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.

Sew Many Adventures Ahead

There is nothing like it really.  The pride on a kid’s face when he or she has created something.  It doesn’t matter WHAT it is.  It could be a cardboard sculpture. It could be a light up bracelet. It could be a new invention that simply didn’t exist yesterday.  But the second the chance arrives to SHARE their designs with others, and even better, allow their design to HELP another person?  School just became the motivating and engaging learning environment that kids deserve.

I thought it was just the magic of cardboard, but this past week, I learned it was more.  It’s personal.  It’s learning and creating.   The little turquoise sewing machines in our learning space were brought to life.   Our students that use our space are PreK to 4th graders, so we chose the small machines because they are little, portable, very safe, and do the basics needed.

Why sewing?

  • Authentic use of math including measurement, counting, fractions, decimals, perimeter, and area.
  • Critical thinking about settings and stitches.
  • Problem solving to troubleshoot. .
  • Fine motor skills to load the thread or complete with hand-stitching.
  • Room to grow… persevere. Be resilient.
  • The machine becomes a place to collaborate.  Kids love to help each other learn.
  • Our future is in fibers and wearable devices and sewing to create our own wearables is going to become essential.
  • Machine stitching has many curricular uses, such as to create and publish books.
  • Use conductive thread in a machine to create light up designs and practice circuitry.
  • Take design thinking prototyping to the next level when using a wider variety of textiles for more flexibility.
  • Practice using patterns to develop skills in multi-step projects.
  • Decisions like: Should I use duct-tape for this? Should I stitch it by hand? Would the machine stitch be better?”

We have to take our students beyond saving a file in MSWord and farther than typing in a Google Doc.  It’s not that technology skills don’t matter… it’s that technology is SO much bigger than software on computers or iPads.  Technology is about using devices to create our own version of our story, interpreted from our minds, through our hearts, right down through our fingers.  Laser cutting, 3d design, and even sewing.

Our sewing adventures are just in the beginning stages, but I already see the value in our little blue machines. It took one moment to hook me in… a kid was threading the machine and it was challenging the first time… the student looked at me and said, “I’m NOT giving up on this.”

I’m working on some graphics to make our machine more accessible to our kiddos and I’m sharing, because making is all about collaboration.  Download a PDF  of the two files below. 



7 Questions I Ask About a Makerspace Tool Before I Embrace It

With the advertisement of maker-this and maker-that, there are a flood of products claiming to be the “next big thing” you need in your makerspace.  I’ve tried some things I love, somethings I thought fell short, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas, new gadgets, and new ways to use old things.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 9.07.55 AM1.) USE: Is this tool versatile?  Can it be used in an open ended way?

2.) GROWTH: Can this tool grow with the students?

3.) CHALLENGE: Is it going to offer hard fun?  Is it a challenge?

4.) STUDENT-DRIVEN: Is it going to offer a fully student-driven experience?  Or will it require a teacher to be in charge of it always?

5.) SOFTWARE/APP: Does it work with only one type of software or app? Does that app allow for open creation?

6.) CURRICULUM: Can it’s use be tied into existing curriculum for classroom experiences?

7.) QUALITY: Rechargeable? Sturdy? Is it going to hold up with multiple uses and a variety of kids tinkering with it or is it easy for kids to create with it?

I’m always looking at products and mentally scoring them… looking for a yes to the questions above.  According to my questions, a hammer is a 7-star item!  On the other hand, a set of robotic cubes I was SUPER excited about turned out to be so limited, they rarely left the shelf.   Looking at the questions? It’s a 2-star (2 yes answers only).  That doesn’t mean the product wasn’t fun, but it means it’s not fun for very long… or challenging.  I know making is NOT about the stuff, but the stuff we stock our spaces with should stoke the fires of creativity.

It’s so important that you KNOW your students on a personal level, because their questions and creative ideas will guide what’s needed in the learning space.  The kids favorite things in our space continue to be the found materials like cardboard, beads, pipe cleaners, and cardboard tubes.   If several years ago, someone offered me a choice between a box of cardboard tubes or robotic cubes, I would have laughed and grabbed the cubes.  Now I’m not so sure.  Slowing down and thinking about how materials are used can help guide us to make the right choices, and in the end, make the best space possible for our students.


The Conditions for Invention… Not Just a Room Full of Stuff

Irole1‘ve been searching for excellent articles on the implementation of makerspaces in schools.  My search has led me down many dead ends.  Lots of articles on the makerspace in the library.  Many articles on stuff and things to stock the spaces with.  What’s missing in the articles?  The heart of it all. This quote refocuses my attention on what I love about making and on what I think it offers schools and classrooms:

This quote from Seymour Papert: “The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”  It says it all really.  We don’t need to spoon feed kids. We need to provide opportunities for them to explore, tinker, dream big, fail, bounce back, and repeat. Over and over.  The highs and lows of that will be a bit like a rollercoaster. Great learning really is.  A great classroom is built on the very thing that feeds those conditions…

Community.   Getting kids to help each other, rely on each other, be a team. The kind of community that has give and take and supports each other.  Community takes practice and constant work to build and generate, but it can happen at the youngest levels of learning.

Deep Thinking.  The grueling and exhilarating process of figure out what works from testing, trying again, and trying one more time. Improvements that come from experiences and ideas born out of collaboration.

Growth Mindset: We’re not just reaching for a grade, we’re reaching to improve ourselves.  Not understanding it today just means that you have some learning to do.  The only REAL way to experience growth is to experience REAL learning. Authentic learning is at the heart of growth mindset… or maybe growth mindset is the heart of authentic learning.  Either way, the two are connected.

Challenge:  School *needs* to be hard.  Kids crave challenge. They thrive on it.  It’s fun for them and it’s often like play.  When they overcome? Nothing beats that kind of joy and pride. Real experiences.

Creativity: When we talk so much about kits with instructions, we fence kids in. Yes, we need to help them understand the basics. But, the beauty in the open ended-ness of kids designing and inventing? It has to be at the forefront of it all.

When I think of these aspects and how they become threads that sew the makerspace into the school like the arteries that lead to a heart to make it beat, I get excited in thinking about what school can become. Those conditions for inventing? They have to be present, or the makerspace is just a room full of stuff.  A MakeyMakey might excite students for a day, or a week, but after that? The real work of challenging them, supporting them in growth, pushing their creative thinking, asking the right questions so they can dig deeper in their thinking, and fostering the sense of community…. that work begins. It’s hard. Grueling. And will make you question your own ability to really teach. And that’s when you’ll know something special is happening.  Because if you’re not willing to push your own limits, how can you expect your students to?





National Week of Making Coming Right Up!


If you’ve read my blog, Twitter feed, or Instagram for more than 2 seconds, you’ve probably noticed that creativity is important to me.  Not like peanut butter is important to chocolate, but important like how humans need oxygen to live.  I’ve felt that way since I was a kid, in school, deprived of the oxygen in my learning. And every day since I became a teacher?  I’ve vowed to myself that I will make school more for kids who crave creativity.  When making came along, or intersected my world, I knew this was it.  This mindset, this beautiful way of integrating hands on design, creation, production, and fabrication?  It’s everything my worksheets were not.

Now? The whole country is getting involved and it’s exciting.  YOU can get involved, too.  The White House hosted the first ever White House Maker Faire just last year and this year, a National Maker Faire is taking place at the University of DC on June 18-19, 2016.  Tickets are available on the website for FREE!  The White House has declared June 17-23, a National Week of Making.  An entire WEEK of celebrating MAKERS!    {Note: Not sure what a Maker Faire is?  Check out photos I snapped at the Austin Maker Faire.}  It’s a gathering of all types of Makers to share their craft, inspire each other, and celebrate the creativity that each person can bring to the table.

Most exciting to me?  On Friday, I’ll be visiting the White House (eeek!) for the event kickoff and I’ll be going to the National Maker Faire on Saturday.  I look forward to capturing the experience, connecting with other makers, learning, and sharing.  Learning and sharing is really what making is all about.

To celebrate the Week of Making, I’m going to be sharing daily tips and projects for the elementary crowd and ask that YOU make a commitment to bring making into your classroom in some way in the school year ahead.  I’ll also share some amazing resources and people to connect with that you can find easily around the internet.  If you have questions about making, leave a comment here and I’ll try to make sure I answer it during the Week of Making!  Are you ready to be inspired?

unnamed (1)I can promise you that once you see your students get excited, eyes lit up, and joy on fire, you’ll be glad you opened the door to empower their creativity.  People always ask me, “What stuff do I need to order to start making in my classroom?” Nothing.  The projects I will share with you each day will be stuff you can do with stuff you have or with very, very inexpensive items.  Repurpose, redo, recreate.  Cardboard is the newest item to add to your classroom supply list.  The other comment I get from teachers is, “I don’t feel like I know enough about coding (or  3d printing or creativity or making) to get started.”  Nope.  That’s a myth.  Not knowing, being vulnerable, and taking a risk?  That’s being a maker.  And your students NEED that from you.   Somehow, it’s the not knowing that makes it all an even better and more authentic learning experience.

So, are you ready?  Join the fun in the National Week of Making by following the hashtags #WeekOfMaking and #NationOfMakers.    Let’s make school the most exciting place in a child’s life.  Together we can all share, collaborate, and MAKE the world a better place.  We can also make incredible puns about making, and that’s fun, too.