You may have heard of makerspaces and be ready to jump in on the fun or you may already have a fully functioning and fun makerspace already, either way – I am glad you’re here!
This is my story of how I created a makerspace in my first job as a librarian with no room, no money, and no time in the schedule! Read on to see more on the IDEA-LAB!
The library is changing from a boring, dusty room of books to be an active space for student engagement and learning. One of the ways we must grow as librarians with the role is to keep up-to-date with the progression of libraries and services. Makerspaces are a way to bring hands-on learning, experimentation, teamwork, and innovation into our spaces. It is especially important as the world around us changes and the reliance on STEAM activities in career fields increases. Students need to be prepared to engage with a variety of tasks and the makerspace can address multiple areas of development and education.
Even more importantly, the makerspace is a chance to help combat the digital divide especially in schools with underserved or marginalized students. It is a fact that the STEM field is largely made up of white men while women and minorities are missing from STEM workforces. Introducing STEM through makerspaces in schools will help to bridge this gap as students gain self-efficacy and interests in coding, engineering, robotics, filming, and more!
When starting my makerspace, I first prepared a short presentation explaining what a “makerspace” was to my admin team and how it will benefit students. I made a wish list of all the items that I would hope to have in a makerspace and shared it with my admin team, as well. You should always have a wish list handy, sometimes in schools the budget has to be spent up by a certain time and admin teams will look for things to spend money on in a “use it or lose it” case and if your list is ready first, you might just get that money! I explained that I would fundraise money to buy the initial items and work them into my media lesson to start with since I didn’t have money in the budget or free-time in the day for students to use the area. My first fundraiser was through Barnes and Noble Book Fairs. They have the option for you to have a fundraiser where you advertise with your school community that if they buy something on a certain weekend and tell them it is for the school, the school gets a percentage of the sales. I had a local DJ from a popular hip-hop radio station, DJ EZone, set up a dance party in Barnes and Noble! It was a great way to get the students’ attention. They also have a chance for you (at least in my store) to sign up for a weekend near Christmas to run the gift wrapping table and you get to keep the tips. My Barnes and Noble rep in Tallahassee was Stephanie and she was honestly one of my biggest supporters and help during this process. Make connections with your local store today if you haven’t already done so!
Okay, so I raised some money (about $500) and brought some initial items – I started with two Fisher Price Code-a-Pillar, LittleBits, and 4 Ozobots. My mom also made a Lego table for me out of my old coffee table. My dad removed the old glass insert and cut a piece of plywood to fill the whole. Then, my mom painted the entire table yellow and glued large Lego plates to the entire top. I asked for free Legos online and in a parent’s forum and had TONS donated!
At this time, I didn’t have an official “Makerspace” in the library yet. I kept the items in tubs and brought them out of my office and set them up on the library tables for lessons and free-play before school. The Lego table found a permanent home in the library space and students could use it before school, after checking out books, at lunch, or if their teachers sent them down to the library. It also became a place for students who needed a break from class to calm down which was a great way for me to connect with students. I did print out challenge cards (build something tall, build a bridge, build blindfolded, etc.) for the students to complete challenges.https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
Okay, so I have items – NOW WHAT?!?!? Well, I had to use them and show that I was using them! I designed lesson plans around the items and had students using them in many different lessons. I would photograph my lessons and share it in my monthly newsletters (yes, you should always brag about what you do!), I would post photos (not of student faces) on social media and tag the school district, and key players, AND most importantly, I would schedule my teacher evaluations and observations on days when I had lessons planned with my makerspace equipment so I was guaranteed the admin team would see it in action. The admin team was so into my lessons, that one day they were giving a tour to a local business, Dale Jr. Chevrolet, who had just donated a lot of money to our school and they brought them to the library to see a lesson. I explained to them my idea and get this… they asked for my wish list! They bought my entire list, y’all – the entire thing. ALWAYS have your wish list ready to go!
Now I have the items, I needed the space. I redesigned the library with a focus on creating a learning commons with unique spaces for quiet reading, tables for work, soft seating, and of course the makerspace. Once I had the area set, I had shelves, a kidney table, and signage! Ta-Da! My makerspace had a permanent home. Students could work at the kidney table or take a tub to any of the tables in the media center. When I tell you I saw such a change in these kiddos, I am not lying. The normal “cliques” of students dispersed and you would see two students who normally never said a word to each other working on putting the Snap Circuits together to make a fan spin, while two students colored, a few did Lego challenges, and others read silently. It was amazing and totally transformed the library space.
Honestly, it doesn’t have to use special items or be super techy to get started. Simple recyclable items can be used to create art projects or designs. It is about creativity, problem-solving, working together, and learning to fail in a safe space.