Making a Makerspace (and why my students need one)

Like you most likely know, I am a huge advocate for my library, students, and staff. Being in the classroom for many years really brought to light the variety of experiences, abilities, and wealth students bring with them to school each day. It is the teacher’s responsibility to take all of those and ensure all students learn the concepts in the curriculum in an engaging, safe environment. Librarians also share this responsibility, but on a much larger scale. At my school, I am frequently asked for scissors, tape, glue sticks, colored pencils, you name it. I could very easily say no, but my desire for all students to achieve makes me say yes. Clearly these students want to do well but lack the supplies to do their very best. How is this any different from letting students check out whatever they want, however many they want? It’s not. It’s all about access, no matter the background or abilities of that student.

With all of this in mind, once I made my fiction section accessible through genrefying last year (posts about that coming soon!) and completed the Great Weeding of 2015-2016 (see here and here), I wanted to make more of a difference in my students’ personal lives, beyond just helping them find books. I wanted to help them find (and cultivate!) their passions. When I observed my students, I noticed they were busy. Really busy. The majority of my school’s student population is identified by my county as gifted and talented, and most of them take all advanced classes; their electives usually entail some form of music and a foreign language. The rest of the students take all kinds of things, perhaps including remediation classes as electives, but they are busy, too, both during and after school. Don’t get me wrong; it’s all good stuff, and my students are extremely talented, but in so many more ways than foreign language and music. We have some amazing artists, designers, and many of our students are heavily involved in robotics and programming. However, there is no time in their day to work on other interests; if a student takes music and a foreign language (or a remediation math class), they can’t take an art class, or a tech ed class, or a creative writing class. So the question became, how can the library fix this?

With this in mind, earlier this school year, I started planning for a new makerspace. There are some outstanding gurus of makerspaces, including Diana Rendina, Colleen Graves, and IdaMae Craddock. I signed onto this idea because it provides opportunities for students to work on something that interests them. Students can work on creating something for themselves, someone else, or just play around with a new technique or material to see what happens. No two makerspaces are the same; it’s all about the interests of your students and providing them access (time and/or materials) to work on what they want to. I decided to go mostly low-tech this first year, thinking that my focus is about establishing the culture and feeling out my students before making large investments.

The planner in me (in February) said that there was no way to launch this thing the right way by the end of the year, so I started planning for a formal start next school year in September. I bought a thing of Legos, a Scrabble board, and some coloring pages (already had the markers). I put them out on different tables with signs that said “make something new!” And it was slow at first, but within 2 weeks, students were all about them, especially during our “study hall” time when the library is usually packed. Students just sat down and played. And made. And it was wonderful.

Makerspace

In order to figure out what I wanted to include in the makerspace, I decided to create a survey for my 7th graders (my school is just grades 7/8) to see what interested them. Since we’re in the throes of end-of-year testing, I talked with the science department and arranged to do the survey through their classes the last 2 weeks of school (we have over 600 7th graders!). What they’re interested in will heavily dictate what I purchase for next year. I also included on the survey a space for students to indicate if they would like to be part of a team of students to help plan the space (as an aside, I’ve already mentioned this to some students and they are all. about. it.). So when I did some online investigation about prices, I figured out about how much money I would need to start. My next step? I shot an email to my PTA president to make the pitch to them. My PTA is extremely generous towards the library, and has purchased two large rugs that have really livened up the spaces where they’re used.

Once the PTA president said sure, I went to work on my presentation. I assumed that no one in the room knew anything about makerspaces, which ended up being entirely correct. I focused the presentation on what a makerspace was, how they connect to learning, why the library was the perfect place for one, and how they as parents (and as the PTA) could get involved. Here’s the presentation:

Needless to say, I was extremely apprehensive to present for several reasons.

  1. Though I am no stranger to presentations, I had never presented to parents before.
  2. If the PTA refused the request, I really had no idea where I was going to get the money to fund the visions in my head.
  3. (and this is the best one) My interim principal and new principal were in attendance and of course I had to formally introduce myself for the first time to her before presenting, so there was super extra pressure and the need for a good impression.

It went really well, and though I was feeling way anxious, the parents asked awesome (and relevant!) questions at the end. When I asked them if they thought their students would use the makerspace, not one parent said no. One parent went so far as to say, “this is exactly what my student needs.” So, they funded my entire request. Mission accomplished. As a side note, my new principal made a comment afterwards about how outstanding the presentation was and I had her full support on this initiative. Double mission accomplished.

So, where do I go from here? I’m spending the rest of the school year shopping (I have to use their $$ before the end of June), giving the 7th graders their survey, and analyzing the results. I’m trying out all sorts of ideas I’ve found and explore what print & online resources will help my students. I’m brainstorming how this makerspace will fit into the lesson plans of at least 3 different content areas.

Stay tuned! You’ll be hearing more soon…

Do you have a makerspace? What makes you excited about makerspaces? What are your reservations? Post ’em all below. 🙂

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One thought on “Making a Makerspace (and why my students need one)

  1. Pingback: Orientation, Making, and Welcoming Everyone into the School Library – Grover's Corner of the Library

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