many times and discussed the idea of badges for specific tools like Sphero, Duct Tape, LittleBits, etc and badges for skills such as problem-solver, thinking outside the box, teamwork, etc.

Gretchen took it upon herself to make this happen for us.  She started making badges that students would attach to chain necklaces.  Students would earn a badge for the tool they explored and the group they worked with as well as have an opportunity to earn rare badges for skills or qualities.  Gretchen and her students will continue to design badges and add them to the collection.  They will be stored in plastic drawers in the makerspace.  Students will hang their necklaces on a hook in the space and grab them when they come to makerspace.

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We’ll easily be able to look at badges and see which students have learned which tools and which students have demonstrated the skills of a maker.

Thanks to @gretchen_thomas and her #projectsparkuga students, we have a makerspace badging system. #makered #tlchat

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I can’t wait to see where this goes, and I’m so thankful for Gretchen and her class making this happen!

Making Something New: A Makerspace Activity

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Recently, the Children’s Theatre Troup directed by Kelsey Brown presented “Another Kid’s Treasure Island” at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. This play also featured a makerspace activity for attendees to use a variety of objects to make something new.

Gretchen Thomas and her UGA students helped pack hundreds of plastic coconuts with craft supplies to support the play, but several coconuts were left over. Our makerspace was fortunate enough to acquire these leftover coconuts for students to explore.

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This week, we’ve been reading The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. I love the message that this book shares about perseverance and creativity. The character in the book tries multiple ways to make the thing she has in her head, but she just can’t get it quite right. At first, she easily starts over, but as time goes on, she gets pretty frustrated. However, even then, she goes on a walk to clear her mind. While reading the story, we paused along the way to setup some steps for “making”.

  • Have an initial plan after you gather your supplies
  • Try to make something
  • Take a look at what you’ve made and try again if needed
  • If something isn’t working, try to do it in a different way
  • If you start to feel frustrated, take a break or a walk, and come back
  • Don’t quit

We could keep adding to this list, but those were the basic principles we followed.

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I showed students one of the plastic coconuts filled with supplies and told them that their goal was to take the materials and make something new. We talked about how the girl in the story made something she could actually use, so they certainly could try to make something like a piece of jewelry, a hat, a container for rocks, or whatever else they wanted.

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I also put out some scissors, glue, crayons, and markers. Then, students got to work. Each student had a different strategy for how to work. Some got very frustrated and did indeed take a walk around the library. Some students collaborated with people at their table or traded supplies with a friend.  It was loud and messy, but I heard things from students like:

  • Is makerspace always this fun?
  • Do we really get to keep the things that we made?
  • When can I come back?
  • From a teacher: My students talked about what they did with you the whole next day.

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You could look at this and say….sure….this is just making a craft, but there’s really so much more there.

Making something new inspired by The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires #makerspace #makered #steam #librariesofinstagram

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Perseverance, problem solving, creativity, inventing, collaboration, and more were all there. Thank you to Gretchen Thomas for giving us an opportunity to bring makerspace to some of our grades who haven’t had a chance to use our makerspace quite as much. We have a lot of new students excited about finding more opportunities to use the tools in our makerspace because of this opportunity.

How about a Popup Makerspace at Recess?

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The University of Georgia is winding down its spring semester, so that means our support for weekly makerspace is also winding down.  We only have 3 more weeks of school ourselves. Last year, Gretchen Thomas and I took our makerspace on the road to UGA to introduce random UGA students and visitors to the fun of making and tinkering. We really want to try that idea again, but this year we wondered, “How about a popup makerspace at recess?”.

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Many of our students come to makerspace during recess anyway, but some struggle with leaving their friends on the playground. We wondered if having the makerspace on the playground would bring in more students since they could easily run back and play if they wanted to. We also wonder if some students don’t come to makerspace because they are unsure of what happens at it. We thought putting it on the playground would make it much more visible and inviting.

Gretchen and her students planned several stations for students to explore. I also had some students prepare stations. Ahead of the recess makerspace, I advertised to teachers that we would be having the makerspace on the playground from 11AM-12PM. We also mentioned it on our morning broadcast on the day of the event.

Before 11:00 rolled around, we setup tables under the awning and sunshade on the playground and got the stations ready. My students and Gretchen’s students helped make this happen. Before we could even get setup, we already had students coming up from the playground asking if they could try something.

It was wildly popular! There were moments when 2-3 entire classes were descending on the makerspace, but being outside allowed us to spread out and really not worry about the noise. It also helped that Gretchen’s entire UGA class was here o

Here’s a look at what we offered:

Station 1:

Students constructed their own bubble wands and then tested them out. Some students chose to make a basic wand with a circle and stem, but as the station went on, we saw students really get creative in trying out different designs from very large shapes to tiny circles. This was also a great station to have outside because we didn’t have to worry about bubble spills. Next time, we will add beading to this center to allow students to personalize their wands. However, I loved that the focus this time was on trying different shapes to see what made the best bubbles.

Station 2:

We marked off an area and put a bucket of sidewalk chalk for students to create their own chalk art on the sidewalk.

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Station 3:

Students used marbles, orange cones, duct tape, and pipe insulation to create a marble roller coaster. This station really evolved as time moved on. Students began working in teams to try to make small changes to the pipe insulation to make the marble travel a longer distance. They even started gathering materials from other stations to add to their design, which is just what we want to see makers doing. I was amazed by the teamwork from students in different classes and grades. There’s something about the maker environment that cultivates teamwork.

Station 4:

Students used aluminum foil to build boats and test their floating capability in pans of water. Some students chose very simple designs just because they knew they would float, but other students really pushed their designs to the limit to see how much detail they could add to their boat or how big they could make it before it would sink.

Station 5:

Outside was the perfect place to test paper airplanes. This station allowed students to share their paper airplane building skills and test out to see who could make a plane that could really travel in the wind. We didn’t have any specific instructions or books at this center, so it really did take tinkering or sharing expertise to build the planes.

 

Station 6:

A group of 5th grade girls setup an art station filled with coloring sheets with dogs and cats. They are leading a changemaker project to encourage people to donate food to a local shelter, and the coloring sheets will eventually be used to help bring awareness to their campaign. Along with this center, students could learn how to draw a dog or cat using a series of circles or go on an observation walk with a 5th grade girl to sketch objects in nature. I think we forget the importance of coloring. Many of us know that adult coloring books are all the rage right now, so it only makes sense that kids are still into coloring too! there’s something soothing about sitting around with friends, pulling out the crayons and color pencils, and focusing on filling in the lines. This proved to be one of the most popular stations at makerspace, so it really made me curious about where we could go with this. My mind was racing about student-designed coloring pages, coloring tablecloths, and more.

Station 7:

A 4th grader and a 2nd grader assisted students in exploring Finch robots. They setup 5 computers, connected the Finch, and introduced students to the Snap program to code the robots. Then, they let students explore coding on their own. The 2 students only jumped in if someone was stuck or had a question about how to start. I loved seeing how 2 students who had spent 10 weeks learning about the Finch could allow people to start from the very beginning without telling them every step to make. They really understood the importance of tinkering and figuring things out for yourself.

 

 

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As the hour came to a close, we still had a circle of students coloring, and we sadly had to dismantle the roller coaster. The UGA students didn’t want to leave and students were asking if they could miss lunch. Moments like those make it a great day. Now, Gretchen and I have some thinking to do about next year. We have lots of ideas in the works, but I think one of the big things we will think about is how we can take the makerspace on the road around our school. I love having the space and opportunities in the library, but changes in venue bring in new voices. Changes in location also allow us to try things that maybe we wouldn’t try if we were inside. I think we will see a few more popup makerspaces next year. Who knows where we will popup next!

 

Fall Semester Makerspace Blowout!

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The fall semester at UGA is coming to a close, which means that our wonderful support in our makerspace is taking a break.  We will resume our open makerspace times in January when UGA cranks back up for spring semester.  Today, Gretchen Thomas’s entire class from UGA came out to support our young makers.  We pulled out many favorite activities from the semester: green screen, makey makey, littlebits, sphero, morse code bracelets, and safety pin bracelets.  It was noisy and fun.

Having this class come out has exposed our students to so many of the tools in our makerspace and also taught the UGA students what is happening in elementary schools today and just what elementary learners are capable of.  We are already brainstorming what next semester might look like.  I hope to see some more advanced projects come out of what the students know now that they have some familiarity with the tools.  Instead of just snapping littlebits together, I want to see them invent something.  Instead of driving Sphero all over the library, I want to see some programming or a use of Sphero that has a purpose.  Instead of playing a banana piano with makey makey, I want to see students designing their own programs that are controlled with all kinds of things that conduct.  The tinkering piece is important, and I love that so many students now have a level of comfort with the makerspace tools with a lot of room to grow.

We also want to look at how we can take the makerspace on the road by visiting classrooms and showing teachers and students what happens in makerspace, especially for those that are unsure or hesitant.  We started to notice the same kids always coming or teachers not sending kids for various reasons, so there’s  a need to get out into the classrooms.  We’ll also take a look at how to do another makerspace fieldtrip to the UGA campus sometime in the spring.

 

Tinkering in Our Open Makerspace

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It’s been awhile since I’ve shared what has been going on in our open makerspace time, but there has definitely been a lot.  Through our collaboration with Gretchen Thomas at UGA, we have been able to offer an open time on Tuesdays and Thursdays for students to come and explore various parts of our makerspace.  Students sign up for a 30-minute segment to come and explore a pre-chosen topic.  Last year, we tried just letting students decide what they wanted to do, but we found that most of them were either unsure of what to try or all wanted to try something different and didn’t know how to start.  It was hard to manage and it was hard to accomplish anything in 30 minutes.  This year, we decided that for the first half of the year we would offer 2-3 opportunities at each makerspace session.  One of the experiences is technology-focused and the other is more craft-focused.  Sometimes these experiences compliment one another. For example, students might get to make a figure out of pipe cleaners, clay, or Playdoh as the craft and then use that figure to create a stop motion video with the iPad.

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At each session, 3-4 UGA students come to support students.  They often lead the work while I assist other students in the library or teach classes. However, I also participate in the makerspace and learn alongside the students.  This is a great time for me to see how students are using the tools in a smaller setting.  I can think about management pieces to make the process more accessible to students. I can also reflect on how various tools or activities fit into grade level curriculum.

In today’s makerspace, students created stop motion animation using clay figures. For some of them, it was the second time using stop motion animation, so they had a better understanding of how it worked. They were able to get to a point that they could actually upload a short video that they created in a 30-minute window.  Some of them even worked together to use pieces that they had each created in order to make a collaborative video.

It was a busy time and the UGA students worked so hard to get students creating figures and encouraging them to give the video a try.  I love hearing how the elementary students and college students talk to one another.  They both amaze one another with some of the things they come up with and share.

As usual, voices emerged with artistic talents or technology expertise. One of our students, Anarian, who we learned is an expert at making figures with pipe cleaners is also very talented at making figures out of clay.  There’s so much potential for his work to develop into a stop motion video for any of his content areas.

While the UGA students supported the stop motion, I pulled out our Finch robots, which are on loan to us this year from Birdbrain Technologies.  We opened the basic version of Snap, and student tinkered with programming these robots with simple block coding.  We are going to do a lot with these robots this year and open makerspace is a great time for me and the students to learn a few of the basics so that our content work can be more productive.

By the end of the first semester, we hope that many students have gotten a small taste of all of the tools in our makerspace, so that the second half of the year can be spent focusing on how these tools can work together to create something great.  We have no idea where the makerspace will take us, but we know that miraculous things will happen along the way.