Makerspaces have been the talk of the town in libraries all over the land. Matter of fact, I knew when I started my journey as a librarian two school years ago that I needed to have one of these magical places in my library. I started with some research then scoured the internet for innovative ideas for STEM challenges and other items to put in my makerspace. I had yet to meet my students, and since we were a brand new middle school, the entire staff was in the same boat! We were ecstatically planning for a school full of students we didn’t know. I started out with some low-tech, low-cost STEM challenges such as the army person launcher challenge, the airplane cargo challenge, and the newspaper tower challenge.
I was able to collect many items from around my own house, and I reached out to staff members for items they no longer needed and were willing to donate as well. This enabled me to get started without any huge expense, and since the school year’s budget was not yet available, that was a good thing. I also learned that the district office had makerspace items for checkout. I was able to schedule many items that rotate from building to building such as a giant chess set, Littlebits, Bloxels, K’Nex, and many other more expensive high-tech and low-tech options. This also allowed me to see if my students were interested in the items so I could decide if an investment was warranted. Some of the funding since my startup has come from my annual library budget, but the majority of funding for larger purchases such as our own K’Nex set, VR goggles with an iPod, and our BB8 Droid has come from book fair profits. Scholastic actually has some of these items in their catalog. If you have the book fair dollars, it’s a great place to spend those funds.
An important issue that came up in my planning was when the students would be able to use the makerspace. I decided at that moment that our library should be open at lunch as an alternative to recess. Students would sign up on a Google form the day before and then sign in as they entered. The response was awesome. Kids wanted to do the STEM challenges, they used the books on drawing I pulled from our collection, they made duct tape everything (and the tape was gone in a flash). They hammered away on nail art and loved it (yikes! I knew this could not continue into year two if I wanted to stay sane).
Some lessons were learned that first year. 1) If I could get one student to try a new activity or challenge, others would follow. 2) Things can quickly become old news. Put them in the cupboard for a couple months, then pull them back out and they’re brand new again. 3) Low tech is just as popular as high tech. 4) Loud is okay, but too loud is not. 5) They will take the stuff and make stuff you didn’t plan or intend (this is good, this is one actual purpose of a makerspace, and when it happens, it is a beautiful mess). 6) Kids can learn how to pick up after themselves and take ownership of a space if you are consistent and follow through with expectations. 7) Ask students what they’d like to see in their makerspace. They will tell you. 8) Watch how students use the spaces in the room and move the furniture around.
I’m now in the middle of year two of my makerspace journey, and I continue to watch the students create and use their space. I think by far, the most important lesson of all is to observe closely and feel this living, breathing makerspace take shape--Not the shape you see in all of the pretty catalogs, but the shape of your students and their interests and their imaginations.
Sara Meier, Moore Middle School Teacher Librarian
This blog is a joint effort by members of the NSLA Executive Board. We hope to provide relevant information, tips and tools to help you in your journey.