How to Be Brave: The Year of the Makerspace

I’ve been thinking about this post by Cari Young over at “The Centered School Library” blog, as well as the last few issues of School Library Journal and I think as a school library community, we should dub the 2013-14 school year “The Year of the Makerspace.”  The “maker movement” and talk of libraries as makerspaces is a growing trend, and one I really, really love.

Here are just a few of the ideas I’ve been getting from Pinterest:

At PSLA this year, there was some buzz about makerspaces at the Unconference discussion about library spaces.  I wrote it off as something for secondary libraries to do, because on a mostly-fixed schedule, I’m struggling to keep the library running smoothly without anything extra.

But then I started thinking about being brave, and how I believe students have far too little time to just think and create and do and play.  It’s all test prep this, and Common Core that.  The information literacy curriculum, and the time I use to teach it, sometimes feels like it’s being swept away too.  I used to pride myself on being an unofficial oasis from the constant barrage of worksheets and reading prompts.  When I’m being very honest with myself, however, I notice that my library instruction often mirrors rather than contrasts that kind of teaching.  I’m faced with the fact that my instruction needs to evolve to be more interactive and more student-focused, even on a fixed library class schedule.

So I’ve been looking into Cari Young’s library centers structure of teaching, and a makerspace could be one way for students to practice information skills by searching and using information that’s relevant to them.  Finding how-to videos and related photos is a skill.  So is knowing how and when to post/share their own how-to project videos.  It’s information literacy, digital citizenship, and STEM learning all rolled into one!  Once students hone those skills, whole worlds of making and creating DIY projects that interest them become available!

Of course, the DIY / makerspace isn’t every student’s cup of tea.  That’s okay.  I don’t envision the makerspace as something that needs to operate year-round at first.  I’m thinking of having a “science center” that will rotate with different activities, and the makerspace would be one part of it.

I have some basic ideas on how I’m going to manage something like this without giving the makerspace students my full attention.  I have no idea how many of these ideas/plans will get implemented, but my prediction is precious few.

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The Makerspace/Science Center Plan as of Today:

  • Where to put it? – The makerspace could be located on top of the low shelves in the nonfiction section…right above the 740’s section of crafty, DIY books and close to the 600’s tech/inventions section.  I usually use this space for book displays, but I think this is a better use for now.  I’m sure a stack of books next to the makerspace would serve the same purpose anyway.  I also might use a low table next to our library’s only window.
  • Shopping – Possibly my favorite part!
    • I bought a “moveable toy” book with library funds called “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine” by Debbie Sterling to introduce the concept of reading and creating simultaneously.  $30 was well worth the investment, and I think it would be a great place to start for elementary school libraries.
    • I also used my own funds to buy a Base Kit and Premium Kit of littleBits™ which are used to make electrical circuits that do stuff…light up, buzz, spin, etc.  I love that they have NO heat or soldering involved to make something cool.  They’re a little pricey, so I didn’t want to invest library money in them yet, and if the library makerspace doesn’t work out, I still have young family members who would love them for Christmas/birthdays.
    • I also looked at the Makerspace Playbook for a supplies list.  Of course, Though the littleBits™ will do the electrical heavy lifting, the list of crafty materials is wonderful.  I’m also going to let students to bring their own (clean!) materials in.
  • Task cards – Oh, what a wonderful idea that teachers have come up with to give a wide variety of directions to students!  I’ve created a freebie in my TpT store that takes the littleBits™ 101 tutorial online and makes them into sequential task cards.  I’ve been in contact with the littleBits™ education division (VERY nice people and excellent customer service!), and I have permission to use the online photos in some of the task cards.
  • Possible theft – I’d be naive to think that this won’t be a temptation.  I think most students will appreciate the space for what it is and understand the pieces need to be shared with the rest of the school.  It’s really no different than loaning books, though, and I trust them with that.  But if some of the bits “disappear” or “walk away,” the makerspace may need to close for a time.  Besides, littleBits™ are sold individually if I would need to replace some.

So that’s my plan.  I’m excited, exhausted, and a bit scared actually.  I don’t think that’s such a bad place to be, though.  I’m getting used to it anyway, so I’m taking that as a good sign that I’m practicing “being brave.”

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Mrs. J in the Library

Collette J., or Mrs. J in the Library, is a full-time elementary teacher-librarian, blogger, and mama from Pennsylvania. She loves technology, books in any format, makerspaces, and all things Harry Potter. The information and opinions represented here are her own and are not the views and opinions of any business or organization.

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