Two years ago, I was asked to write an article for Knowledge Quest about how I created a maker space at Lamar Middle School in Flower Mound, TX. That first year of programming is so different from what I do now that I thought it pertinent to chart how our maker programming (#Makered) has evolved.
During my first year as a librarian in 2012–13 my Teen Advisory Board (TAB) helped me redecorate a small office located behind our circulation desk. My director bought us some reading rockers, chalkboard paint, rain gutters, and 25 licenses for Minecraft.
Starting off: “Take and Make” wall and workshops
At the time, I wanted to make this room a collaborative room that housed our maker space. In 2012 my only maker programming resource was a collaborative Google Doc created by librarian members of the American Library Association (ALA). Plus, I didn’t have any extra funding left that year for maker supplies, but I knew I wanted to dedicate a space and time to maker programming.
My favorite aspect of this room was the “Take and Make” wall, where we hung rain gutters that housed low cost/free project ideas: making a tiny house out of paper and foldable bookmarks and sewing your own “monstie stuffie” out of felt and stuffing. Kids would come and make “monsties” in their free time, but, mostly, they used the space for filming videos or recording audio.
In late April 2013, my TAB members helped me pick out some maker workshop ideas from the collaborative Google doc started by librarian P.C. Sweeney. During the ALA conference, librarians had started this doc with the idea of libraries around the country hosting May-ker Mondays (maker programming every Monday for the month of May). My school’s first weekly workshop that May was after-school and focused on making stuff with duct tape. Each May-ker Monday was well attended, with the highest participation during our Minecraft workshop. Overall, however, that year mostly focused on crafts and no-cost tech like blogging and Minecraft.
Arduino, Magic 8 Balls, and a Theremin
The next school year, we still didn’t have much funding for maker supplies, but the district issued us new Macbooks. The students and I decided to host workshops on Garageband, iBooks, and the Mozilla Webmaker Suite on Mondays after school. (Since we were having Maker Monday during the whole school year and not just May, I dropped the “May-ker” moniker.) I attempted a design challenge with iBooks, but I didn’t get much participation. The Webmaker Popcorn Party got the students excited about coding, so that May, I decided to focus on coding for the whole month. Students came after school on Mondays and during our advisory time on what I deemed TechThursdays. During our Coding Bonanza, we made binary code bracelets, completed the hour of code, and attempted to finish the computer science course at Code.org.
The best part of the coding bonanza was reaching out to a mentor expert. We video-conferenced with a web game developer about creating video games. Since Arduino projects involve a lot of coding, I began to demo what you can do with Arduino (a microcontroller) by building a few simple projects like our “Magic 8 Ball” and a light-sensitive Theremin (a musical instrument that is controlled by hand motions). During May, at any given time, a student might walk in and see me tinkering with Arduino or MaKey MaKey. (I’d purchased Arduino with “lost book” money and borrowed the MaKey MaKeys from another library.)
My library aides and I were attempting to learn to think outside the box with these gadgets, but I wasn’t quite ready to host an Arduino workshop with a lot of students. My kids were also getting bogged down just going through the Hour of Code curriculum, so I hosted a final bonanza and showcased different coding projects. I set up the infamous banana piano with MaKey MaKey, created a game in Scratch you could control with Playdoh, and showed the kids how easy it is to modify code from the Arduino libraries with the Magic 8 Ball project. The students enjoyed changing the code so our Magic 8 Ball Arduino read, “Like a Boss.”
More resources; Combining low tech with high tech
At the end of that second maker programming year, one of the grants I requested came through, for $2,500, and I obtained enough money for maker supplies! I ordered a little bit of everything so I could see what students enjoyed before I bought class sets: Spheros, MaKey MaKey, littleBits, Raspberry Pi kits, Makedo (make anything with cardboard), LED throwie kits, copper tape, and Hummingbird Robotic kits. Plus, I had a little supply money left over to purchase Snap Circuits. Over the summer, I created a year-long programming guide, went to Maker Camp hosted by Region 11, and participated in a MOOC focused on STEAM.
I also secured permission to have Maker Monday every Monday during advisory, a dedicated 30 minutes during the school day for students to study or attend club meetings.
My plan for this school year was to host a workshop at the first of the month to give students a new skill set and then challenge them the rest of the month to create something based on that new skill. The first project was origami and LED origami in which we lit up our Origami with LEDs! We also broke out the brushbot kits and made simple robots with small motors and brushes. I had so many kids wanting to participate that I had to give repeat sessions to new students on the following Mondays instead of instituting the planned design challenges.
A successful design challenge
By the end of October, I still hadn’t been able to host a design challenge and I also had a mess in my tiny maker space room. One kid left a battery wired up, and it got super hot. I realized that the maker supplies weren’t getting used on a daily basis like I wanted, and I didn’t feel like they were visible enough in the flimsy storage container I was using. I bought a bolt organizer from Harbor Freight and began to reorganize our supplies. One of my library aides spent hours organizing our frazzled Hummingbird Robotic Kits into some fishing tackle boxes I bought from Walmart.
It was around this time, too, that my maker kids had their first Skype session with librarian Diana Rendina and her STEAM club at the Stewart Magnet Middle School in Florida. I wanted my students to see the awesome stuff they were making. Plus, my kids were going to attempt to teach Diana’s students how to make brushbots.
Our connectivity wasn’t great that first session, but we ended with a design challenge on the table. One of my students had written “catapult challenge” on a scrap paper and stuffed it into our “iWanna” box (a box on our circ desk where students can recommend books, Maker Monday ideas, etc.). We asked Diana’s students if they wanted to make catapults with us, and our first successful design challenge was born.
We spent the next few weeks playing with Popsicle sticks and flinging objects across the library. One team of students borrowed books on weaponry from the Middle Ages and ended up wheeling in a catapult larger than me on our final design day with “My catapult can launch your catapult” written on the side. This team did not build this large wooden catapult in the library, but the idea was born in the library and the physics were researched there.
There was no grade assigned, no extra credit, no reward other than the sheer satisfaction of being challenged to “make something that flings something.” See Diana’s blog for even more info on the catapult challenge.
We flung ketchup packets, water bottles, and other students’ catapults and had an exhilarating time! At the end of the call, we asked Rendina’s students what challenge they wanted to set for the next month.
They challenged us to create a game with Scratch and invent our own game controller.
beyond the banana with Makey Makey
From there we’ve been flung into an amazing innovative journey. My kids have created multilevel games in Scratch, video-conferenced with the amazing MaKey MaKey inventors at The Joy Labz, and held our first Maker Faire during Open House.
The design challenge aspect also catapulted our students into tinker mode. Plus, the maker space supplies are out in plain sight now, and our students are creating something every day. We have our littleBits, Snap Circuits, Spheros, and more available for students to borrow with a simple sign-out sheet, and we store our more expensive robotics behind the circ desk. Students come for free making time before school, during any advisory, and during lunch, but I still host guided workshops on Mondays during advisory.
In addition, I’ve added a Maker Station with a revolving monthly theme and a project shelf for students to store their long-term projects, thus containing the mess created in our maker space. One of the most important things at our Maker Station is our “Inventor’s Box.” I learned from MaKey MaKey’s Jay Silver about the term bricolage, or the concept of surrounding yourself with junk you can use to create and assemble new inventions.
Tips for a successful maker space
Getting others involved
One thing that really motivates students is getting others involved. Twitter is an amazing resource! You can find other maker schools to chat with, experts to keep your kids going mid-project, and even find new ideas for your #makered programming. Our teachers are noticing that our students now have a sense of ownership in the library. Since they are buzzing about the projects we work on during class, our teachers are also getting more curious about what the maker space is all about. Students are even bringing maker ideas into the classroom, such as this theater student who decided to create her own “Applause” sign with littleBits.
Building a local and global community
The local community partnered with us to provide funds for supplies. We are talking with our Grateful Dads, a group of dads involved at our school, to involve them as mentors for our makers. But our maker community has a global reach. From chatting with the Stewart makers in Florida, to conferencing with MIT makers at the Joy Labz, to a tri-county design challenge that is in the works with superstar school principal Matt Arend of Sigler Elementary in Plano (TX) ISD, and Engineer/ fourth grade teacher at Cottonwood Creek Elementary in Coppell (TX) ISD Teacher and #TXeduchat founder Tom Kilgore.
To extend our #makeymakeychallenge finale, our makers shared their #Lamarmakes via Tackk because we hope our designs will encourage some awesome #makeymakey challenge games and controllers around the country.
My administration has been supportive in sharing our programming with other schools in the district. Librarian Leah Mann and I have started a PLC (professional learning community) with other librarians in our district #makerlibchat, and my Twitter PLN (personal learning network) continues to grow. From the success of my maker programming this year, I’ve noticed a need to get more girls involved with STEM, so I started a girls-only group with our science teacher called the Circuit Girls. We focused on paper circuits by combining electronic journaling with digital notebook hacking. As the Circuit Girls grow and learn, I hope to integrate a love of writing with the awesome power of coding and technology.
A note on programming vs. space
You don’t have to clear out a room for your maker space, because the library is the maker space. Maker space is more of a concept and a philosophy that you need to adapt into your library programming. However, you still need to advocate for literacy skills and share your love of reading. Plus, you also need your leadership to be on board and supporting you 100 percent of the way for smooth sailing.
The most pertinent things you need for a successful maker space are
- Materials to make things with: duct tape, old electronics, circuit boards, copper tape, old junk, etc.
- Somewhere to store everything: a bolt organizer or empty shelf
- Someone who knows how to use your maker resources
Keeping a design challenge going is hard work. Plus, sustaining students’ interest in a long-term design project can be demanding. You have to advocate for your space and promote your programming. Most important, you have to build relationships with your students and check in on what they want in your library—that’s why I have the iWanna box—where kids can leave book suggestions and Maker Monday suggestions. Any student can spark the idea that leads to our next design challenge.
Over the coming years, I hope our maker journey infiltrates the classroom. I’m working on collaborating with the science department to use our Spheros and MaKey MaKeys to teach curriculum concepts. I hope to collaborate with English teachers on incorporating design challenges and maker journals as a year-long research process that builds leadership, problem-solving, and teamwork skills. The more my students tinker, the more risks they take, and as they become risk-takers, they grow into collaborative innovators. And now our teachers and the community are beginning to become intrigued by what is happening in the library.
Connect with maker companies/institutions: @adafruit, @Chibitronics, @gosphero, @instructables, @littleBits, @make, @makedo, @makerbot @MakerEdOrg, @medialab, @Scratchteam, @ScratchEdTeam, @SpheroEdu, @TheJoyLabz
Connect with makers through hashtags: #arduino, #designthinking, #GirlsinSTEM, #inventanything, #kidscancode, #makered, #makerspace, #makeymakey, #raspberrypi, #STEM, #STEAM
Colleen Graves is a middle school librarian who is obsessed with learning commons transformations, maker spaces, technology education, and making stuff. As a connected educator, she brings the global community to her students on a daily basis. She is the featured SLJ Maker Workshop speaker on June 17.