Promises and Pitfalls: Collaborative MakerSpace Grants

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This post is part of a series from ASCD Emerging Leaders who received an Innovation Grant. The ASCD Innovation Grant program is designed to support innovative approaches to whole child education; help emerging leaders grow professionally; and gather information that may help improve the way other educators learn, teach, and lead.

By Meghan Everette

Promises and Pitfalls: Collaborative MakerSpace GrantsMiddle school students in Chicago, an elementary computer tech classroom in New Jersey, 3- to 9-year-old deaf students in an after school program, and a 3rd grade 1:1 class in the Gulf Coast of Alabama: notice any commonalities? A group of four educators sought to give each of these student populations access to the Maker Movement by using grant money from the ASCD Emerging Leaders program for projects that would inspire, engage, and connect students. The joy, wonder, and passion that comes from independent learning with real-life results permeated each of the four groups, but obstacles were ever present. The projects were first attempts that better prepared students, and coordinating teachers, for the next trial. At the end of the year, each of us took away different lessons for future collaborators and makers, which we shared over e-mail and Voxer chats and in-person at ASCD’s Leader to Leader conference.

Wearable Electronics and Young Makers

Chris Yuknis, Gallaudet University

Chris Yuknis and her coteacher used funds to purchase a sewing machine and wearable electronics for their CosMakerSpace, which combines making with sewing, costumes, and wearable technology. They worked with two groups of students, one with students with additional disabilities who needed a lot of support and one with students who were on level developmentally. The group that needed more support was not able to move beyond a basic level of creating. They took a long time to complete one project because their skill development took longer at each step of the process. They were not able to make it to machine sewing or wearable electronics.

The second group joined the CosMakerSpace for a short amount of time, but they were able to move on to creating at a different level. Despite being younger than the third and fourth graders , the 3 to 7 year olds were able to make it to machine sewing, although not at an independent level as they had not yet developed the fine motor skills to be able to manipulate the fabric on the table.

The big lessons learned are that students need more support initially in getting started with making, and providing language support around the language of sewing and making was really helpful. Here are three pieces of advice for others: (1) smaller groups are more manageable in terms of safety and providing support; (2) knowing your students’ levels beforehand will help you to know how much teaching and support you need to provide; and (3) some direct instruction to set the tone of the MakerSpace is critical to get the kids ready for how the MakerSpace will run.

Robotics in the Middle Grades

Laura Ferrell, Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School

Laura Ferrell’s school had an existing MakerSpace and benefited from the purchase of additional Mindstorm robotics. Students enjoyed the thrill of witnessing their coding and programming coming to life. Several students expressed interest in learning more about the inner workings of robots and developed independent learning paths to discover more about the engineering behind the product. One opportunity that arose was the quest for additional funding to purchase more units. Mindstorms are intended to be connected in various ways, much like regular Legos. Ferrell and her staff will seek additional funding to build their materials list. The biggest lesson they learned is that educators need to continue to seek ways in which students can lend their voice to their work. Their advice for educators in MakerSpaces is this: listen to your students and budget for student-guided inquiry—both are invaluable in facilitating and sustaining a MakerSpace.

Exceptional Elementary Technology

Billy Krakower, Beatrice Gillmore Elementary School

Billy Krakower sought out several funding opportunities through Donors Choose and was able to supplement the available grant money awarded through the ASCD Emerging Leader Innovation grant. This allowed him to purchase Ozbots for his technology classroom in addition to MakerSpace supplies. Working with gifted and talented students in a small setting worked well for the intricacy of the Ozbots. Students were eager to explore and learn, but the curriculum guides that came with the products were not conducive to classroom objectives and had to be modified. Going forward, Krakower advises, MakerSpace ideas and the Ozobots themselves need to be incorporated better throughout the curriculum so that more students can participate. His advice is that sometimes you do not need a plan every detail of every lesson. Just letting students explore is a great learning experience for all.

Genius Hour Meets RtI

Meghan Everette, Daphne Elementary School

Our 1:1 Macbook environment with a built-in 40-minute segment to end the day seemed the perfect opportunity for 3rd graders to explore the lessons of a MakerSpace environment (perseverance, creativity, and out-of-the-box solutions) while diving into topics of particular interest to them. New supplies to stretch our existing supply included large Lego kits and expansion products for Snap Circuits. Students started the year journaling about areas they felt they had a particular genius and topics that interested them. They were guided through activities that stretched their thinking, such as the design challenges of the Hot Wheels Speedometry Kit and Lego Design contests in the classroom. As students built up to being able to independently craft learning paths and follow them, our school dramatically changed schedules, leaving me to teach ELA three times a day and turning our 40-minute block into intervention time. To give students the hands-on exploratory time they had come to expect, our class began using traditional celebration days as design days. Third bell students who have an extended 20 minutes began using coding programs. Down time after field days and odd-schedule days became circuits and physics lessons. Based on my experiences, here is some advice: (1) learn to roll with the punches just like you want your students to do; (2) always have supplies and a lesson ready for any extra time that falls in your lap; and (3) maximize those odd minutes throughout the schedule to carve and protect time that every student needs.

All four groups planned to use their funds to purchase items for projects that best fit the age, existing structures, and interests of each particular student group. This task was easily accomplished. However, the second part of our collaborative plan was a bit more difficult. Our plan was to encourage classes by digitally connecting students via Skype, Google Hangout, and Drive documents. We planned to give students simple engineering tasks that any age could accomplish and let them share their results. For example, students might be given pipe cleaners and told to build the tallest structure possible within a time limit and then share their results and thinking with the other groups. This proved difficult due to time constraints, age differences, conflicting cross-state schedules, and discrepancies in supplies. Our advice? Design challenges that use limited materials and suit a variety of age groups. Create a calendar of activities with plenty of time for each challenge. Rely on video sharing to avoid timing conflicts with live video feeds. And forgive yourself—you are learning, too.

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Meghan Everette is a teacher on special assignment working as a K–6 math coach in the Salt Lake School District. She previously taught in Mobile and Daphne, Alabama, including George Hall Elementary, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Turn-Around Model. Everette is a Top Teaching blogger for Scholastic and a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader and Influence Leader. She also leads the #EdAdvBecause and #TopTeaching Twitter chats. She was Alabama’s Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2013 and is a current Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow.

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