The Makerspace. When it didn't work...but it wasn't a failure.

It Didn’t Work…but It Wasn’t a Failure

Last year I immersed myself in maker education. I followed everyone imaginable, read every book published, and learned as much as I could. As my knowledge grew, I became more and more excited about what a makerspace could look like at my school. Our district was also immersing itself in blended education and was big on the idea of the library as a Learning Commons. After working with our Director of Infrastructure Technology, Director of Instructional Technology, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, and my building administrators, a makerspace vision was developed.

I also made this infographic.

Knowing I would be on maternity leave for the 1st marking period, I did as much planning prior to the start of the school year. Unfortunately/fortunately, my bundle of joy arrived nearly a month early and I wasn’t at the spot I needed to be in order to officially “start” the Makerspace.

I returned to school a few weeks ago and had the official “grand opening” of the HMS Makerspace. Kids flocked to the library. I mean FLOCKED. It was chaos. Beautiful chaos. And I loved it! It was the best distraction from being away from my children.

And after a few days, the beauty disappeared and it was just chaos. Pure and simple.

And I was devastated.

So I paused. I put everything on hold and just watched and observed. I needed to know what was going wrong in order for me to fix it. And I’m so glad I did. I learned that some of the “best” things about my school and my library were actually working against the way I had set up the Makerspace.

Wide Open Spaces

Our library is this large, open space with huge ceilings and glass wall/window overlooking our courtyard. It’s a beautiful space. Unfortunately, the echo is AWFUL. Imagine having a library in a natatorium without any sound barriers (yeah, it’s that bad). So the echo is great if you’re trying preserve the traditional quiet library space, as even a whisper travels across the room. Without saying too much more, you can see why this is an issue.

Staggered Classes and Study Halls

Our middle school operates on a traditional 7 period day, but each grade level has a slightly adjusted schedule (don’t worry if you don’t understand, I don’t either). Students visit the library before school, after school, and during “flex” (study hall). Since each grade level has a slightly adjusted schedule, 7th grade could be in core classes while 8th grade is having their flex period. I work on a flexible schedule which is AWESOME, except for when the class overlaps with flex (which it ALWAYS does). Because of problem #1, I am forced to close the library for flex when I have a class scheduled.

Not Everyone Wants to Use the Makerspace

This was big for me. I think I was trying to make the entire library a makerspace. I think I was so excited to eliminate the notion of the “traditional” library, that I forgot that it still serves a purpose. School libraries are first and foremost a place to support the students and the curriculum. And while the makerspace has a huge curricular impact, it addresses one piece of the pie. I still needed a place for students to read quietly, work on homework, and makeup tests. Not every student comes to the library to code or make Justin Bieber’s eyes light up with LittleBits. And while it seems obvious now, it took me a while to realize this. Fortunately, everyone around me realized it and pointed it out to me. Some kids explained that they couldn’t concentrate in the library. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to enjoy the makerspace, but they had priorities and I was making their decision difficult by tempting them with these cool things. Teachers explained that they really counted on the library as a place to send kids if their study hall was noisy and kids needed to focus.

What to do?

It was clear that we had students that wanted to come to the library for the makerspace and students that wanted to come to the library for a focused, academic purpose. Unfortunately, because of our open floor plan, they were on top of each other. So I was sitting in my office drawing up some plans of how I could once again rearrange the library (my maintenance department was going to kill me). And then it hit me. My office. Let’s move the makerspace into my office. 

     

It took me all of 30 minutes to clean out my office. It was only my second year at this school so I hadn’t accumulated much stuff. Further, I hated being in there anyway. Even though the office has glass walls (which makes it PERFECT for the makerspace), I always felt as though there was a barrier between me and the students. Again, barrier = PERFECT for this situation.

I had already scheduled my maintenance department to come in and help me move things, but while they were there, I ran by an idea that I found at AASL. And it worked AWESOME! We have these beautiful, sturdy oak tables, but they aren’t the best for flexible spaces. So we purchased some castors and my maintenance department replaced the feet with wheels 🙂 It’s awesome! Now I have beautiful, study furniture that is also moveable!

So here are some pictures of our “NEW” Makerspace. Although its a little cramped, it doesn’t seem to bother the kids.

LittleBits station (on our “new” moveable tables)
MakeyMakey station (my old desk)
Ozobot station

I learned so much through this process.

  1. Makerspaces aren’t a one-size-fits-all model. Keep your school’s vision and mission at the heart of the space.

  2. Creating a makerspace doesn’t mean abandoning your library.

  3. Succeeding after a failure is SO much more rewarding. And after all, isn’t that what we’re trying to teach our kids through maker activities?

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