Designing, Tinkering, Succeeding and Failing in the Upper School Maker Space

The very first post that I wrote for Independent Ideas was entitled Staging My Own Intervention and dealt with my overwhelming periodical “situation” (read 50+ years of journals, magazines, and a microfiche collection that would knock your socks off), stored in the basement of my library. Two rooms of it. This is what it looked like:

Bound versions of Time and Life were used occasionally, but believe it or not, ancient issues of Sky and Telescope, the New York Review of Books, and Art News simply wasn’t. The dust was thick. The lighting was weird. The basement was a creepy no man’s land and no one, including me, wanted to spend any more time in that room than was absolutely necessary. I had nothing to lose. I decided to clear the room, preserve the treasures, and to create the school’s first Maker Space.

It took me approximately 2 years to clear the room. I invited departments in to see what magazines they would like for me to keep. I flagged them and started clearing. See those 5 recycling bins? It took about 15 minutes to fill them, 3-4 days to get our super awesome (super busy) housekeeping crew to get them out to the recycling station outside and back again. It was a seriously heavy, dirty, time consuming job. In the meantime, I began lobbying for an assistant with experience in a Maker Space. Enter Caroline, my tech-savvy savior who had worked hard to start a Maker Space with one small empty room, zero budget, and a donated 3D printer. Here’s  a short video about Project e-NABLE she worked on, working with U Albany students to print and assemble 3D printed hands for children in need. I had someone to partner with to continue clearing the room! Not only that, but I had a crafty, jewelry making, sewing, Pinterest rocking, tech savvy partner in crime to help brainstorm supplies, projects, and potential curricular tie-ins. This was a huge leap in the right direction.

In all honesty, I’ve visited a fair number of Maker Spaces now, particularly during AISL annual conference school visits. The concept isn’t a new one. I have seen some intriguing things going on out there–and I have taken hundreds of pictures (Dallas and Tampa librarians, I’m talking to you!). What I haven’t seen in action, though, is an upper school maker space. We had a ton of questions. There was the proverbial “if we build it, will they come?” How can we fit making into an already tight daily schedule? Will teachers shift their pedagogy to implement more project based learning, utilizing the space? Could this be an after school space where students can just come play? Will it be high tech or low tech? How are we going to fund it?! We have no budget for it(!). Does an adult need to be in the space at all times? What if they aren’t responsible about cleaning up after themselves? Or worse, what if someone gets hurt?

We decided to jump in and figure it out as we went (as we go?? We’re still figuring it out…).

Once we got the magazines out, we asked facilities to remove the microfiche reader, old desk, fax machine, and audio cassette cabinets. (Don’t laugh.) We asked them to dismantle most of the shelving and clear out the room. I say most because we left shelving all along the left side of the room to hold supplies and/or for students to leave projects that they are working on in the space, but out of the way. We shifted the treasured magazines into the second room and asked that the center aisle be cleared of shelving in that room as well, so that we can put tables and banker’s lamps in there.

Our director of facilities offered us two cabinets that were being removed from a science classroom, adding casters so that they became a mobile counter top/work space with drawers and cabinets below for storage.

We emptied the microfiche cabinets and gathered donated supplies from our former engineering instructor, now full time Academic Dean, who no longer needed her massive supply of crafting supplies, design thinking supplies (post-its, Sharpies), etc. We labeled the microfiche cabinets using a fun, clean architecture font and loaded them with supplies.

We used a tech grant provided by our public schools to purchase hardware. Here’s what we bought:

  • a new 3D printer manufactured locally and serviced locally (they break more than we would like them to so this was important to us);
  • a Precision CNC Mill (think subtractive engineering rather than additive, like the 3D printer–this thing can carve anything softer than steel. We’re going to use scrap wooden blocks to start with, but dream of carving stone, soap, even chocolate sometime in the future!
  • a Cricut machine for paper cutting (or fabric, foam, felt, etc.)

We added these things to the two original Makerbot printers the school already owned as well as discarded desktop computers so that each piece of equipment could have the necessary software already downloaded.

We invited student volunteers to help us paint/organize/clean/stock the space and a group of loyal freshmen came every week! They used the Cricut to cut out gears to hang from the ceiling and they painted the very 70’s harvest gold, orange, and lime green drawers in the room. They went with a purple for the door. Facilities donated some peg boards and two inexpensive composite boards for us to cover and use as cork boards in the space.

We bought a button maker and at a holiday craft fair, charged students $2 to create buttons (awesome holiday gifts!) using old book pages, decorating images of Emma Willard, our founder, or printing and decorating favorite quotes of their own. We’re using proceeds to buy more supplies for the space.

We’ve created a “Pillar of Fails” to celebrate growth mindset in the space. We talk about encouraging students to take risks and to learn/grow through their failures, but rarely give them a low stakes space for them to do so. The Maker Space is just the space.

We are still putting the finishing touches on the space, but so far have hosted two grand openings: one for faculty/staff (with muffins, coffee, and a tour) and one for students (with cookies, soft drinks, and a design challenge–cotton ball catapults to knock over a stack of dixie cups). The unveiling for parents will take place the week before Valentine’s day. We’re thinking of providing 3D printed heart shaped EW pendants to attach to bookmarks or to bracelets, if jewelry is more their thing.

If we build it, will they come? So far, the answer is a resounding YES.

The Sophomore class used the Cricut machine to cut puzzle pieces and to glue, glitter, and assemble ornaments for their themed holiday tree on campus. On our first day back from break, biology classes were in the space making 3D models of plant and animal cells. They will be back in a few weeks to create models of the digestive system, utilizing cardboard tubes, bags, and such. Juniors are working on prom posters and our student leaders are creating bulletin board materials down in the space. A houseparent has asked us to brainstorm a re-purposed art project, visiting Goodwill to gather materials to transform in the Maker Space. Our STEAM coordinator has asked us to team teach a unit on soft circuit jewelry making. Those weeks after APs are over? We’ve got them covered!

At this point, the room is open. Sharp tools are locked up and available upon (supervised) request. Our rules are pretty simple: unplug and clean up after yourselves. Let us know if we need to get more of a certain supply. The room’s open when the library is.

This year, we are using the tech grant to purchase the following materials:

Gemma Starter Pack (to make wearable electronics)
Adafruit Beginner LED Sewing Kit
3doodle create pens for rapid prototyping (requested by a geometry teacher)
Littlebits Gizmo/Gadget kit and STEAM student kit) better for older students.

If you’re interested, here are some images I’ve taken of the space:

Are you an Upper School librarian running or contemplating a Maker Space in your library? If so, I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below!

 

 

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2 Responses to Designing, Tinkering, Succeeding and Failing in the Upper School Maker Space

  1. Shelagh Straughan says:

    Such stupendousness, Katie! What lucky girls you have at Emma Willard. I am using this inspiration to go ahead and order an awesome cabinet for our mobile makerspace. I refuse to be daunted by ‘lack of a room’ and tech challenges any longer -we’re going to jump in with the paper and textile crafts that have been working well on an ad hoc basis. Excited about using it in the library and also wheeling it out to our Commons for special events 🙂

    • Katie Archambault says:

      I love it! Please post pix once you outfit your Maker Cart. I can totally see you rolling it out during your awesome stress busting library setup, in addition to supporting clubs, classes, and other student groups. Keep us posted! 🙂

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