Cool Tools for School, Thing 23: Makerspaces

 

I can’t remember when I first heard or read about Maker Spaces but I do know I’ve been intrigued by them from that first moment. I think for me, the big appeal of Maker Spaces is that they encourage experimentation and exploration. There are no right ways to do things, only things to try at a Maker Space. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my younger brother and me playing with our Legos. Our Legos we’re mostly hand-me-downs so they were just in a big tub, no boxes or directions. In fact, we didn’t realize that Legos came in sets with predetermined purposes until we were much older. We would play with our Legos for hours, using our imagination to come up with all sorts of characters and adventures for them to have. I love the idea of my students having a place to feel that same kind of wonder and possibility.

And unfortunately, in my experience, while we say we want kids to be problem solvers and innovative thinkers, we don’t actually let them innovate or give them time to problem solve and make their own answers. So much of what they learn in school is scripted and controlled and creativity is squashed except when we want them to turn it on (I’m just as guilty of this an anyone-the last thing I want when I’m teaching a lesson is for some kid to make a fort at the table and turn his activity sheet into an origami bird).  Maker Spaces can give our students the time to explore, tinker, think, experiment, and gain confidence.

I’d hoped to start a Maker Club in my library this year. I spent the summer collecting ideas for potential projects, I signed up for some different PD offerings about Maker Clubs, I got my principal’s permission to start one and I even talked to my school’s art teacher about running it with me. But then, it kind of stalled out on me. The biggest hurdle I was facing was supplies. I knew I could spend some of my budget money on supplies for the club but I also knew that I would run out of those supplies fast and I just wasn’t sure where to get more supplies in a timely fashion. So, my big goal for this Cool Tool was to reach out to someone and get some tips on supplying my Maker Club.

I was super psyched to see that one of the maker club articles Polly posted was from my alma mater, Pioneer Central (middle school). After reading some of her blog entries, including the one about her maker club, I emailed Maria for some tips and suggestions and boy did she deliver! Maria not had tons of useful suggestions, she followed up with an email with links to all the forms and power points she created for her maker club!

Here were some of Maria’s suggestions:

1. If you have a school in your area that has a First Lego League or
robotics club, see if they would be willing to loan supplies (or run a
workshop with your club).
2. Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grants.  The deadline for this cycle has
passed, but you could jump on for the next one.
http://www.toolboxforeducation.com/
3. Email the staff in your building for donations.  That is how we obtained
the majority of our craft material.  People always have stuff that they are
looking to get rid of.
4. Join the CSTA – a computer science organization.  It’s free.
Periodically, they send out some grant opportunity stuff.
http://csta.acm.org/
5. You might want to check out the Finch Robot loan program.  The deadline
has passed, but it would be worth a try to see if they would send you a kit
anyway.  http://www.finchrobot.com/loan-program/main
6. If all else fails, use some of your budget.  I used around $150 of
library money to get some Makey Makeys and squishy circuit kits…stuff
that wasn’t disposable that I knew we would be able to use for years to
come.

So far, I’ve emailed my co-workers to keep the library in mind while doing their spring cleaning this year and I’ve talked to one of my 5th grade teachers about helping me set up something on Donors Choose. He’s used that site to score several iPad minis and cases for his class this year and is pretty excited about helping someone else get something going.

Fingers crossed that this time next year, I’ll be using this Cool Tool space to tell everyone about what we’ve done at my school and what I’ve learned about running a Maker Club!

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