Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tips for Kicking Off Your Makerspace! #MakerEd

I'm really excited about the opportunity to build a new Makerspace at my new job at University Liggett School. After learning so much from my first experience building a space in a library at a high school during my former job, I feel like I have a great opportunity to really create something special with my students. For those that are interested in starting your own Makerspace this school year, here are some tips that can help you on your journey.

- Talk with your students

As an educator, it is important to have a conversation with your students to address many important questions. The most important is, "What do you want to make?" This needs to be the driving force behind every decision moving forward. If you have students passionate about code, look at various coding tools. Some students might be interested in the learning space aspect of a Makerspace and have ideas regarding the environment. These conversations will help direct the path of designing a Makerspace.

- Find the funds

This step might be optional depending on your situation. If you already have money from your district. then you do not need to worry about this step at the moment. If this is a solo project and your district/school cannot offer much financial support, grants will be needed to make your space happen. Look at state and local groups that offer grants for schools. You might find one that supports STEM/STEAM projects that would be perfect for your Makerspace. Another approach is to reach out to local businesses who might be interested in sponsoring specific purchases for the space. Sometimes businesses feel more comfortable giving money to a specific item instead of a blanket donation that might go to anything. It never hurts to have the students work on presentations to make to these groups. It is much harder to say no to students.

- Prioritize you wants and needs

Once you have the idea of all the different things a student wants in their Makerspace, it is important to prioritize everything. Placing items in a "Want" and "Need" category is a nice way to see the importance of various requests from the students. You should have a fixed budget that will help determine what is a need and a want. You might find something is a want that is outside the budget, but you could have an different grant purchase it or a specific business that might want to donate to help you purchase it. One thing to keep in mind as you develop your list; establishing a solid base for your Makerspace can help you later on when you write more grants or ask for support from your school district and community. Sometimes it takes a "proof of concept" model to show that the space is viable and worth the money.

- Reach out to the Internet for ideas

Do not be afraid to reach out to amazing experts out there who have helped build Makerspaces in their schools. Colleen Graves and Diana Rendina are excelllent resources when it comes to Makerspaces. It is always great to connect with other educators to see what has worked and not worked for them. The #MakerEd community is filled with great people looking to help those interested in providing students with an opportunity to grow through the use of a Makerspace.

- Document your journey

It is important to document your journey when creating a Makerspace. This comes in handy in a few different ways. First, it can be used to show granting institutions, administrators, and local businesses  how their support has impacted the space. Secondly, the documentation can be used in future requests for funds. They can show a "proof of concept" idea where you tell different groups that you would be able to do even more if you had more funds. Lastly, it is fun to have portfolio of the different things that students have made over the course of the year. They can really see how their projects came along over the course of the school year.

- Be OK with failing

Set the standard with your students that there are going to be times in this new space where things are not going to go as planned. Despite all of the planning, failure can happen and students AND teachers need to know that is OK. This allows everyone to feel comfortable taking risks and trying new things. We want students to explore areas they are passionate about and their might be a risk of failure. We do not want that fear of failure be the reason that a student does not try something. Tons of great learning will come from these failures.

These are some good starting points for building a Makerspace. (Shameless plug) I have more detailed and nerdy suggestions in my book, Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces. This book is filled with my experience building a space and nerdy analogies to help make connections. It has been used for book studies and was a best seller on Amazon. If you are interested in purchasing any books for your district, email me and we can even get you a discount!

If you have any questions, please reach out to me and I will be happy to answer any questions.

Hugs and High Fives,

Nick