From Computer Labs to Makerspaces

So nearly 7 months into our official opening of the Makerspace, I thought I would spend  a few minutes and honestly reflect on how it is going (more for my own sanity than anything).

Overall, it’s been a great learning experience and more the most part, it has been a very positive change for the students and the school. I don’t for one second regret the days of a computer lab and don’t think I could ever go back to teaching “technology” as a stand alone subject. I think those days are behind us and schools really do need to transition from this model to a more flexible learning space that reflects the needs of modern-age pedagogy, devices and learning environments (notice how I purposely didn’t use 21st century learning).

computer-lab

So why maker? Is this simply a new educational fad or buzzword, much like differentiation, learning styles, and performance assessment? Perhaps…but I’m willing to bet that it’s hear to stay much longer. Tools come and go but good ideas tend to stand the test of time. For me, it resonates with all my core beliefs in education; student-centered learning, personalized, authentic learning tasks, inquiry and problem-solving. You could argue that these are all buzz words as well but they are good buzz words, at least ones that have a deeper meaning than the former ones.

However, as much as I love technology, I think we really need to move beyond screens. Yes devices help us learn but they are a tool and there needs to be a balance with real hands-on learning using actual physical objects that don’t behave like perfect virtual models. We need things that break, stick, snap, twist and bend. Now more than ever, kids need to more hands-on experiences. As a Gen-Xer (or Gen Yer), we spent hours building forts, making messes, taking things apart and trying to put things back together again. Maybe this is me just being nostalgic but I feel I have a duty to ensure that kids don’t miss out on this.

How to Plan a Family Maker Day for your school

After just finishing our 2nd Maker Day held at our school, I thought it would be a good time to stop and reflect and possibly write a few things down that may help others who are interested in starting one. I am by no means an expert but have learned a couple of things so far. makersaturdaynov

What is a family Maker day? 

A Maker day is a family event that we decided to hold on a Saturday morning (9am-12pm) where students from all ages come in with their parents and engage in a variety of Maker activities. We wanted to keep the “family” aspect of it as we wanted kids to come in with their parents and make, design, innovate together. The activities range from just about anything including robotics, engineering, design challenges, e-textiles, circuit making and cardboard construction. We can’t claim that we created this idea. We got inspired to do this after learning about it from ASB. All stations are flexible so kids can spend as much or as little time on them as they like and there is no set “order” that they have to go through. All stations are fun by volunteer teachers, parents and HS students. We try and keep the atmosphere fun, relaxed but engaging.

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Why hold a Maker Day? 

It’s just another way to raise awareness of what making is all about and begin to build interest and excitement in maker activities and this spills into the curriculum. It’s great for teachers to be able to see what it is all about and work with other students. Students love it and come to the Makerspace excited to try out activities.

How do I go about organizing a Maker Day? 

First off, it’s a ton of work so you need someone (or a couple of people) who have the time and energy to initiate it. There’s no one way to do a Maker Day and lots of different formats. Here’s some of my advice in getting started:

  • Plan early. Get admin on board and book in the event months in advance if possible. Decide on the venue, format and identify people to coordinate it
  • Start small. Maybe plan for 50 students. Our first event had around 100 and our 2nd one this year had about 110 students. Any bigger and it gets hard to manage and you need more volunteers and resources
  • Recruit volunteers early. For each station (ideally), you’ll need one adult/HS student to facilitate it
  • Plan activities. Depending on the age-range, you’ll want a variety of activities that cater to different age groups.
  • Recruit some outside companies to come and do demos. We had several companies come and showcase their products. They can market their products but also adds to the day
  • Involve parents early. Talk to the PTA and try and get a few parents on board to market it to other parents
  • Involve operations in the process. You’ll need some tech support, maintenance workers, cleaners and other support staff to help you out.
  • Test out all activities and make checklists of materials for each station and double-check (triple-check) you have all materials well in advance
  • Make sure you thank and show your appreciate for all volunteers. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible.