My first crack at implementing a maker space in my school media center began in August. I posted a request for advice on creating a LEGO wall on the school library media specialist listserv, LM__NET. I received such encouraging responses (Thank you Pamela Thompson, Becky Brown, Nancy Gifford, Jennifer Chance Cook, Peg Noctor, and others!), that I decided to embrace Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan and give it a try. Here’s my “recipe” for creating the wall.
What you’ll need
• A wall, or other vertical surface to build on
• LEGO base plates. I chose the 32″ x 32″ studded size
• Fuze It or other adhesive
• Caulk gun
• Duct tape
• LEGO (of course!)
Building the wall
Starting out, I took the advice of fellow LM_NET members and hosted a week-long LEGO drive. It was important to do this to give students buy-in and a way to connect to the project.
On Monday, the first day of school, every child went home with a flyer (in English, Spanish, and Portuguese) asking for donations of used LEGOs, and a “Parental Consent to Donate” form. I work in a socioeconomically disadvantaged school (77 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch). I wasn’t even sure I should ask for the LEGOs, but in the end decided to, explaining to teachers and students that they didn’t have to donate, but if they did, contributions would be welcome.
Tuesday morning, a third grade boy gifted a 922-piece Minecraft LEGO set, possibly the mother lode of LEGO sets. I made sure his mom had signed the consent form, but still, I questioned him for five minutes before accepting the donation. Are you sure you don’t want the set any more? Do you have a younger sibling who may want these one day? (I did not want to appear greedy or predatory!) The boy reassured me that he wanted to donate the set. At that point, I knew that even if I didn’t receive another single piece of LEGO, all would be fine.
I received many more contributions, from snack-sized bags to one supersized container filled to the rim. As a reward, when the wall was completed, I invited all the donors to the media center and made them Honorary LEGO Wall Team Members. I took a photo, which will hang above the LEGO wall.
Next, I shopped for the green 32″ x 32″ studded base plates. I figured I would only need eight to 10 of these (my media center is tiny). I tried crowdfunding first and posted a project on DonorsChoose. However, within a few days, I took the campaign down. While I believe it would have been funded in this way eventually, time was of the essence. I wanted this wall up before the second week of school.
I approached the manager of a LEGO consignment franchise. The price for used base plates was actually higher ($12 each) than new plates; unfortunately, the store would not work with me. In the end, I bought the plates from the LEGO shop. The price was competitive—$7.99 each, and free shipping on orders over $35. I was able to purchase more than two at a time there, unlike other sites. There’s a limit of five, but I bought 10 in two different transactions, spending $79.90.
Looking for instructions on how to put up the wall, I found an awesome online tutorial posted by Diana Rendina, media specialist at Stewart Middle School in Tampa, FL, and SLJ 2015 Build Something Bold award recipient, on “How to Build an Epic LEGO Wall.” The post offered great tips.
On Friday, I began attaching the LEGO base plates to the wall. A Home Depot rep recommended using a product called Fuze It (around $7), which “bonds everything to everything,” and a caulk gun. I applied Fuze It in a traditional method—a line along each base plate edge with an X in the middle. I began with the bottom left plate (since it rests on the chalk tray of my blackboard, I knew it was level), pressing firmly, then securing the plate with duct tape so it didn’t fall off while I was prepping the next plate. Fuze It has instant grab so this was never an issue. But…squeezing the caulk gun trigger is hand-crushing! I enlisted help from my tech aide, Jen, and a few library users. I attached the second plate above the first, making sure to attach a LEGO brick that spanned both base plates. This, per librarian Jennifer Chance Cook, ensures the base plates are spaced properly when they dry. I did this until my hand fell off—make that, until all the base plates were attached.
The following Monday, my library regulars—the students who come every morning to exchange books—were happily exclaiming about the new LEGO wall.
After lessons and book exchanges, I reviewed how students would be chosen to play on the wall and went over the posted rules. In drafting them, I followed the advice of two librarians. Peg Noctor suggested using the LEGO wall as a behavior tool. She randomly selects the names of two students who followed the rules during library class. The two students can each choose one friend to join them. While students don’t have to dismantle their creations, they do need to know that students in other classes might. School librarian Pamela Thompson suggests that anyone who gets aggressive (or throws a LEGO), might lose the LEGO privilege.
When everything was in place, I gave students time to build on the wall. I plan to use my Random Student Selector in PowerTeacher to select well-behaved students to build, but at the moment, everyone is on task and focused, so everyone builds. (Aren’t the first weeks of school heaven?) A tip: a separate LEGO table and some LEGO sets in baggies lessen the disappointment for those not chosen to build on the wall. Right now, it appears that students are just as happy to bring LEGO to the tables as they are to build on the wall.
This project was a blessing. It allowed me to connect with other media specialists, it provided my students and staff with a chance to show their altruistic selves, and our school now has a the beginnings of a cool, brightly-colored maker space area in our media center. In fact, I plan to build another LEGO wall. My advice if you’re still on the fence: Just Do It!
Margaret Jones is a media specialist at South Street School in Danbury, CT. In her sixth grade autobiography, Jones wrote that when she grew up, she wanted to be a children’s librarian.
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