Friday, September 01, 2017

Put the "make" in your makerspace

When my son was in high school, our high school had really old technology. There were no CD/DVD players, just videotape machines. So, when his friends were done creating their great multimedia projects on DVD using their home computers, they would come to our house to move the project from DVD to videotape. We had everything they needed to succeed.
I consider my house  to be a giant makerspace– I have a craft room for jewelry making, basket weaving, and paper crafts; I have a sewing center with all my material and notions. I have a full wood shop at my disposal. I have two desktop computer set-ups, one with a 3-D printer and one with a mic and Adobe’s Creative Cloud for creating. I have a small dye-sublimation printer, two large inkjet/scanners, and two small laser printers. I have all types of gadgets including 360° cameras, a 3D printing pen, digital SLRs, iPads, Android tablets, a Chromebook, a Mac laptop,  and a Windows laptop. I have a slide/photo/negative scanner, a USB turntable, DVD burners, good headphones, and green screens. (The only thing  am still waffling about purchasing is a consumer-grade die cut machine.)
My vision of a makerspace is a room which includes anything a student might need to create. It should give all students access to the low tech materials and the high tech devices. Not every computer has to be a powerful machine, but there needs to be at least one “blinged out” machine with a midi keyboard, scanner, good microphone, and a whole lot of high-end audio and video production software installed on it. Every student does not need that type of computer all of the time, but there is no substitute for it when a students does need it to create and render a 3-model or high-definition video.
Does the equipment in the makerspace area have to directly support the curriculum? I truly believe it does. Does a makerspace have to have Bee Bots, Makey Makeys, fidget spinners, and Raspberry Pi’s? I personally don’t believe so.  I think a makerspace should be more about creating than learning. There are plenty of learning spaces in schools — they are called classrooms. A makerspace should give students access to the materials, hardware, and software  they need to plan, build, create, and produce their project. There should be cardboard, duct tape, glue, and fabric, as well as computers, printers, cameras, and scanners. Makerspaces of this type are sometimes called makerlabs.
How does one decide what this type of makerspace/makerlab should contain? How should it be designed? How do you know what is the best fit for the students in your school? I believe some pedagogical changes may also need to occur before students start using a makerspace. Teachers must be given the time to experiment andsee how items found in the makerspace work.
Once teachers are familiar with the items in the space, this should be followed by developing creative assessments that allow students to create in the way they feel comfortable creating. At EdCamp Cape Cod in August, a high school teacher told the story of a class who came to the makerspace with a rubric, and had to create their own version of the Globe Theater. Several students used SketchUp, some used drawing tablets, others used Legos, one used Minecraft, and one student even baked a Globe Theater cake (at home).  The visualizations of the theater were all different and each student had the opportunity to explain their design process to the rest of the class. But all, except the cake-baker, had access in the makerspace to the materials and technology they needed to create.
What about the “space” in makerspace? Brainstorming, iteration, and development sometimes take collaboration or at least a discussion with a peer. A makerspace should have a place for students to move away from the larger group and have a quiet discussion. Chairs and small tables should be moveable to create specialized group work areas as needed. The walls should be covered in traditional white boards for writing and drawing. In addition, students need to understand how to work effectively in small groups, which is a practiced and learned skill. Discovery Education has a series of activities, called Spotlight on Strategies, which can help students learn to work together cooperatively and collaboratively.
Creating is sometimes dirty. There should be areas that have counters and tables with laminate tops and a sink to be able to wash up the paint and glue that will invariably be left behind. Small hand vacuums are great for glitter cleanup and paper shards that are left behind.  The high tech equipment should be kept as far away from the “messy” maker materials as possible.
There should also be a closet with a door (and window) that one or two students can use when recording audio. Too many educational projects are spoiled by loud classroom noise in the background, and students really want their final products to sound professional. Having access to a good microphone, like a Blue Yeti, is also a great addition.
(Updated 11/12/18) If you have limited funds, I suggest you start with items that are low-cost and then, once there is a plan for using that technology or device in a more comprehensive way, the school can move up to the “real” thing. For example, the purchase of a few 3D printing pens, like the 3Doodler  pens, allows teachers and students to easily experience what it is like to create a 3D object. The process is the same as that of a 3D printer– the pen heats up, the filament is fed into the hot pen, and it is extruded out the tip. 3Doodler also offers educational support. When it comes to 3D printers, I believe purchasing a high-quality printer that both is easy-to-use, includes advanced features like a camera to monitor the print jobs when you are not in the room,  and is a workhorse for the many student projects that will be printed, is the best idea. Having multiple lower-cost printers might seem like it would meet the classroom needs better, but access to a shared, full-featured printer would be my choice. I recommend the MakerBot Replicator+ for your 3D printing needs. In addition to it meeting all the requirements I state above, MakerBot offers tons of support to educators with their handbooks and certification programs, as well as Webinars and in-person trainings.
Students and teachers love die-cutting objects. Traditionally, schools had rather expensive manual die-cutting tools. Each wood block had one letter or decorative object and there was a press that held the block and cut out the letters. The updated version of these die cutters include the Cricut and Silhouette die-cutting machines that are found at craft and hobby stores. They make a wonderful addition to any makerspace. If the use of cut-out shapes and characters become a necessary part of the curriculum for storytelling, letter recognition, or decoration, the next step up would be the Variquest Cutout Maker. This computer-controlled cutter can cut different sizes of the same item (1 to a page or 20 to a page) and is fast and easy to use. The cut-outs from these new die cutters can make any project look professional.

Have you developed a makerspace similar to this model? What other materials or technology do you have for students to use to create? Share your thoughts on Twitter! #kathyschrock