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Journey to the student-centered makerspace

Explore a collaborative makerspace where students design the space and take charge of their learning

maker-spaceWhether you know it or not, your students are already making things outside of school. From digital animation and programming to video production and duct tape crafts, it’s surprising the number of outlets students have found to vent their creativity.

So I learned when my school, Wamogo Regional High, decided to harness this expression productively by designing a student-centered makerspace for collaboration, creation, and problem-solving. We wanted a place where students could access materials, equipment and supplies to explore their interests and take on new challenges. And we wanted to create an environment where students could extend their learning, take risks, and build capacity as leaders.

As we designed our makerspace, it was important to consider how our program would fit with both the established core values of our school and our 21st century learning expectations, such as information literacy, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and community and civic responsibility. We knew it all began with the students.

I met with as many students as possible at first and created surveys to collect information on their interests. Students were an invaluable resource in putting together our makerspace and helping me choose the tools and supplies we needed to get started. Of course the students were extremely excited about the prospect. “I think this will have so much impact on kids,” one student told me. Another chimed in, “If we could do this all day, I would live at school!”

Next page: Turn students into mentor leaders


Engage your students
In the past five months, our makerspace has grown into a community of students who are building, animating, constructing, deconstructing, editing, and developing as makers. We also engaged students in mentoring others as a way to share their knowledge and connect with their community.

Students with skills in animation, coding, photo editing, video production and even fly-tying offered their support. The list of skills that students shared was the beginnings of our “maker mentors.” These high school students offered their expertise in technology to a group of middle school students, through mini-lessons at the end of last year.

But students also help each other every day, with using the 3D printer and troubleshooting their digital designs. One student is working collaboratively on a stop-motion animation project with students who are highly skilled in video production and music editing. A student who is passionate about being a fashion designer co-facilitated our fashion challenge in the makerspace, where students repurposed t-shirts into unique garments and accessories.

Offering an array of options is important to engaging as many students as possible. Our students are interested in technology, art, construction, and crafts. We are constantly collecting ideas from our students and monitoring their interests as we create our maker stations. Students take inspiration from the stations, but always seem to put their own spin on their self-directed learning.

On a typical day, students may be taking-apart electronics, working on digital 3D modeling, sewing, or experimenting with game controllers. We’ve started to include makerspace time as a part of our middle school activity nights, and high school students are excited to plan their own event. The makerspace is both a social and creative hub for our students in the library.

Next page: Taking risks with staff and students


Connect to your staff
We all work with many talented and creative people. No doubt there are several “makers” on your staff. While planning your makerspace, include teachers, administrators and staff in your conversations. Our makerspace environment was a team effort. I worked closely with our staff to repurpose spaces in the library media center. The change included clearing out a desktop computer lab, an AV closet, and magazine closet. I worked with IT and facilities staff to create a more student-centered environment. And I shared information about our makerspace with our teachers and asked for feedback through a survey.

Currently we have several teachers who assign projects that include students utilizing the makerspace as a resource. But they don’t micromanage. Students work independently in the makerspace with their peers to create their projects. Teachers see the value that the makerspace has to support and enrich the project-based learning going on in their classes.

Take risks
Creating a makerspace can seem like a daunting task especially when you start to think of all of the unfamiliar elements. I was a bit apprehensive when the 3D printer arrived and wondered how I would manage not being skilled at so many maker things happening in our space. I realized that I needed to be more willing to take risks and make mistakes, especially if I was going to expect this from our students.

And I learned that what you don’t know, you learn. At this point, I feel skilled at both using the 3D printer and fixing it! There are a lot of great support resources (like the manual) and YouTube that are there to help you. I learn right alongside our students as we troubleshoot Sketchup, decipher origami diagrams and correct sewing machine malfunctions. It’s important for our students to see us problem-solve and build our own repertoire of skills.

The makerspace experience has enriched the learning environment at our school and created a place where students are free to take risks and pursue their interests. My goal is that the maker environment is beginning to fostering a culture of innovation throughout our academic day and beyond.

Abbe Waldron is a library media specialist at Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, CT. Follow her @abbewaldron; @wamogomakers.

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