March 30, 2017

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Library-Based Making in Underserved Areas

Whenever Sylvia Aguiñaga talks to young girls about the maker movement, she asks them what percentage of women they think work in the tech industry.

Most of them guess 50 percent. Some go as high as 80 percent.

“When they’re told that only 20 percent are women, you see it in their face. They understand that’s not okay,” says Aguiñaga, who’s the director of curriculum for DIY Girls, a Los Angeles–based after-school and summer program that works to increase girls’ interest in making, technology, and engineering.

Worse, of that 20 percent, only two to three percent are women of color, and Aguiñaga would like to see those statistics change.

Through the DIY Girls program, which serves primarily Latinas, facilitators teach the girls about various concepts in engineering or technology, and then they learn how to apply it.

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Aguiñaga works with a student.

“DIY Girls is about making stuff,” says Aguiñaga. “We’re involving our hands right away.” Aguiñaga, who also has a master’s degree in library and information science, says the organization now collaborates with libraries in Los Angeles.

For some school librarians, getting started with a maker space can seem overwhelming. It’s hard to know what materials you’ll need and, most important, how much it will cost. In addition to working with girls, DIY Girls also provides professional development to educators looking to start maker spaces.

Angela Rosheim, for example, took the plunge two years ago. She’s the library media specialist at Lewis and Clark Elementary in Liberty, MO, a suburban school about 15 miles north of Kansas City. For her, interest in Making began after she introduced her students to the genius hour philosophy, which allows children to select what they’d like to learn about based on their interests.

“They wanted to take things apart and knit and crochet and build, and I didn’t have the materials,” says Rosheim. That led her to the Internet, where she learned about maker spaces. Her principal supported her efforts, and she was awarded a grant by her school district foundation to make it happen.

Now all 600 students in her school get a chance to use the maker space. “My motto is: We read, think, and we make,” says Rosheim, who teaches six 50-minute classes a day and incorporates making into her lessons.

For example, her students in fourth grade may be learning about catapults. After they’ve conducted research and cited the proper sources, they would make one. “It fosters creativity,” says Rosheim. “It fosters collaboration. It fosters failing. A lot of things fail, and the kids like the fact that they have the chance to fix that fail. It’s okay to find out something doesn’t work because then you can find out what does work.”

Rosheim encourages other school librarians to consider adding maker spaces and stresses that you can start small, even with just blocks. “You don’t need all the bells and whistles,” says Rosheim. “You don’t need the robots. You can have a fabulous maker space with cardboard materials, recycled materials, and just found things.”

Kristin Fontichiaro adds that librarians should consider what’s best for their particular community. She’s a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and the faculty lead for the Making in Michigan Libraries project, which supports primarily rural areas.

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Kristin Fontichiaro

“Good libraries have always been responsive to the needs of their community,” says Fontichiaro. “There’s a big need for folks to be learning with their hands as well as learning with their brains.” She says Making in Michigan Libraries doesn’t go in and tell librarians what to do or buy. Instead, they ask questions about what the community needs. “That helps us make purchases for things that get used as opposed to things that are showpieces,” says Fontichiaro.

She stresses that every maker space will be different. For example, some might need to be a place for students to wind down after a long day, while others might need to get students energized. “The biggest mistake we can make is to assume what works in one school or public library will work in every school or public library,” says Fontichiaro.

Both Aguiñaga and Fontichiaro are presenters in Library Journal and School Library Journal‘s Maker Workshop, an online course, which kicks off on January 31. Those who register by December 16 get a 20 percent advance discount.


 

marva_head_shotMarva Hinton is a contributing writer for Education Week and the host of the ReadMore podcast, a show that features interviews with authors including Nicola Yoon and Daniel José Older.

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