Music, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Music Making is the Perfect Makerspace Activity for Kids (with Resources)!

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love music, and if I did, I wouldn’t trust them. Music is such an integral part of the human experience. It is a universal language that has existed in all cultures, throughout history. It’s something we experiment with – clapping, drumming with our hands and feet – before we are even old enough to talk. Music can calm us, bring us to tears and make our hearts race, and there are so many different ways music can be integrated into makerspace. Here are some ideas.

Drumming is an inexpensive, straight-forward place to start. There are a plethora of online sites that will show you how to create an entire drum kit from trash. You can use easily find objects for drum sticks too, including; pencils, chop sticks and sticks just found on the ground. If you are looking for inspiration for how to use everyday objects as percussion instruments, do a quick online search for the group Stomp. I was particularly impressed with their composition done entirely with brooms.

If your goal is to create music with unusual instruments, there are plenty of intriguing examples. The Vegetable Orchestra performs music on instruments that…as you may have guessed from the name…are made entirely out of vegetables. You can do this yourself! Just watch Linsey Pollack’s Tedx talk where he shows you how to make a clarinet out of a carrot, in less than 5 minutes, and then plays it beautifully. This video, and other resources, are included on the kid-focused badging site DIY.org, in an entire section devoted to instrument making.

Synthesizers are really cool but might seem intimidating at first, especially if you are working with younger kids in your makerspace. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Kids as young as 3 years old can learn about how synths works by playing with Blipblox, a synthesizer designed specifically for kids ages 3 and up (although out-of-stock right now, they will be available to purchase this May, 2019). Blipblox even has MIDI input for an external keyboard or sequencer controller, so although it looks like a toy, if you add a keyboard and a computer with a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as GarageBand (on an Apple device) or Cakewalk (if you are using Windows), Blipblox can actually can be part of a fully functional, professional studio.

If you are working with older makers, you might look into the littleBits Synth kit. LittleBits are great for creating complex objects, quickly and easily, since the pre-made bits fit together using magnets. Their synth kit even has a well researched, concise history of synthesizers included in the booklet.

With older kids, if you have a small group, are feeling adventurous, and you really want to go down the rabbit hole, you can have them solder together an oscilloscope (that you can use to manipulate the pitch of a sound). The one that I made (which actually works!) is pictured below. But be warned – it took me two, focused hours, to put together.

If you want your makers to try music composition, Finale Notepad is a free (Windows) download that’s worth checking out. If you don’t use Windows, Sibelius is good too, but it isn’t free.

You might also consider giving your kids an opportunity to live code music using multi-platform, Ruby-based, Sonic Pi. Sonic Pi is easy to learn and fun to use. I spent an afternoon laughing with some kids over the different synth sounds and effects that you can produce with one.

Whatever you decide to explore, make sure to include music in your makerspace offerings. There’s nothing more enjoyable than watching kids dance to music, that they made all by themselves.

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.

Utilizing Your Makerspace

Snow Day Buster

Every makerspace is different. They all have similar elements – they are spaces for making things – digital objects, physical items or if someone is being really innovative perhaps a combination of these. Since makerspace can cover a lot, it can also end up being a catch-all for any activities or programs that don’t neatly fall elsewhere. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I think that most people running makerspaces want them to be utilized. As often and creatively as possible. Our makerspace has been used to create a digital sundial for our garden, for making cupboards to support a book tie-in project, for student passion projects and to teach colleagues, both locally and from other districts, about makerspace. We were also recently invited to participate in the Washtenaw County, Paint a Plow program. We, of course, accepted.

Before I get into the details, I should confess something. I usually outlaw paint in my makerspace. We have so many other options, I just feel that the mess added from including paint in our offerings overshadows the enjoyment. At least for me. I’m sure that the kids would tell you differently. Since we operate on a barter system for consumable materials, sometimes paint gets snuck in as a trade which means that I will occasionally look over and go – gah! Where did that paint come from?! I let the student working with it finish their project, then I sneak it into my back office. Also, I never let anyone work with anything that isn’t water-based. Until now.

Water-based paint won’t work well on a snow plow. After a little research, we (myself and my partner teachers Sharon Norris and Eileen McCallum) purchased a few different colors of Rust-Oleum paint. This worked very well. It also drove me slightly crazy. We took precautions – we all wore gloves (vinyl in order to avoid any allergy issues), we bought Rust-Oleum mineral spirits for the clean up, we ordered A LOT of paint brushes and we put a note in the school newsletter to remember to bring in clothing that the students wouldn’t mind getting ruined. There were students from several different classes participating, so this seemed like the best way to get this information out.

The gloves worked well, we had plenty of brushes for everyone, the colors were beautiful…and no one brought in clothing that they didn’t mind getting ruined. I was able to get two oversized shirts from a P.E. teacher (thank you again Fred!) and that helped a bit…until kids were kneeling on the ground to paint the bottom edges, right in the paint that they had dripped there. Paint got in hair, on skin, shoes, pants…I’m not even sure where else. We were able to fix a few things with the mineral spirits or scrubbing with soap and water. Some were beyond fixing.

Here are my lessons learned. Paint a plow is a really fun program. It’s worth doing. Gloves are key. Rust-oleum worked well. Getting a lot of cheap paint brushes that can be disposed of, if need be (if you can’t get them clean), is a good call. Next time I think maybe we should skip painting the entire background. Sending home notes in planners, about clothing, would likely result in more kids bringing in clothes that they aren’t worried about. Having only a few kids work on the plow at a time and only using 1-2 colors in a session also makes things go more smoothly. If you happen to live in Washtenaw County, keep an eye out for our plow and if you see it, tell me about it in the comments. The kids would be delighted with Snow Day Buster spottings!

Snow Plow

Me – pointing to the grassy spot for the snow plow to be painted.   Photo Credit: Tammy Reich

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   Snow Day Buster! Credit for the name and design go to Sharon Norris.
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/

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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…