Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Making Makerspace

There are dozens of resources available to tell you about makerspace. How to create one, how to implement one, etc. Articles about libraries as the hub for a school's makerspace; articles telling you what you need to set up and what kinds of projects you might do; and many, many, many books to read to better understand and implement a makerspace.

I was thinking about makerspace today as I was watching a couple of kindergarten students build a fantastic structure with wooden blocks. And then I was watching some kids make drawings influenced by a rather heated conversation about emojis. And later I watched some kids figure out how to create their own manipulatives so they could better understand a particular way of solving a particular kind of math problem.

Makers. Making. And just randomly in a classroom.

I agree that some resources for some kinds of makerspace activities require storage and often an electrical outlet so those tools also require rules. And I agree that having a space or resources for kids to use for specific kinds of tasks or problems, or for extension activities, or for supplemental work when they've finished their other work might require a separate space if only to reduce distraction for other kids and for storage.

But I've also seen what kids can do with some craft sticks and Play-Doh®. Toss in some markers, a few sheets of construction paper, some chenille sticks, and random other stuff and who knows what they'll make? Give them access to a tablet or laptop with the ability to record something and stand back.

Then they'll be asking for other stuff when they say "It would be cool if we had something that let us. . . " because they might know exactly what they want but they have an image in their heads for what they want to create, to make.

So when schools and teachers talking about setting aside space so they can have a single place for making, I assume that's mostly for quality and damage control because making can be messy.

If you're waiting for a budget or a special room for a makerspace, stop waiting. Get some craft sticks, duct tape in different sizes and colors, chenille sticks, styrofoam shapes, and whatever else. Mismatched buttons, leftover pieces of cardboard, small nuts and bolts that don't seem to have a home, leftover wire, glue sticks, yarn or string. All kinds of stuff you can pick up while walking through Michael's, Hobby Lobby, your garage, and elsewhere. If you want to be organized, but each of them in their own bins or baskets. Or just make the stuff available on a table or on a shelf in your classroom.

Kids get to use and make something when they've finished their work. But they have to make some thing and they have to be able to describe what they've made and why they've made it. No sentence or paragraph requirements. Just something so you know they know what they made and why they made it that way or why they made it at all.

They can write their descriptive information (index cards, cut out letters on construction paper, lengths of adding machine tape, scraps of paper taped together) or they can record it (podcast-like, paper slide, video).

How do you grade it? You don't. They got to do it for fun. They learned something. You learned something about them, and about how they think and learn and what intrigues or interests them. That is important data.

I was hanging out with kinders not too long ago and one of the young boys was all over one of the coding apps. I told his teacher how engrossed he was and how good he was at figuring out how to complete the task. She pointed to the kid to make sure we were talking about the same little guy. We were. "Huh," she said. "I never would have imagined."

And there you have it. One of the reasons we let them make. . .whatever they're going to make even as they make a mess. Because we too rarely imagine what could be and we too rarely give our students the opportunity to imagine.

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