Project and problem-based learning and passion projects have brought the world of maker spaces into school libraries and classrooms across the nation. School librarians, content-area teachers, and special-area teachers are creating hands-on learning activities for students of all grade levels and abilities. As maker fairs and engineering toys are becoming more mainstream, students are coming to school with an increased interest in how things work and, consequently, what they can make. School libraries are evolving to become environments of exploration and discovery. Many are familiar with the STEM acronym (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and its sibling, STEAM (The A is for art). School librarians also support STREAM, where R represents “research,” an integral component in the knowledge creation process.
We collaborated to share our knowledge of and passion for the maker movement with over 75 fellow school librarians from across Suffolk County, Long Island (NY). How? With confetti, shish kabob skewers, and a little drag racing, of course! It was all part of the Day of Making on December 11, 2015.
HOW IT ALL GOT STARTED
The Eastern Suffolk BOCES school library system director, Gail Barraco, organized the event, asking us to take the reins.
In 1948, the New York State legislature created Boards of Cooperative Educations Services (BOCES) to provide shared educational programs and services to school districts within the state. Today BOCES is incorporated into all but nine of the state’s school districts.
The School Library System at Eastern Suffolk BOCES includes 243 school library media centers. The Council provides policy advice to the School Library System Director. Liaisons serve as the communication link with the local school library media specialists.
We are both liaisons for our respective districts. As such, we attend quarterly meetings led by Barraco. Other librarians and educators are welcome to attend, not only liaisons. We decided, with approval from Barraco, to dedicate one such meeting to the maker movement by offering hands-on learning opportunities. Hence, the Day of Making! This was more of a turnkey training, as in ‘Here are some great ideas to use with your student population.’
The Eastern Suffolk BOCES School Library System Day of Making exemplified our belief that collaboration, not competition, is the linchpin of making. Making allows students to acquire knowledge through action discovery, imaginative thinking, and creative problem-solving. It also helps them to develop critical thinking skills through persistence. The event promoted maker education through hands-on learning activities adaptable for K-12 students. The tie-in to BOCES is clear, since the entity is perhaps best known for its hands-on career training.
A BIG DAY
The event encompassed a myriad of activities. From morning to afternoon, school librarians engaged in participatory professional development.
The event began with a “Bling your Badge” activity where participants personalized their name tags with sticker, markers, and other embellishments. Then they were introduced to examples of the maker movement in action. The school librarians learned about the popular Genius Hour program, where teachers schedule their classes to experience themed exploratory units. Next up was an open library maker space program for content areas, special areas and after-school clubs. We also shared our online collections of resources including book suggestions, videos, and web tools.
Claire Cucchi, COO of Buncee, with the assistance of Bryan Gorman, Education Associate for Buncee, demonstrated Buncee Edu, whose app version was named one of the 2015 Best Apps by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). The Buncee Edu interactive web-based platform, Claire explained, “enables students to be self-directed makers of content.” The intuitive qualities of this web tool make it a student-friendly choice for presentations and communications.
Now the fun was really heating up! Using recycled materials and common household items, the school librarians created balloon car racers. Engineering vehicles with nothing more than the likes of cereal boxes, straws, skewers, bottle caps, balloons, and tape, they used the force of air to pit their creations against one another.
Finally, after learning how to incorporate both digital and low-tech making in their libraries, the participants explored the high-tech tools that we brought from our own library maker spaces. Favorite robots and tech toys, such as Meccanoid, Ozobot, Sphero, Dot and Dash, Snap Circuits, littleBits, 3Doodler, MiP, and Cubelets were on display, awaiting hands-on exploration. This opportunity to engage with cutting-edge products gave the librarians the chance to think about what they might buy for their libraries—not necessarily with a costly investment.
THE AFTER GLOW
“It was an awesome opportunity for conversation and connection,” gushed Barraco.
Several librarians reported that they implemented elements of the Day of Making upon returning to their schools. Sandy Bucher of Sequoya Middle School, Sachem (NY), brought her daughter’s unused art supplies to her library for her students to explore independently. It was “a win-win for me and for my students. They can see that the library is a place where they can explore more than books and computers.” Some school librarians are hesitant about creating maker spaces because of decreased funding. But for Bucher, this event was an eye-opener, as it “made me realize that things can be low-tech and simple. We don’t necessarily have to have the high-tech items, especially those of us with limited budgets.”
Erin Marone, a library media specialist at Dayton Avenue Elementary School, Eastport-South Manor (NY) School District, was so inspired that she implemented the balloon car project the following week. She appreciated how “it was student-centered. They were the ones creating and trying to make their racers go.” Marone, acknowledging the importance of art, encouraged not only engineering for speed and distance, but also gave awards for “best use of tape” or “most creative shape.” Students brought their balloon cars to their classes and shared how they made them. Several older students became the self-appointed experts, whom others went to for help with their designs. “The best part is they were teaching each other and having fun while learning,” says Marone.
Others, such as Lisa Smyth of Gardiner Manor Elementary School, Bay Shore (NY), were inspired to create their own unique maker spaces. “Hearing all the wonderful stories and seeing the enthusiasm the students have towards creating and learning brings me back to the magical wonder of my childhood when I would make a carnival out of boxes and buckets,” Smyth recalls. “The possibilities are as great as the imagination.”
Some have asked why librarians should take an interest in resources that aren’t books. Why not? We’re not advocating speed-dating every educational trend, but we do think that school librarians need to be on the pulse of innovation and change. Librarians are the chameleons of the educational system. We adapt to a variety of situations, and we know how to integrate 21st century information literacy skills and technology seamlessly into lessons while collaborating with colleagues. An important part of advocacy is demonstrating how we contribute to the team. We must learn to speak the language of other educators and our administrators. We must learn and grow, or we will become extinct.
KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING
Librarians, especially throughout Long Island, are encouraged to continue the conversation by adding their maker space to the Schools of Long Island Makerspaces, an initiative we began. The collaborative map serves as a future reference for Long Island librarians seeking a partner, advice, or visitation to a local maker space. Of course, it is also a good model for any school librarian in the country to use as a template. Take our ideas and make them work for you, wherever you are!
Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Creating a maker space in your library may seem like a daunting task, but through learning from others, we can create dynamic school library programs to prepare our students for 21st century learning.
Kristina Holzweiss is the school library media specialist at Bay Shore Middle School and 2015 School Librarian of the Year. She also received the Lee Bryant Outstanding Teacher Award by New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education and the Fred Podolski Leadership and Innovation in Technology Award by the Long Island Technology Summit. She is the founder and director of SLIME (Students of Long Island Maker Expo). Check out her website. Follow her on Twitter at @lieberrian, Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gina Seymour is the library media specialist at Islip (NY) High School and the recipient of the SSLMA School Librarian of the Year (2014) award. She serves on ALA’s Website Advisory Committee and is chairperson for YALSA’s Website Advisory Committee. She is an adjunct professor at St. John’s University (Jamaica, NY), Department of Library and Information Science, as well as the co-director of SLIME. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaseymour.