Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Making Is Not Just For STEM #MakerEd

I'm an English teacher and I'm building a Makerspace. Since October, I've been raising funds and working out deals to put in a Makerspace in our school library. I've been working with our Media Specialist to make this happen and I've had wonderful support from our admin staff. We are close to having a completed space and have chosen to call it the Blue Devil Maker's Lounge. I had a chance to take my Freshmen down to the space to show it off and share with the students what will be possible in the space. While a bit stressful, the Maker's Lounge has been a great project where I have learned many different things from friends across the country and right at home in Michigan. However, there has been some skepticism. 

A week or two ago, I heard that someone had said, "What does English have to do with a Makerspace?" I feel this question comes from a place of misunderstanding. While STEM and STEAM are important and a Makerspace can help support these ideals, there is much more to the space than just 3D Printing and Raspberry Pie. One of my jobs is going to be explaining that to all students and staff once we are open for business. A Makerspace needs to be viewed as something more than the gadgets that fill it. The items do not define the space. The student define it every time it's used and it has a different definition for each student using it. 

Our Maker's Lounge is designed to be a project space for all students. These students can be working on any project for any class and this space will be there for them to work on it. They might not need a Makerbot 3D printer, but they could use the IdeaPaint wall to organize their project. They might need a comfortable place to charge their phone and curl up on a Bretford chair with a Chromebook to do some research. They just might want to explore something completely new to them and use our Post-it® Notes to connect with other inquisitive students. A student club might want to meet here and plan a service project. Anything can happen here. That's the point of the space.

As a project-based teacher, I see the value of collaboration using different media to express understanding. A Makerspace is perfect for any teacher that encourages students to create original items to demonstrate learning. The class subject is irrelevant. If we want to have more thinkers and problem solvers, we need to create more opportunities for kids to create. We have to stop telling students that spaces are for only certain things. It is a major problem in education. For many students, they think learning does and should only happen in the school building. Our students are going to pay dearly for these thoughts down the line if we do not start changing the narrative. 

Another reason I've chosen to work on a Makerspace has to do with 20 Time. My idea in creating a Makerspace would allow students their own guided 20 Time projects. They could freely explore anything that interests them and have a safe and open space to do that in school. I asked my students if the space would have changed what their project might have been, about 25% said it might. That is reason enough for me. 

For those students and staff that wondered why an English teacher is building a Makerspace and sharing it with his students, the best answer comes from a student who emailed me her thoughts after seeing the Maker's Lounge, 

"Hi. I was really interested in the printing and coding stuff today. I would really like to make an app and also think it would be cool to print a camera lens. I'm still thinking of some more ideas but I'm really excited to start working on these kinds of projects!! See you tomorrow:)" 

Keep Making...

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