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Posted by on in Maker Movement / Makerspaces

 makerspaceThoughts and ideas on school makerspaces are ubiquitous in education circles online, at conferences, in print, and anywhere else people who care about  K-12 instruction gather to talk shop. Hashtags have trended around the craze and an entire industry continues to grow solely to sell robots, computers, 3D Printers, digital and analog kits, manuals, and much more to schools eager to hop aboard. There’s lots of shiny and smart stuff out there that sparks the interest of both educators and the kids they work with. All of it is great in its own right, but some of these items and ideas have stronger educational merit in a school than others. While it’s easy to get pulled into the craze of school makerspaces, it is important to plan each space around the students in that specific learning community and with a measurable academic goal in mind. By doing this, you’ll ensure that your school makerspace, along with the Maker Movement, won’t become another foregone trend waiting to be replaced by the next-best-thing.

As someone who helps districts and individual schools plan and build on-site makerspaces, I’ve spent a lot of time talking school leaders out of spending unnecessary amounts of money to furnish their new makerspace. This may seem counter-intuitive and bad for business, but my mission is to prove that project-based learning helps successful and struggling students alike become better readers, writers, and critical thinkers--- not to build expensive sites for the sake of doing so.  Instead of appeasing someone by immediately ordering everything they want, I first ask the teachers and administrators I’m working with something like, what academic or social problem do you want to see solved?  By doing this, I’m teaching them their first lesson in the world of making and design thinking: find a problem and come up with a smart and sustainable solution.

The underlying issues that plague our kids’ academic lives are always similar and the answers I get mirror the problems each of us see day-to-day:  there’s a lack of enthusiasm in core subjects, a dearth of grade-level performance on in-school, district, and state-wide assessments, different learners don’t engage well with the current curriculum being taught, etc. After hearing the team’s answers, we put together a clear goal that we want to see fulfilled in the makerspace in order to solve this problem. The language we use to put our objective together is precise and offers some form of measurability. An example of a clear goal with a measurable outcome would be:  We want disengaged students to become involved and interested in ELA by building projects around the fiction and non-fiction they will be reading during the year. The projects students build will be used end-of-unit assessments and they will be required to use text-evidence in building them. 

Once our goal is clear, we begin to design the room and order parts that will help fulfill our objective. I don’t want you to mistake me here-- this doesn’t mean dull, frugal, drab, boring. In fact, a makerspace with a mission is the best type of makerspace. Knowing what the goal of your space is allows you to properly spend more money on quality items that will meet what you’ve set out to achieve. All  the shiny items you were wishing to get can still be purchased, but now you understand why and how they will be used in order to move you towards your goal. By adopting this mindset, the things you order-- whether it is a farm of 3D printers, tons of circuit kits, a laser cutter-- now have a place and a reason for their belonging in your space. By approaching your build in this way, each tool will serve a purpose and not go underused.

Thinking about your makerspace as a means to reach an academic goal is invaluable for more than a handful of reasons. For starters, we’re ensuring that the space becomes a vital part of the school’s instruction and its mission, not an afterthought that only gets visited during lunchtime. It becomes a safe and fun learning environment that takes on the values and academic principles that are at the heart of the school. The space grows into a place where students do their best thinking, where they realize that the need for academic understanding will allow them to realize the ideas alive in their imagination. It’s a place that allows teachers some autonomy over their instruction, that breathes life back into their craft, and helps them realize why they signed up for their job in the first place. More importantly, by planning your space with academic goals in mind,  the room stick around, immune to trends and marketing plans. It will do the job it was set up for: it will make better students.

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Posted by on in Maker Movement / Makerspaces


During the last month of the school year we had the opportunity to collaborate on a STEAM project that integrated Scott Westerfeld's (@ScottWesterfeld) YA book Leviathan and it opened my eyes to a new genre of literature and art called Steampunk. This genre embodies much of what educators consider "making." It is the integration of technology, but not a current technology, rather an older steam-powered technology. What really increased my excitement was the level in which the student bought into the project. There were many facets to this project, but I am going to focus on the Art portion as this project created many opportunities for the kids to unlock their inner creativity.

I do not claim to be a STEAM or Maker expert, but I do believe that we need to give the kids an opportunity to create as part of their learning process which is why when I plan a project I want to leave the outcome open for the kids' interpretation.  The outcome for this project was to create something inspired by the book Leviathan using the steampunk genre.

Example 1: Art is clothing design.

Ali G. models her top and third arm which is holding her phone.

After while reading Leviathan and researching steampunk Ali discovered the fashion side of this genre. Using scrap vinyl we received as a donation from a local upholstery shop she sketched out her design. Whereas, she is only 12, she did seek out the assistance of an adult who helped her with the sewing. She added the large metal buttons to give it more of a steampunk feel. The awesome part of this project is her excitement for it. This was a project where she was given creative license and she ran with it.

Example 2: Art is crafting.

This is the original sketch Jadarius drew.
Here Jadarius models the final set of wings. This version of wings were movable ... yes ... they would flap as he pulled on the strings. The best part, he was able to wear them all day and the kids were all telling him how awesome they were.

Even better when this happened...

Jadarius embraced the Darwinist side of the book and tried to recreate  himself as a Beastie. He worked on this over the course of several weeks and as you can see from the original sketch on the whiteboard to the final product it went through a series of changes. He was crafting his vision and was not afraid to fail. When he initially built his first set of wings and put them on there was an excitement ... then he tried to walk outside and the wings caught on the door. They looked nice, but they were not functional in the sense he couldn't wear them all the time so he went to the drawing board and spent the weekend rebuilding these winds.

Example 3: Art is music.

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Posted by on in Maker Movement / Makerspaces


Wide awake at 2:30 am.

No really sure why.

As I sit in silence eating my first breakfast, I can't help but notice my son's creation. He has been calling it his fortress. It is positioned directly in front of the tv and it consists of various toys and items he had at his disposal.

Two Elmo chairs, a stuffed lion (Alex from Madagascar), a random castle-like toy,my wife's giant Thirty-One bag and Superman, who seems to be embarrassed by his role in all of this. But what caught my eye at this early hour was the fact that the base, or nesting area of this fort, is a Disney Princess sleeping bag.

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Posted by on in Maker Movement / Makerspaces

I have a recent interest in both Growth Mindsets and Maker Education; and have blogged and presented on both of these topics.  As such and because of my passion for both of these area, I have been thinking about the intersection between the two.  This intersection, I found, is strong and powerful.

"A growth mindset tolerates more risk and failure, while a fixed mindset tends to avoid risk and its accompanying frustration. It is obvious which mindset helps someone adapt to and contribute to a world that is constantly changing. Dweck points out that many who excel academically have a fixed mindset, which limits them to exploring only the areas they were told they were good at. Such mindsets are often found within the teaching profession itself, and presents a true challenge in adopting Maker principles to the classroom of the near future. Conversely, many who do poorly in school have taken too seriously the judgment of others about their abilities in subjects such as math or science. In both cases, such limiting views of oneself are self-defeating and can hold people back from exploring new areas and developing unknown capabilities. Making is about developing one’s full potential. (Ed Tech and the Maker Movement)"

This is further discussed by in her blog post, Directed -v- Self-Directed: Developing a Maker Mindset:

"A maker mindset involves having a can-do attitude and a growth mindset - a belief that your capabilities can be developed, improved and expanded.  It's not just a matter of what you know, it's a matter of taking risks and perhaps failing and learning from those failures.  It's a matter of being open to exploring new possibilities and developing your full potential."

Craig Lambert notes the connections between a growth mindset and maker movement in a blog post he wrote for the Maker Faire Atlanta.

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