Putting Students on the Stage

Our makerspace continues to grow and we continue to learn better ways to manage the equipment, the space, and the students. It’s only been two months, but I’m proud of how things have rolled out. It’s super important that those of us involved in this process continue to learn from others to make sure we are not settling for good enough. We have and will continue to share our process. We’ve learned from others and I feel it’s essential for us to tell our story so others can learn from us – both things that have gone well and things we would do differently. I love that we’ve been getting the word out about our makerspace and sharing the great things that are happening. We try to do that via our school Twitter account, our new Instagram account, and our makerspace blog. I believe an even stronger message can come from students.

At an upcoming School Board meeting, we’ve been asked to have a few students talk about our makerspace and demonstrate some of the items we have available. Choosing which students to share would seem to be an easy decision, but with so many students using the space and so many good candidates, the decision wasn’t simple. After watching the students for a few days, a few clear choices stood out.

We recently held parent-teacher conferences and one of the things we wanted to share with parents was our new makerspace. We had signs encouraging parents to stop by with their students to play and explore. During one of the nights, one particular student came by with her mom and went from station to station explaining in great detail the expectations. I wish I could have followed her around with a video recorder because she was amazing. Naturally, when I needed to find a student to speak at the School Board meeting, she was my first choice.

Another student was working in the makerspace with a friend and exploring the Little Bits. They were working together to make a little piano and I suggested she try to play a song. It didn’t take long for them to figure it and when she did complete it, she said, “Yes, I did it.” Fortunately, I was recording this, and you can see the video clip below. That phrase made me so happy. I immediately thought she should be another great student to speak in front of the Board.

To provide some structured activities for students in some of the centers, we created challenges the students can complete. During one of the study hall periods, two boys came in to complete the challenges. They were successful with the first challenge and were ready for more. After completing three of the challenges and earning the badges, all during one class period, they were interested in more. I really liked their enthusiasm and felt they would also be great students to represent our school at the meeting.

I cannot be at the meeting myself, but I’m very confident the students will represent themselves, our makerspace, and our school wonderfully.  When we put students in front, given them a voice, it can be very powerful. I’m excited to hear how it goes, I know they’ll do well.



Mary Had a Little Lamb played using @littlebits in our #makerspace!! So awesome. #makered

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These guys are programming their Ollies so they can earn certain driving badges in the #makerspace.

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Coding Challenges for the Ollie

If you have any Ollies (or Spheros) in your classroom, library, or makerspace, you’ve probably discovered that kids love driving these little devices around. Students love to test their driving skills, which as I’ve witnessed, generally aren’t that good. We have 4 Ollies in our makerspace and, in an effort to have students program the Ollies instead of just drive them around, have created “challenges” for students.

The idea is to have students use the SPRK Lightning Lab app on either a Chromebook or iPad to program the Ollie to complete a certain task. One example (shown below), has the students creating a program to move the Ollie in a square, changing color on each side, and not crashing into anything. When a student completes the challenge, and has someone confirm they did it correctly, they will receive a badge that will be displayed on a poster in our makerspace.

If you’d like to take a look at the challenges to use or adapt, feel free. Click to view the challenges and make a copy for yourself if you want to edit them.

We have plans to create more challenges for other makerspace items soon. I’ll certainly be sharing those as well.

Gaining Support for Your Makerspace

The idea to start a makerspace in my school wasn’t my idea. The groundwork began before I was hired. I feel my willingness to help grow the idea and my knowledge of and connections to makerspaces in other schools was an added bonus when I joined other educators to keep the ball rolling. When you want to introduce an idea that can lead to a culture shift in a classroom, school library, or building, you cannot do it alone. Gaining supporters along the way, getting buy-in, and educating others along the way is critical.

There are a number of groups that you need to educate along the way. Our district leadership team was the first step. Fortunately, some were involved with the idea from the beginning and others were supportive soon after. That is not always the case. We did, however, need to put together a plan that included our vision, rationale, and timeline for the implementation of the makerspace. I work with some very talented and smart educators. Putting together our plan could have been more difficult if this wasn’t the case, but for us, the process went rather smoothly.

After our plan was shared with the district leadership team, it was time to proceed to the Board of our Educational Foundation. These were the people we were hoping would fund the idea. I’m really not sure what we would have done as a Plan B if they said no. Regardless, our presentation to this group went well and they were on board. The next step, and arguably the most important, was to share the plan with the school staff.

We were given time at a staff meeting to share our plan. Not just a few minutes, but the entire meeting. I believe this showed support from the principal and stressed to the staff the importance of what we were doing. Prior to the meeting, we put a few Keva Planks, Legos, and Little Bits pieces on the tables for teachers to play with. We wanted them to tinker while we talked. We wanted them to experience a few of the items we had in store for the students. We went through our presentation, tweaking it a little for this audience. There weren’t as many questions as I expected. One of the reasons, perhaps, is that we were prepared for what might be asked and tried to do our best to address those concerns in the presentation. This was the third time we shared the plan with a group, streamlining and preparing the message. Overall, I felt the staff was on board with the idea. If they weren’t, they weren’t showing it.

Changing a mindset in a school is not an easy thing. A consistent message needs to be shared with all of the stakeholders. I feel we’ve done a good job communicating the message of what we’re doing and why. We’ve put together a website with resources, have a blog sharing student work, and are sharing ideas via social media. We are just beginning, but we feel we are taking the steps needed to make this a success.

Deciding on the Stuff

This part three in a series of posts related to the creation of a makerspace at Bayside Middle School.
Here are parts one and two.

Getting a makerspace up and running can be both simple and challenging. If you start small, rolling out the concept in your classroom or library can be manageable. We were looking for a bigger splash for a variety of reasons, but also knew this would make the process more challenging. We know we want to create a maker culture in the building and not just throw out a bunch of stuff and see what happens. Changing the culture is not a quick process, but in order to begin, you need to have the stuff so teachers and stakeholders can see the impact on student learning.

Heading into our presentation with the Education Foundation, who we were hoping would fund most of the start-up costs, we needed to put together a wishlist of sorts. We definitely wanted technology to play a big part in the makerspace, but we also wanted to have low-tech or no-tech stations available as well. Again, research played a big role in deciding what would be good for our students. We were putting together wish lists for both an elementary school and a middle school, so keeping in mind the age of students was important. In addition, the space available at the middle school was readily available so we could think bigger. Fortunately, many of the people involved in putting together this list were aware of many makerspace items. If we saw something we were unfamiliar with, we learned more about it.

Fortunately, we received the go ahead in late November to start ordering materials. This allowed us to get our orders placed and have quite of bit of stuff arrive prior to winter break so we could have a “soft opening” of our space when students returned in January. Below is what we decided would be included in the first stage of our makerspace in out middle school.

  • Ollies – We didn’t go with Spheros because I’ve used them in the past and had more connectivity issues that I did with the Ollies. Other educators I spoke with felt the same way.
  • Keva Planks – We knew these would be a hit and that kids could easily show their creativity with the blocks.
  • Paper Roller Coasters – I saw these at the ICE Conference and thought they were great. I loved the idea that many students would be collaborating on this together and it would be easy to just keep growing.
  • Makey Makeys – We ordered several of these knowing students would have a great time controlling the computer via the devices.
  • Bloxels – If a student can create something that turns into a video game, we figured it would be a hit.
  • Lego Wall – Middle school kids still love legos. We ordered a bunch of lego plates and our custodian built and installed the lego wall.
  • Ozobots – These little robots have turned out to be super fun for the students. The students are creating fun mazes and maps for the ozobots to follow.
  • Little Bits – We have a variety of these kits that allow students to connect various electronic blocks that can make sounds, light up, count, and more.
  • Mandala coloring pages – Students love to color and be creative. These pages will meet that need and hopefully provide decoration for our makerspace.
  • 3Doodler Pens – These have been ordered, but haven’t arrived yet. It will be interesting to see what students create with these 3D pens.
  • We also have quite a bit of clay and Play Doh for students to use to create stop motion videos or other multimedia projects. Related to this, we purchased several new tripods and iPad mounts for filming purposes.
  • We also purchased several new iPads and two new Macbook Pros for recording and editing media projects.

We clearly understand that we are just starting and that adjustments will need to be made to the stations. Some areas will be very interesting and successful for the students and some won’t. New items will pop up and we will have to do our due diligence in deciding whether or not these should be added to our space. We will definitely get suggestions and feedback from the students and the staff to find ways to improve our space. The ball is rolling, it’s up to us to keep it moving in the right direction.

Getting Started With Our Makerspace

This part two in a series of posts related to the creation of a makerspace at Bayside Middle School.

I wrote in an earlier post about the makerspace that’s beginning to grow at my school. When we started the process of getting this going, one of the biggest things we needed to do was educate ourselves on makerspaces. I have some background information about makerspaces, but probably not enough to really get one started. My colleagues were in the same situation. We took it upon ourselves to read articles, find books, and attend events to learn what we could. We connected with other educators. I actually decided to start using Diigo again as a place to collect articles, links, and blog posts about makerspaces. I knew a library media specialist in a neighboring district who received a grant for their own Education Foundation for makerspaces, so I reached out to her for advice. We have a tour scheduled in the near future to visit a makerspace in a nearby district and are continuously looking for more information to make sure what we’re doing is on track to be great for students. I’ve also contacted several friends who I consider experts in the field for some guidance as well. We’ve worked hard to make sure we’re doing what’s been successful in other places. We feel we’re on the right track.

It’s been about 2 weeks since we’ve “opened” our makerspace. Our plan for the future includes converting a computer lab next to the library into our official makerspace, but for now, we are using section of the library as our current space. Fortunately, the library is rather large and we have room. We removed some computers and tables that weren’t being used in the area to free up room. I don’t know the exact measurements, but it’s probably at least a 25 x 30 space. We’ve set up stations with various activities for the students. We have a Keva planks section, a spot for creating a paper roller coaster, computers to use with Makey Makeys, Ozobots, and iPads and Bloxels. We will be rolling out more stuff in the near future, which will surely excite the kids

The kids are loving it! There’s so much excitement in the library and so much action. Granted, this is something totally new to them and I’m sure the buzz will wear off at some point, but there is rarely a time throughout the day when someone isn’t there building, experimenting, or creating. Lunch recess and study halls are very popular times with students rushing in to maximize their time. The thing that excites me is the general enthusiasm of the students. They are making comments about the library being a cool place. They’re saying it’s fun and not boring. They want to be there. If that’s the mindset of the students, I think we’re off to a good start.

The Beginning of a Makerspace

Consider this part one in a series of posts related to the creation of a makerspace at Bayside Middle School.

Makerspaces are popping up everywhere. They’re in public libraries. They’re in children’s museums. They’re in schools and school libraries across the country. Now, one is growing in my school library. Last school year, prior to my arrival, the groundwork was being laid for this idea. A very cool green screen studio/podcast room was created and several Lego Mindstorm kits were purchased for use with some of the students. Earlier this fall, the push moved on, with encouragement from district leadership. The district technology specialist, GT teacher, and I met to figure out how to proceed with our interest in a Makerspace. The support of administration was key to us moving forward. We put together a presentation explaining what a makerspace was, why it can be beneficial for students, a potential budget, and what our vision was moving forward. The district leadership team was supportive of the plan and while they didn’t necessarily have an open check book, suggested we look to our Education Foundation for financial support.

We tweaked our presentation, created a cool video (see below), and presented to the the Board of FPBS Education Foundation in early November. After the presentation and many questions, they were on board with the project, but weren’t ready to commit a definite dollar amount just yet. They needed to talk more, but said they would be in contact. After several emails back and forth, we were thrilled to find out they were ready to start supporting the creation of a makerspace with a pretty substantial amount. We were on our way. Now, the fun (and challenging part) begins.

Here’s our splash video that was shared with interested parties.