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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Makerspaces

Before discussing today's topic, a special announcement!  Our 1:1 deployment of Chromebooks has already been accomplished for our high school students.  The next group of middle schoolers were going to get their devices this summer . . . but thanks to the generous support of our Board, the timetable has been moved up!  Chromebooks for our 6th to 8th graders have been purchased, and we hope to deploy them next month in January.   So I now will be spending a majority of my time floating between our two middle schools for support.

And now, to the topic of the day: makerspaces!

Makerspaces are "free play" areas often, but not exclusively, found in libraries.  (For some schools that enthusiastically embrace the concept, the makerspace is the library.)  The materials to inspire creativity and critical thinking are varied, but the key thing is that students have choice and freedom.  There is nothing to prevent teachers from creating lesson plans or project-based learning around these areas and materials, of course.

Here in Shelby County, several of our librarians are well on their way to populating our school libraries with makerspaces.  In order to build and collaborate on makerspace ideas, we have created a Google Doc.   Feel free to view and share with others!

One of our most active and prominent Kentucky educators is Heidi Neltner.  She was kind enough to respond to an interview request to share her knowledge of makerspaces and how she transformed her school library.


Welcome to Edtech Elixirs!  Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hello! This is my 15th year in education. My undergraduate work was in Psychology, English and Secondary Education.  I completed my Master’s in Library Science at the University of Kentucky and a Rank I in Instructional Leadership from Northern Kentucky University. Currently I am the teacher librarian at Robert D. Johnson Elementary in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  In my previous education life I taught high school English for 10 years, with six of those years being at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  In 2015 I was awarded a Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching  and the A.D. Albright Outstanding Teacher in Northern Kentucky.

You identify yourself as a “teacher librarian,” as opposed to a LMS or something else.  Why is the title “teacher librarian” important to you?

 I identify myself as a “Teacher Librarian” as opposed to a Library Media Specialist because I think teacher librarian more fully describes what I do.  I am always a teacher first – whether I am working one on one with students, acting as a guide on the side with a large group, or working with a group of teachers on incorporating technology or research methods into their classwork.  Of course, I also function as the librarian in very traditional and nontraditional ways at my school where I work endlessly to encourage reading, maintain a library collection and connect stakeholders with the most current resources to support the learning community.  These resources can be anything from print and ebooks to apps for the iPads to green screening tools to circuit kits – whatever we need to inspire creativity and learning.

When do you remember starting to significantly integrate technology into student learning?

During my student teaching in spring of 2000, when I sat down with three versions of Romeo and Juliet and two VCRs and spliced together short clips of the same scene so students could compare and contrast how different directors might envision the scene and to see how different interpretations could change the tone or mood of a work.  It was pretty fascinating to see the students making complex connections.  Through the next few years I worked to encourage high school students to find ways to use tools such as PowerPoint and video clips in presentations to demonstrate connections.  Thanks to many incredible advancements, even my elementary students can do this seamlessly today.

The term “makerspace” has become popular these last few years.  How would you define what a makerspace is?

A makerspace is a physical or digital environment where learners (no matter the age) can come together to make.  In an educational capacity, a makerspace functions as a common area for students to access the tools, materials, or programming they need to learn from doing or demonstrate what they know.

What are some examples of makerspace activities and materials you currently have in your library? 

My school’s makerspace is evolving to meet the needs of my school community.  We have access to computers, iPads, art materials, circuit building kits (Snap Circuits, littleBits) a Makey-Makey, Raspberry Pi, green screen, Legos and a Lego table I converted from a donation.  I also have an online access point for students to access websites like DIY.org, and coding sites like Code.org, Scratch, Tynker and Made with Code, and we have MinecraftEDU

I encourage the use of the makerspace weekly in “Maker Recess” where students in 3-5th grades can come in and “make”.  They build on the Lego table, work in Minecraft, build circuits, make rainbow loom or LoopdeDoo bracelets and experiment with different apps on iPads that they ordinarily might not get a chance to try out.  We having Minecraft mornings each Monday and I have 3 coding clubs that meet once a month. I also use a Maker Center approach to expose students to different ideas and processes.  Last year we had our first maker centers right before winter break, and I wrote about it in a post Maker Centers – a Learning Experience for all of Us”, I plan to do that again, and used a similar format already this year with kindergarten and first grade using the guiding question “How can we show what we know about Digital Citizenship?"

I find the most value in the  makerspace comes through project based learning.  Last year, for example, my first graders did an author study and when it came time for them to do their project, I asked them what they could do to show what they know?  They brainstormed things they had done and seen in makerspaces and came up with many excellent ideas.  I wrote about that experience in my blog post Using the Super 3 Research and Our Makerspace to Inspire 1st Grade PBL.”  I used a similar approach with 3rd and 5th graders who did Genius Hour research last year. I had 5th graders making how-to videos, building websites, models, and so much more. Currently, students in 3rd and 5th grades are researching Digital Citizenship issues and designing projects using makerspace materials in the same capacity.  While many students are making videos and posters, they are also making use of apps such as Aurasma and QR codes to make things more interactive. 

A few more projects that we have happening are just not beginning with 4th grade, and will likely expand to full school participation.  Students in 4th grade are being given the choice to work on a number of projects here at school that will benefit everyone including: building a butterfly garden, putting together an aquaponics garden, writing a program to turn our Raspberry Pi into a book tweeting station, and learning about and looking for ways to improve Google Cardboard. Thanks to the hard work of Julie Dashley, one of our Spanish teachers, we have been awarded a grant to build a butterfly garden.  With the help of the Campbell County Cooperative Extension, kids are going to have a real opportunity to build the garden.

What are some activities or materials you would like to include in the near future?

For the future I’m working on grants to purchase a variety of different kinds of robots – everything from Bee Bots to Sphero to Arduino based robots so that students can see in a more hands-on way how computer coding can work to affect something in the real world.  I would also love to have a 3D printer that we can use to prototype and possibly use with MinecraftEDU, a poster printer so kids can better apply principals of graphic design, a Dye Cutter and a variety of LEDs and more littleBits.  I would also like to plan more after school activities, designed around particular themes or showcasing different skills and teachers.

Why do makerspaces matter?

A makerspace matters because it provides learners with a common area where resources are shared in a way that allows for students to be inspired to learn or show what they know.  It can be an area where students can tap into skills they don’t often get to practice or learn about in a traditional classroom, but it is most importantly a place where everyone is a learner and can safely practice 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving, creativity and innovation.  Many of the ways students can engage in the use of a makerspace will directly connect to standards students are working within the classroom environment – CCSS, NGSS and Program of Studies. For example, last year during our Maker Centers, students were exposed to a Raspberry Pi and when they learned about circuits in class they were able to identify what a circuit board was and make connections to other things in their class before their teacher could do it for them.  Students use the writing process to create, edit and revise video, they use math to make calculations in Minecraft when crafting things, and they use Engineering standards when they are creating models and making improvements.  In a makerspace you truly have a cross curricular experience where students are at the center of their learning.

I know you and James Allen founded KyGoPlay.  What inspired you to do so?  What is the purpose of KyGoPlay?  

James Allen and I were inspired to create a #KyGoPlay movement during a #KyEdChat side discussion with Marty Park and Chris Walsh.  We were talking about how teachers really need to be encouraged to “Play to Learn.”  One thing James and I noticed is that when people ask us how we learned something technology based, our response is typically “I played around with it."  Many teachers find that they simply don’t have the time to play around to learn things – but if you make that time, it can be really rewarding for you and your students.

The purpose of #KyGoPlay is to bring an awareness to the benefits of playing to learn as an adult and to encourage teachers to take an hour of their time during one week and "just try it."  We put together a video that included some research and explained the premise here



We also are encouraging people to host #KyGoPlay events at their school to bring colleagues together for Play Dates so they can learn together, increase collegiality and get a good laugh hopefully. 

We would love for you to take the “Pledge to Play” on Kygoplay.com!  Last year was our first year launching the challenge, and we’d love to see more participation.  We shared out ideas through the #KyGoPlay hashtag and we have a Twitter account @KyGoPlay.  You can get ideas there.

What advice or first steps would you give to librarians hoping to transform their library into a makerspace?


If you want to create a makerspace in your library – the first thing you need to do is assess the needs of your stakeholders.  Look at resources like your CSIP, your school mission and vision to identify priorities, ask your administrators, teachers and students what they’re missing and design materials and events that will help fulfill real needs in your school community.  You also have to consider budget and a sustaining budget so that you have a plan for maintaining expensive items and replacing consumables.  Making is an attitude and you can encourage a maker movement in your school with not much more than some makers and paper, so don’t feel pressured to have all those high dollar things right away. You can check out my more complete answer to that on “Makerspaces – Getting Started” and see some more resources on KyMakes, which will hopefully turn into a place for people in Kentucky schools to share maker ideas.  You can also tweet with the hashtag #KyMakes to share what you’re doing.


Thank you, Heidi, for your generosity and time!

What are your thoughts on makerspaces?  What materials or use of space currently happen in your library or classroom?  Please share your thoughts in the Comments below.

3 comments:

  1. Great post Adam and Heidi! All teachers (librarian and otherwise) need to read this one.

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  2. I agree! Heidi is an inspiration for us all to get going on providing maker spaces for our students.

    ReplyDelete