How to scale back the Makerspace vision & implement it intentionally in your library.
Our county was given a grant to put Makerspaces in all of the middle schools, primarily as support for the after school program. For our school we got approached to see if the library would want to run it and we jumped at the chance!
We started off with a grand vision since we had such a great budget but quickly realized that even when you have the funds, you need to implement the Makerspace in small chunks. Our materials also ended up getting delayed to the very end of the year, so by necessity we had to scale back our original plan.
Here are the 5 biggest takeaways we learned this year with our first Makerspace.
1. FOCUS FIRST ON PUTTING SYSTEMS & STRUCTURES INTO PLACE.
How the Makerspace will work best for you and your students will be different in each school, so focusing on putting in systems is a crucial first step. A lot of it will be trial and error, but keeping activities simple and working on the structure of the Makerspace will make it run much smoother in the long run.
We started the year with a lot of freedom in the Makerspace and quickly realized that was not going to work. We had to create structure around when the Makerspace was open to students, how many could access it at once, what types of projects were available, and what the expectations of the students were. It's easy to get caught up in planning all of the fun stuff!
2. IT'S OKAY TO PUT LIMITS ON THE MAKERSPACE USE.
This has been our biggest challenge because ideally we would want students to have autonomy and freedom to create. We started with that and it was a disaster, both figuratively and literally. So many Perler Beads stuck in the carpet! We needed to figure out a management plan.
One of our big limits has been the total number of students allowed in the Makerspace during their lunch period. Students have access to all of the Makerspace materials but as the room is small and we have other students in the main library, limiting the number has helped us manage the Makerspace and helped students have more room to actually work.
The other big limit is the number of options students have in our after school Maker Club. The short version is the first part of the year was chaos and it just was not working. We decided that having an open Maker Club was not working for us and instead limited students to 3 monthly options. This has not only cut down on some of the issues we were having but it also set clear expectations for the club.
3. SIMPLE MATERIALS & PROJECTS ARE BEST TO START OFF WITH.
Through the delay of our fancier materials and in conversations with other middle school librarians, we've discovered that students tend to gravitate towards the low tech options. This makes sense as it requires less of a learning curve and students can jump right into it without feeling intimidated. This also makes it easier to implement a Makerspace, both in planning and for the budget!
The Perler Beads have been our most popular item, by far. We also have yarn, painting, and random supplies that students can use to build things (I emphasize "things"- I have no idea what some of these creations are!). Items like straws, popsicle sticks, and toliet roll tubes can be used for STEM activities as well. Start small and build both yourself and the students up to the more complicated items.
4. COLLECT BASIC MATERIALS AND ASK FOR DONATIONS.
There are a lot of recycled materials to just collect, namely pieces of cardboard, toliet or paper towel rolls, etc. We asked for donations from staff, which also helps get the word out that there is a Makerspace. These low cost materials are easy to gather and there are a lot of activities they can be used for.
We also used our Buy Nothing groups on Facebook to get items and it's been amazing. We requested supplies but also just kept a lookout for items that could work. Through this we got all of our Perler Beads, as well as puzzles and random art supplies. We also posted to our friends that we were looking for items; don't be afraid to ask!
None of these items were high tech but that goes along with #3.
5. CREATE A PLAN FOR THE YEAR, WITH ROOM FOR FLEXIBILITY.
Our grand vision of the Makerspace has been altered a lot this year. We have changed the physical space of where we thought the Makerspace would be and of course had to change plans with the delay in materials. Having a loose big plan is good, especially when you have a grant to take advantage of! But how the Makerspace is built up and how it will be used will change as you get more comfortable with it.
Make a plan for each month, adjust it as you go, and realize you can go slow. All of the things do not need to happen all at once; leave room for the culture of a Makerspace to start to form in your school.