Planning A Makerspace: Underestimated Details

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If kids are making, there will be a mess. This post it not about keeping tables shiny or keeping masking tape rolls symmetrically organized.  I’ll write another post someday about how I like to organize my Sharpies in ROYGBIV fashion by shade (not even kidding). This is about the day to day. The real life of making.

Pruning:  Just like the dead branches that get removed at the orchard, you’ll need to carve out some time to prune the shelves. Well loved cardboard pieces might need to be recycled.  Fresh organization for donated items will always be a struggle.   Having stuff readily accessible for kids is far easier when it’s in visible bins that kids can see and even better, put back themselves.

Storage for Projects in Progress:  The kids that don’t finish need a place to store their project.  The thing about kids is they like to store ALL of their supplies– scissors, bottles of glue, rolls of duct tape.  Have a plan for where things will be kept and what can be stored.  Ziploc baggies have saved my life, are reusable, and easy to hang from clothespins or put in a bin by classroom.  We also use plastic bins that kids write their names on with dry erase.

Cord organization:  The cords will take over.  Every gadget, device, and thing that plugs in has a loose cord of some type.  Solution? Plastic Shoe organizer that hangs on the wall.  The pockets are big enough to hold multiple cords. It’s visible and accessible.  Even better? If someone borrows one to leave the space, a name on a Post-it can go right in the pocket to mark where it gets put back.

Can for cardboard scraps:  Big pieces. Small pieces. In between pieces.  Those tiny scraps are great for quick projects. Have a giant can for kids to dig into.  But when it overflows… prune. Prune. Prune.  If the mess is too out of hand, kids can’t see what’s there and it won’t get used anyway.

Clean Up Kit:  A bucket with a dustpan or three.  Brooms. Clorox wipes. Paper towels.  Keep this in the same spot so kids know where to go for cleanup.

Permanent spot for glue guns.  We might move our furniture a lot, but the glue guns needs a permanent spot in the elementary setting.  It’s just too dangerous to move them from table to table with cords dangling.  Having a glue gun station is great because kids know where to find it, adults can assist, and the teacher can oversee the entire process.

Shelving to Display Work:  Kids love to share what they’ve made… and that means putting it where others can see it.  Having shelves that kids can put their own work display is the best way to go.  Let them decide what to display, how to display it, and even add a nameplate with a title.  Be sure to display all kinds of creations– some in progress, some beautifully finished, and some that show struggle.  Celebrate the process.  Celebrate the learning.

Clean Up Process:  End of a class or end of a session? Power Pick Up.  I learned this term at Stanford’s Design Thinking workshop last summer.  3 minutes of intense everyone helping clean up.  It’s a great way to “reset” the space.  And it’s all about collaboration and teamwork. Plus a YouTube Mission Impossible theme song makes this intense and fun at the same time.

I chuckle when I think of photos that show a “makerspace” and it’s totally empty. Less funny is the fact that many of these things were totally underestimated by me when I was making plans.  Creativity is a wonderful, exhilarating, glorious thing.  But, it’s also messy.  It’s okay to be messy.  But the mess has to be reigned in.  Somehow, someway.   It’s about finding the boundaries that work for your students.  And, it’s not about you really.  Afterall, it’s about learning and it’s their journey.  They will come up with some great solutions for organization and they will be able to tell you right away what the problem areas are.

The mess?  It will exist, and it will foster the feelings of forgoing perfection for less-than perfect work that is more about the process than the product. And that?  It makes every single cardboard scrap I find totally worth it.


Beyond Making

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. It’s probably why I haven’t blogged.  I’ve had tons of thoughts rolling back in forth inside my mind about creativity, about learning, and about making.  I think it’s awesome that schools are revamping lab spaces and making unique learning environments, but it all leaves me thinking, what’s next for all these spaces and all this equipment pouring it’s way into empty rooms throughout the country… and world?

Kids are becoming fluent with technology skills.  Software changes on a daily basis means knowing “how to use” a particular tool is more about fluency than that tool.  Teach them skills such as import, export, what a .jpeg is, copy and paste, dragging and dropping and many programs can become second nature to them.  Kids will ALWAYS need the instruction – it matters.  But, the time spent on it?  It’s changing. It’s a great thing, empowering even.   It will open the door to much more past technology skills and makerspaces…

  • Strategies like design thinking and team-building start to matter even more.  Providing direction and stirring the learning pot keeps the atmosphere fresh and keeps the thinking vibrant.
  • Connection to real human problems means connection to real humans.  Empathy is on it’s way into schools through unique learning spaces where learning is about digging deep within ourselves to understand and help others.
  • Deeper learning, the kind with raw struggle, becomes the very thing that is necessary with a mix of skills and a need for applying it in the most authentic ways.
  • Time becomes even more important.  It takes far more time to create and develop an idea than it does to learn a few basic skills of software.  Time well spent.  But also, time spent differently than many are accustomed to.
  • Fake-ification of learning, a term I just absolutely made up to refer to how we provide kids pretend problems about pretend things and insult them with low level thinking across our school campuses in America.  It is not enough. It never was. Solving problems about Walt’s apple cart just aren’t the same as BUILDING an apple cart for your school’s garden.  One is a simple problem to solve, the other is a problem with no simple answer.

When I feel like things in my head get stagnate, I start looking at other industries.  In every industry, no matter what, design encourages digging deeper, thinking more, collaborating at bigger levels… and most of all?  It’s about the heart and soul of problem solving. The kind with real struggle. Real problems, real world, real creativity.   Beyond the makerspace, and beyond all of our wildest imaginations… the place where kids will lead us.  If we are listening.

Chasing Failure

I’ve thought a lot about failure throughout teaching and throughout my life.  Failure, or the fear of it, keeps a perfectionist from doing things.  “I might fail,” the little voice echoes.  But, I might not.  Failure always feels so final. Like the death of a dream.

Now failure has become trendy.  Pushing back against the idea that education should be a one-and-done box to check of mastery that either gets an A plus of success… or worse… failure. Failure is even kind of becoming a buzz word of sorts.  Posters hang in schools that say, “Failure happens here.”   While it’s good that we’re opening the door to different thinking, maybe failure isn’t what we’re after.

Failure is the wrong thing to chase.

Chase risk.

Chase problem solving.

Chase the struggle.

Chase learning at all costs. Relentlessly. Planned and unplanned. Big and small. Joyful and hard. Fun and full of friction. Real.

Failure is an end point. A red-F on a test. A “you failed” message that doesn’t continue.

But risk? Problem solving? Struggle? Those things are all made to continue.  The mere weight of the word “failure” can carry a strong message.  But the idea that the beauty of true learning is in the struggle?  That’s it.  We don’t need to chase opportunities for our kids to fail big, but we need to allow them to struggle with the possibility of failing always being, well, a possibility.  We need to avoid rescuing them.  We need to teach them to have a mindset of optimism, resilience, and let go while they strengthen their toolkit in their own ways.

It’s not the chasing of failure, it’s everything else. Because life?  It’s made of everything else.


Ebb and Flow Magic

Ocean waves.  They swell, roll in, and crash.. recede.  Some big, some small. The conditions of the environment wreak havoc on the waves.

Learning comes in waves. You get in the flow, ideas coming, things working… then it recedes. Sometimes the wave fizzles and the thing just doesn’t come to fruition. Sometimes, you ride the wave, all the way, and it’s the best feeling in the world.  Success.  But the truth is, we’d never have the flow without the ebb.

So much of the work that happens in classrooms around the world is more of a faucet.  A steady, over controlled stream.  No ebb, no flow, just a stream.   We try to turn it on, turn if off. Stop. Start. Measure.  That squelches all the great things that the ebb and flow teach us. Riding waves requires resilience, persistence, courage, collaboration, risk-taking, adapting… and so much more.  Things that can’t be replicated in a predictable faucet stream. Things that will always rely on ebb and flow to take shape.

The more I read about creativity and design and what making is about, the more I experience, the more I appreciate the ebb and flow. We know we can’t control the ocean, but we sometimes think we can control learning.  We reduce it to a thing and it loses it’s glorious messy process.  An ocean without waves? It would lose it’s magic. Ebb and flow magic.




Stay Afraid

We seek comfort.  It’s why I love familiar food, holiday traditions, and wearing pajama pants more often than real clothes on holiday break.  It’s why I like rewatching Breaking Bad for about the fourth time.  It’s why I open Photoshop instead of Illustrator when I want to draw.   It’s why I love weekends that start off with a warm cup of coffee on a Saturday morning.

Those moments counteract the fear.  But the lingering fear, “What if I stop improving?” counteracts it all.  Pushes and pulls.    Change is inevitable.  Really letting go of our own fears means really truly embracing that intuition inside of us all.  Not just cracking the door open, but putting down a “Bring It On,” welcome mat.  Because maybe the fear in our head is there to push us in the right direction. Afraid? You should be.

If we live believing that each of us, in our own small way, is a message to the universe we might all head in the direction we need to.  A message to improve ourselves, step by step, day by day, and push past the fear.  If we do?  We become what the world needs.   We find true joy.  We don’t win, there is no prize.  The ‘prize’ is the thing that you can’t hold onto that you find on the other side of fear.

But if we stay afraid?  None of us can afford to take that chance.

There will be no resolutions for 2017 for me.  No “one word.”  The only thing I will make?

A list of things I’ve always wanted to do but have never done.  Developing my own photographs from a film camera.  Self publish a book.Build something out of wood, from scratch and actually use it. Vacation somewhere nature-ish without wifi.  I may add more, or I may not. I’m not afraid that the list is incomplete, I’m only afraid that I may not get started on it.

Conquering these things aren’t like ‘giant spider fear’ conquering.  They are worse.  They are about conquering yourself, and then enjoying a day in pajama pants to celebrate.