Makerspace Management

Make it Easier for Students and Educators to do the Right Thing

Modeling doing the right thing – wearing safety goggles while building a table.

Back in 2015, when I started really digging into makerspace, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Makerspace Operations Bootcamp, through Makerworks. The training was 5-days, intensive, and really, really good. I walked away with a much more comprehensive knowledge of all things makerspace, and I got to play with some really cool machinery, too. One of the messages conveyed through the training was to make it easier for your makers to do the right thing (rather than the wrong thing).

Difficulty Doing the Right Thing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that message. In particular, all the hurdles that make it difficult to do the right thing. I see these everywhere. From confusing directions, to blocked educational websites, to too many steps needed to complete tasks. We make both students and educators jump through hoop after hoop in order to get where we want them to go. This causes frustration. It makes everything more difficult than it needs to be. It needs to stop. I would even argue that this is one (of several) factors causing the highest rate on record of teachers quitting their jobs in public schools across America.

Making it Easier

If we are going to be effective educators, leaders, mentors, makerspace managers, we need to rethink the way that we do things. We need to make it easier to do the right thing. This should be a lens through which we view every rule we make, every lesson or project we plan, each new initiative we envision. Even the way we evaluate teachers. Just imagine how much better classroom management could be, and how much more effective our educators, if we made it easier to do the right thing. The entire profession would be transformed.

For example, if we actually provided the resources needed to do the things that educators are asked to do, educators could be much more effective. If we had enough staff working to get everything done (which would translate to smaller class sizes), there would be a better work-life balance, and less burnout.  If we had enough time to give to students who are struggling, students would be more successful across the board. 

How this Translates to Makerspace Management

This lens absolutely applies to makerspace management. We need to make it easier for students to make safe (right) choices. When you are setting up your makerspace think about hanging safety equipment in front of where your makers will need to use it, posting safety instructions at workstations, and having a good adult-to-maker ratio.

Set everyone up for success. Put time and funding into helping your makers do the right thing.


Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Making Meaningful Makerspaces

You can find projects like this infinity scarf, designed by fashion designer Netti Tiso, in my book You’ve Got a Makerspace – Now What? Teaching Kids to use Makerspace to Better Our World.
Publication date tentatively set for 2020.

As some of you know, I”ve been keeping a (poorly held) secret for the past year – I’ve been writing a book about makerspaces. It has been, hands down, one of the single most challenging experiences that I’ve ever had. It’s required a lot of sacrifice, most of all with my time. I’ve also gotten very comfortable with an unparalleled level of rejection of my thoughts…ideas…writing. 

However, I’ve also learned SO much. I’m a substantially better writer than I was when I started this process. I’ve also spent hours thinking about the purpose of makerspaces.

When I first started my book, it was titled Build and Manage a Makerspace for Kids. The aim of writing it was to keep those of you buildings makerspaces from having to make your way through in the dark. More specifically, to provide management techniques, thoughts about which tools work well with particular age groups, and best practices for teaching kids to use these tools. I wanted you to benefit from the thousands of hours I’ve spent figuring everything out.

By February, I was halfway through writing it, when my publisher contacted me and informed me that the marketplace was flooded with how to start makerspace books. I had to start over. I was devastated. They suggested that I write my book assuming that the reader has a makerspace already. It took me a little while to warm up to that idea. That wasn’t my original vision. I wasn’t sure that’s the book that I wanted to write. I wondered what I could contribute that would still be beneficial. 

This is when I started thinking about what we do well in our makerspace, and my immediate answer was passion projects. Which led to the next logical question – why do the passion projects get such great results? There is plenty of research out there that tells us that in order to get kids excited, engaged and passionate about school work there are two major motivating factors; choice, and some sort of real-world connection. The way that the passion projects are designed does both, which is why the kids stay engaged, and get incredible results. 

I only give them two rules; they can’t do anything that involves money, or weapons. I also ask them to figure out who is going to benefit from their projects – themselves (which is completely valid), their school, their community (neighborhood, sports team, place of worship or however they define that), or the whole world. This scaffolds them to think concretely about that real-world connection. From here, the kids take off. Some projects they’ve done include making and donating blankets to animal shelters, inventing a vending machine with food and supplies to help the homeless or people in areas that have been devastated by natural disasters, coding games, presenting plans to make everything in school more inclusive to a wheelchair bound friend, building working snowboards and designing and making clothing for their pets. You can check out photos and videos of some of these passion projects on my Twitter feed @julielibrarian or Instagram @growingmakerspace. 

Kids want to do good in the world. Giving them a way to do this, through the use of a makerspace, is the best way to utilize a makerspace for kids. I strongly urge you, if you have access to the incredible tools that makerspace provides, help kids learn to use those tools to better our world. If you want some suggestions on specific ways to do this, although I don’t yet have a firm publication date, my book You’ve Got a Makerspace – Now What? Teaching Kids to Use Makerspace to Better Our World will hopefully be out in the world at some point in 2020. I’ll keep you posted on that through this blog. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or ideas to share on the topic, feel free to comment on this post. You are also welcome to shoot me an email at growingmakerspace@gmail.com .

Until next time!

Exploring Makerspaces, Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Exploring Makerspaces for Kids: Brain Monkeys – A Makerspace That Comes to You

For this second segment of my series on exploring makerspaces, I interviewed Katie Tilton, owner of Brain Monkeys. Brain Monkeys is a makerspace that has been around for several years and has a unique model – it’s mobile and it’s just for kids. As owner Katie Tilton puts it, Brain Monkeys is “A makerspace that comes to you”.  I met Tilton a decade ago when I brought her in to do a program for teens, at a local public library. I’ve always been struck by her energy and enthusiasm. She is truly a pioneer in kid makerspace programming.

Her company, Brain Monkeys, facilitates and offers programs as part of after school enrichment, summer camps and home schooling groups. These activities include Arduino programming, electronics, LEGO Mindstorms, ballistics, Maker Design and Create and much more.  

Brain Monkeys is an established company that does some very solid makerspace programming for kids and this, having a traveling makerspace, is another way that you could consider doing makerspace. This certainly adds a convenience factor for your members and could allow you to create a business model like Tilton’s. If you are contemplating creating a makerspace for your public library, or school, this could also enable you to provide programming for all of the library branches in your community, or buildings in your school district, in one fell swoop.

A specific way in which you can take your makerspace on the road is with traveling carts. A group of middle school librarians in Knoxville, TN were able to do this successfully with thematic carts (STEM, production, art, 3D printing), that rotated between their buildings.  Another model that has worked for some is to put makerspace equipment onto a bus and drive it to different locations.

Regardless of how it’s done, having a mobile makerspace opens up a lot of possibilities.

Brain Monkeys Images reproduced with permission.

Exploring Makerspaces, Makerspace Management

Exploring Makerspaces for Kids: Think Tank at Impression 5

The biggest influence on my makerspace management and design has absolutely been made through visiting other spaces. Although nothing beats visiting a space in person, hopefully this, which is the beginning of a series, provides the next best thing.

On Monday, a day we all had off of work and school, I dragged my whole family to Impression 5, the kids hands-on science museum in Lansing, to check out their appropriately named makerspace “Think Tank”. Think Tank, located on the first floor near the main entrance, is open for limited hours and for special programming.  

One of the most intriguing aspects of this space was that it was developed with input from a Youth Action Council, a diverse group of youth from the area. The names of the Youth Action Council line one of the walls, each name plaque uniquely designed by the council members themselves, using tools from the makerspace.

Youth Action Council name plaques above tool storage cabinets at Think Tank.

My first thought upon entering was that Think Tank is one of the cleanest makerspaces I’ve ever encountered. Tools for today’s project were out, but other tools and materials were neatly put away in storage lining the walls.

Pegboard with hanging tools and cardboard storage organized by size.

Although Think Tank occupies a small space, it’s utilized for interesting and innovative projects, many of which could be seen on display.

Projects on Display.

Within Think Tank is the Think Space, something that I haven’t encountered in any other makerspace before. The Think Space is connected to the rest of Think Tank, but set back into a cozy nook. Inside the Think Space is a comfy couch with throw pillows, some bean bag chairs and a coffee table with several issues of Make magazine. The idea behind the Think Space is to provide an area for kids to sit to take a moment to…well…think. Perhaps their project isn’t working the way that they had intended, and they need a break. Maybe they want to use the space to work with a small group. They could peruse the magazines for inspiration if they feel stuck. Regardless, this seems like a wonderful addition, especially for a kid-focused makerspace.

In the span of about an hour, my kids, with some guidance from the incredibly knowledgeable staff, were both able to create their own “flapping flyers”, an eagle and a dragon, respectively, out of cardboard, yarn, nuts (for weight) a popsicle stick and fishing line. Overall Think Tank at Impression 5 was a great experience, we can’t wait to go back!

Getting inspiration for their Flapping Flyers designs.
Makerspace Management

The Argument for Teaching Kids to Make Things Bad on Purpose

Working with kids isn’t simply about walking into a space and teaching. It also requires navigating the invisible baggage brought in by each kid –  from friendships going sour, to bullying, and other issues that you may not be aware of such as homelessness, food insecurity and abuse. You can’t look at kids and tell what their lives are like. Which is why I believe that it’s critical to be kind, and to try and make things less stressful, whenever possible. Adults are in a position of power over kids, and that’s an important thing to remember. As an adult, you have to be cognizant about how your words and decisions might make kids feel.

Maya Angelou said it best: 

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. 

-Maya Angelou

Several years ago I started teaching kids how to put together loops in GarageBand to create a unique conglomeration. I was pretty excited about this. It seemed like a great way to teach some solid skills and have fun in the process. Once we had a couple of sessions, the students were required to share 30 seconds of their piece with the class. Naturally, some of them were a little nervous. It’s scary to share your work with a group of peers.

However, one of my students was several steps beyond nervous. He was petrified. He was so worried about how the other kids would receive his piece that it was spilling into the rest of his life. He was having trouble sleeping. He was practicing with GarageBand during all of his free time. He wanted to come in to spend extra time outside of his regular class. Normally, kids wanting to come in for some extra time, to learn something, is a good thing. This wasn’t that. This kid was practically in tears when we talked about sharing his piece.  When I checked in with the class, he wasn’t the only one who was worried. Clearly, I needed to do something to help.   

When I talked with him about the way that he was feeling, what I garnered was that he was trying to make a perfect piece of music, which he perceived to be an impossible task. I think that a lot of our kids feel pressure to be perfect at everything. I recently attended a professional development workshop given by the author of At What Cost , a book that addresses this overall perfectionism trend (and is very a worthwhile read). The objective of the GarageBand lesson was not to create perfect music. It was simply to learn how to use the software, and hopefully have some fun in the process.  I came up with a solution to try and alleviate some of the stress – what if I gave the kids permission to make their music bad on purpose

When I presented this as an option to the class, the relief was visible on their faces. Some of them were even delighted. Making things bad on purpose feels subversive, which is appealing to some kids. From that point forward I’ve always presented this as an option – the students can experiment, make their music bad on purpose or try and make something beautiful. When they play their piece for the class they can opt to share which way they went with this, or they can simply leave it up for speculation.

Once the students were given permission to make their music bad on purpose, not only did they seem to be having more fun with the project, they also started trying out everything. Giving them permission to make a bad piece of music made them explore GarageBand more thoroughly, and learn more about the software, than ever before.  Obviously, not every assignment should have a – bad on purpose – option. But it worked very well for us, with this.

In fact, I think this has wider applications in the realm of makerspace, and teaching in general. For some kids, especially those prone to perfectionism, giving them permission to make things bad on purpose gives them a reason to explore things more deeply than they otherwise would. It allows students to not worry so much about making mistakes, which in turn leads to taking more risks. Risks are really important in school and in life. Taking some calculated risks allows innovation to flourish. If you are teaching, or running a makerspace, it’s critical to get students to a point where they are comfortable taking some risks and making some mistakes (assuming it’s not compromising safety). I would encourage you to find ways to give kids the option of making things bad on purpose.  You never know what happy accidents will result.

A Student’s In-progress GarageBand Piece

Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Makerspace vs. Stations vs. Genius Hour

Sometimes people don’t differentiate between a full-blown makerspace, makerspace stations and Genius Hour. They use all three interchangeably. Personally, I think it’s good to differentiate between these, as they really do mean different things. When we talk about a makerspace, we are referring to the actual, physical space with all of the stuff in it. Stations and Genius Hour can both be used as constructs within that space.

Utilizing stations can be a great management tool in that instead of kids blowing up your whole makerspace, they only have access to the materials at each station (that you’ve set up in advance). The stations could be thematic, with different making opportunities at each station. You would need to have rules about how many students can use each station at the same time, and how you go about deciding which students can use each one. In the interest of safety, there might be only two people at one station, soldering for example, and ten at something like bracelet making.

You could assign students to a starting station and rotate them through the other stations. This works well if students spend roughly the same amount of time at each station. If there is one, or even a few stations that take longer, students could stay through two or even three rotations. You could also have sign-up sheets for more popular stations or you could have students choose two or three stations total, and then you would assign them to one of these choices, or maybe you manage stations a completely different way that works best for you. That’s great too.

Genius hour was adapted from something that Google has done with their employees, Google would allow a percentage of workday time to be devoted to a project of personal interest. Several well-known Google projects originated from this.[1] Having a Genius Hour for students means that you are doing something similar, allowing them to devote a certain percentage of their school day to a project that they are interested in (as opposed to an assignment or project that you have given them). This is a wonderful thing to do! I have found that when students are given this choice, to pursue something that they are interested in, or maybe even passionate about, they work much harder and take the project much further than they ever would within the constraints of a project defined for them. The advantage of combining Genius Hour with makerspace, is that with access to so many tools and resources kids can explore their ideas further and push the limits of their creativity.

You can have a makerspace without organizing it into stations or using Genius Hour style programming. You can run a Genius Hour without access to a makerspace. When you have maker stations instead of a full makerspace, I usually call that a mini makerspace. However, if you have the space and funding, having all of the tools and materials that best suit your community, available in a thoughtfully developed makerspace, can give kids incredible opportunities. From there, you can have the flexibility and resources to take your programming whichever way best fits your community.

[1] What is Genius Hour? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/

ButtonMakerStationwithEffect.png

Button Maker Station
Brainstorming, Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Makerspace Challenges & Personal Choice

Choice is really important in getting students excited about learning.  As the educational guru Robert Marzano states in his book The Highly Engaged Classroom, giving students choice increases their intrinsic motivation, is linked to higher engagement, and overall learning. If you’re interested, you can read more about that in Tips From Dr. Marzano.

In the Creekside Makerspace FLEX (elective) classes, and in 6th grade media, students get to choose their own projects. In our FLEX classes, where I have the incredible Sharon Norris co-teaching with 5th grade, and the amazing Eileen McCallum co-teaching with 6th, we are able to have students do this individually, or in groups, should they so choose.

With the 6th graders in my media classes, since I am teaching all (roughly 150) of them solo, they work on their Passion Projects in groups. My rule is that they have to have at least two people in their groups. If that means they each do something individually and they merge it into a project, that’s great. If they have a group of 10, and each person works on a piece, that’s wonderful too. They have complete control of the way in which they want to make it work. Sometimes it’s smooth and sometimes they learn a lot about working in a team.

Sometimes kids have a hard time figuring out what they want to do when given complete choice. In makerspace, we try and help with this in a few different ways; they can explore the DIY.org website or sort through the makerspace challenges on the Teach Engineering site (check the “Maker Challenge” box on the left to filter for them) or they can look at already created projects in the display case for ideas. We also have a robust collection of maker reference books that they can page through.

With Passion Projects, I guide them through a brainstorming session where they start out with crazy, wild ideas – like a bicycle that you can ride on the ceiling that is made for a cat! Then we break it down into something that is more viable that they can either actually create, prototype or pitch to the class. The students continuously amaze me with their creativity, ingenuity and…well…passion.

The kids do the heavy lifting; they come up with the ideas, pour the energy and time into making it work or figuring out how it could, in theory. They give inspirational, impassioned presentations and hopefully learn a lot in the process.

However, these projects would never be as intriguing, amazing or exciting without choice.

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We will start our brainstorming session tomorrow with a read aloud! It starts with an idea…