by Richard Snyder
Expert Educator Columnist, USA
The best professional learning tool I use daily is Twitter. I get to see projects, share ideas, and receive feedback on my work and ideas from hundreds of colleagues (most of whom I’ve never met). It’s an instantaneous source of ideas and collaboration that I rely on, and it has fueled many ideas for my middle school library.
One idea was the notion of creating a makerspace in the library. I heard about this over the last few years at conferences like NCCE and ISTE, but I was unsure about how this could look in my space. Okay – in reality, I was scared. The thought of putting out materials and project ideas for students that weren’t connected to a class or a grade was worrisome (would students do it? would they waste materials? what impact would this have on my daily structure? is this just going to be a mess?) and a roadblock for pursuing it any further.
Through seeing others try the idea, I decided to jump in. I transferred schools this last fall and used my new space as a way to reboot my library program. An under-used conference room attached to the library would (in my mind) make the perfect place for kids to be creative (and met my need of having an area I could control). Materials were purchased, signs were made, and I opened my makerspace with a project in October. It went well, I cleaned up, closed the doors, and wondered “is that it?”
The kids kept asking about other projects or what they could do, and I just didn’t know how to respond to them. So when I saw a webinar on Twitter featuring Diana Rendina (@dianalrendina) and her journey toward a makerspace in her library, I signed up, hoping to get some ideas and help. What I received was 30 minutes of inspiration, tips, suggestions, and the best advice I would give to someone thinking about creating a makerspace: “just do it.”
The next day, my library secretary and I joined forces together to move the space from the conference room to the main library floor. We repurposed shelves and work tables to make storage and meeting areas for kids to collaborate. I put out the Legos and other building tools, moved my signs, and braced for the unexpected.
The phrase “if you build it, they will come” kept playing in my head as I watched students start to play. And share, collaborate, problem solve, talk, visit, laugh, destroy and rebuild, and really start to use the space. The natural group collaboration that I’ve witnessed as been impressive and fun to be a part of. My reliance on Twitter and tools like OneNote to get and keep track of ideas grows every day. I love looking for new ways to engage kids and get their input for new ideas and projects.
Is it messy? Yes. Is it loud? Of course. Is it more work than I thought it would be? Some days. Is it one of the most creative and fun adventures I’ve embarked on as a teacher? Absolutely.
I know a makerspace isn’t for everyone, but the underlying philosophy I’ve taken from this journey applies to all: “just do it.” We don’t need a clear road map to embrace change or new technologies. We will never know what could happen with our students, how they will take ownership of something and inspire others, unless we give them the chance to do it.
So think: what have you wanted to try but just didn’t see how it could all work together? Give that idea some momentum and go for something new and unexplored today.