Trend Alert: Breakerspaces | Library Hacks

Breakerspace. Toy Takeapart. Break & Make. Whatever you call it, a breakerspace lets kids take stuff apart to see what makes it tick.

Digital learning teacher Kristen Angelle's breakerspace station.

Breakerspace. Toy Takeapart. Break & Make, Appliance Autopsy, and Deconstruction Station. Whatever you call it, a breakerspace provides students with toys, electronics, or appliances and lets them carefully take things apart to see what makes them tick.

Why should your library have a breakerspace?

Growing in popularity, breakerspaces give kids and teens the opportunity to explore how common household items work and expose them to circuitry concepts. Students also become familiar with an object's components, so they can identify how items can be repaired and how to create new ones by harvesting parts. Victoria Winokur, an enrichment teacher at the Guilderland (NY) Central School District, has been participating in maker clubs and breakerspaces for some time. "Every time some object is opened, it's like a surprise,” she says. “The students’ eyes light up, they share discoveries, and their hands are engaged in the discovery process. They are exploring what makes their world work from the inside out. It's what we always tell them...it's what's on the inside that matters. I love it!"

Media center breakerspaces at Pottsgrove (PA) High School (left) and North Buncombe High School in Weaverville, NC.

Gathering electronics

Where can you find the electronics to take apart? All over. Winnie Carey, a technology integration specialist from Sam Placentino Elementary School in Holliston, MA, found many of her electronics in her own back rooms and closets. Lisa Dempster, head of the library at Riverdale Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Canada, received donations from fellow teachers—and noted that her students get an extra kick out of dismantling those old teacher-owned objects. Kaitlin Klein, the STEAM teacher on special assignment at Oster Elementary School in San Jose, CA, says that most of her items have been donated by parents. Winokur sends home notes with students asking for material, and has even been known to pick up items she sees left on sidewalk trash piles and on recycling day in her neighborhood. Amy Thuesen, technology integration specialist from Austin (MN) High School, receives most of her items from her IT department. Meanwhile, Danielle Small, the Library Media Specialist from Pottsgrove (PA) High School, received equipment after asking for donations on social media. At my own breakerspace at the North Buncombe (NC) High School in Weaverville, NC, I've offered to waive library fines if my students bring in old electronics. You can also buy old electronics from a Goodwill Outlet for around $.79 each or $1.29 a pound, as does Kristin Fontichiaro, principal investigator in the Making in Michigan Libraries Project and clinical associate professor of information at the University of Michigan School of Information.

Tools and rules

Once you've gathered your electronics, you will need to make sure that you have the proper tools. While the overall assortment can vary, everyone agrees that students must wear eye protection at all times.
  • Goggles
  • Flat and Phillips-head screwdrivers
  • Precision screwdrivers (tiny ones)
  • Pliers
  • Gloves
  • Storage containers for parts and pieces
  • Hot glue gun (optional or available by request)
  • Soldering irons (optional or available by request)
  • Wire strippers (optional)
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
  • Scissors (optional/depends on the items you are deconstructing)

Breakerspace tools available for signup at North Buncombe High School.

Because students can be rough on tools, most educators find it wise to invest in higher quality items than the ones you’d typically find at a Dollar Store. Ben Rearick, a graduate student research assistant for the Making in Michigan Libraries Project, also suggests investing in magnetic screwdrivers, which facilitates cleanup. Dempster finds that freezer bags for each type of tool inside her toolbox makes organization much easier for students (“All the screwdrivers in a bag!”, etc.). You can even add a picture of the item on the outside of a designated bag with the name of the tool for proper storage.

Safety first

Having clear rules and expectations in place makes it easier to guide students to make the right choices and can help make your breakerspace more successful from the start. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Always wear safety goggles. (Klein, Dempster, & Rearick)
  • Be responsible. Be respectful. Be safe. (Thuesen)
  • "No smashing or crashing—just exploring and touring." (Carey)
  • Use the correct tools for the job. (Klein)
  • Be gentle and use tools appropriately. (Kristen Angelle, digital learning teacher in Lafayette, LA)
  • If you don't know what you are doing, ask someone who does. (Angelle)
  • Bring any batteries you find to an adult. (Dempster)
  • Computer hard drives need to be turned into an adult to keep data secure. (Dempster)
  • Put away tools and parts in the correct containers before leaving the station. (Angelle)
  • "We HARVEST, not DESTROY in the breakerspace." (Angelle)

Students from Sam Placentino Elementary School in Holliston, MA, spend time in their Placentinkers Makerspace during their library time.

Important things to remember!

  • Many young students won’t have used a screwdriver before, so take the time to discuss the different types and how to match the right screwdriver to the right screw. Also, remind them to press down on screwdriver while turning it and the proper directions to turn to tighten and loosen a screw (lefty loosey, righty tighty), as Fontichiaro writes in “Toy Take-Apart: Mass Destruction for a Purpose,” in Teacher Librarian.
  • With younger students, you may also want to loosen screws beforehand. (Carey)
  • Don't put hazardous items such as hammers and saws in the breakerspace. (Dempster)
  • Items with cords need to be unplugged for at least a week before taken apart to allow the capacitors inside to drain of their energy, Fontichiaro writes in the February, 2017, issue of Teacher Librarian.
  • Cut and throw away power cords before putting them in the breakerspace so students can't plug in electronics while dismantling them. (Dempster, Klein, Thuesen)
  • "Don't take apart toys or appliances that have screens, as the screens may contain chemicals that are best left alone,” Fontichiaro writes.
  • Be careful not to put items near the breakerspace that might get taken apart accidentally, like my own multimeter did. (Darty)
  • Consider keeping tools behind the circulation desk, requiring students to request them. (Small and Dempster)
  • Limit how many students can be in the breakerspace at once to reduce the need for supervision (Winokur)
  • Think big but start small. Don't be afraid to take risks and see what works. And if something doesn't come out the way you think it should, keep trying. Don't give up on it! Just look at your students' smiling faces. (Winokur).

At North Buncombe High School, we made pencil cups out of old keyboard keys hot glued around a canister (left). Students at Pottsgrove High School created these robots out of broken down equipment (center), along with Bessie the "coffeepot" robot (right).

Repurposing parts

After students have taken apart electronics and toys, repurpose those parts to make new items. Klein finds that keyboard keys, springs, and gears make fun additions to art and engineering projects.

At Riverdale Collegiate Institute in Toronto, leftover parts are put in a bin and available to take.

At North Buncombe High School, we made decorative pencil cups by hot gluing old keyboard keys around an empty canister. Kristen Angelle, a digital learning teacher in Lafayette, LA, harvested parts for several projects including those using old Bluetooth speakers as components with Micro:bits. Danielle Small's students created Bessie, the "coffeepot" robot, and Bean, a solar-powered robot, out of recycled and broken pieces from their breakerspace. Dempster said her students made bracelets out of old keyboard keys. In addition, several of her students have taken old component parts to build their own computers.

Classroom connections

Fontichiaro’s book Taking Toys Apart (Cherry Lake, 2017) visually explains the basic components inside common toys and is a great addition to any breakerspace. Fontichiaro encourages educators to "work alongside students to help identify energy paths, components, and see how the mechanical interacts with the digital." She also provides a "What's Inside Your Toys" handout for students who are not under direct supervision.

An example of one of the "Tinker to Go" bags available for teacher checkout at Sam Placentino Elementary School.

Dempster puts out "Challenges" at her breakerspace, such as encouraging students to take things apart and see if they can put them back together the right way; asking them to try and name all the parts of an object; or inquiring if they recognize the purpose of an obscure item like an old VHS machine. Amy Thuesen offers "Monthly Makerspace Contests" to her students, such as creating an animal out of old computer parts and a soldering iron. Winnie Carey reads Jon Agee’s book It's Only Stanley, about a dog who likes to tinker, before letting students gather around their "tinker tables" to explore. Carey also offers "Tinker to Go" bags, equipped with a design challenge and materials, and allows teachers to take the bags to continue exploring with students in the classroom. These educators agree that as you gain confidence, your breakerspace will grow and evolve. But it’s also OK to start small and try "breakerspace days" or breakerspace activities instead of offering a full- time breakerspace in your library. With little cost and lots of enthusiasm, it’s a great opportunity to incorporate more STEM into your library's maker space. For more info and ideas about breakerspaces, follow these educators on Twitter: Kirsten M. Angelle @HubCityClass Lynda Canal @lyndacanal40 Winnie Carey @wincarey Lisa Dempster @RCILibrary or @LisaJDempster Kristen Fontichiaro @activelearning Kaitlin Klein @missklein20 Ben Rearick @ferenjamin Danielle Small @PottsgroveHSLib Amy Thuesen @amythuesen Victoria Winokur @vwinokur
Comments

Lori Feldman

We have been talking about deconstruction for a while now for our Makerspace. Now you have given us the push to get going!

Posted : Mar 20, 2018 08:46


Shasteen Murphy

I will definitely use the great ideas in this article for my upcoming Creation Station. I'm always concerned about when students should come to use the space? How can I still have a 30 minute library lesson including checkout and operate the Creation Station? I work in a K-6 school library and homeroom classes are heavily scheduled. I don't know how to accommodate the students. I would appreciate any ideas you have.

Posted : Feb 14, 2018 10:40

Katie Darty

Maybe you can use the space as a reward? You can have classes earn points for good behavior in the library and after 3 days in a row of good behavior they can have a creation station day?

Posted : Feb 14, 2018 10:40


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