Thinking of Building a Makerspace? Think Again!

28 03 2016

Ok, so the title of the post may have led you to think that I believe makerspaces aren’t a good thing. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. For the past 10 years, I’ve been working in — or designing professional learning for supporting — PBL/maker programs, so I have absolutely drank the kool-aid. I just want us to think deeper than the shiny, sparkly surface. So let’s think again! STEAMmaker Camp, Ginger Lewman, ESSDACK

Nearly every day I’m approached with questions about how to start a makerspace. I have written posts on this before, but today I had the opportunity to really dig in deep with  Katie Perez, a colleague of mine, with a team of visiting teachers. They came in from 3.5 hours away to visit our ESSDACK Makerspace and then to pick our brains all about maker education. It was a wonderful conversation and it’s apparent that this team was quite a distance down the road of planning. Always a joy!

In preparation for their visit, Katie and I compiled a list of questions we believe that educators want to consider as they begin building their own makerspaces.

By no means is this a comprehensive list. But it’s a deeper start than where I see most people begin. And the truth is we might need to begin before we have all the answers. So start here, but keep this list handy as you go deeper into your process. Review these questions. See if your initial thoughts still hold true. Consider that you may actually answer a question one way while another school down the road answers the opposite way — and that you might BOTH be correct. You see, we’re not building one space 5,000 times. We’re building the space that our kids, teachers, and community need. And it’s ok to be different from someone else’s space. 

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If, as you’re reading this, you think we’ve missed some questions or concepts, please add your thoughts into the comments. We can all grow together!


Questions to consider when starting a makerspace:


Why do you want a makerspace? What’s the purpose?
This is in a school? What learning do you intend to have students doing?

How do we intentionally foster independence, risk-taking, and perseverance in ALL our students’ learning and behavior?Extreme Sidewalk Chalk 3D STEAMmaker

Who’s going to run it?
When will it be open? 
Who will use it? Who’s your targeted audience? Who else could/would benefit?

How will it be sustained and updated?

Do you have a specific design process you want kids to follow?

What is your goal in your first year? Second year? Third year? Beyond?

  • Zero to maker
  • Maker to maker
  • Maker to market



What space do you have? Is it able to get dirty? Ruined? Loud?

What storage will you need?
How do you keep the storage streamlined and simple?

What is it about your space that will make it different than your other spaces? What will quickly signal the students that this is different and that they are expected to be different here?

What variety of spaces can you create that promote thinking? Collaboration? Prototyping? Conversation? Building? Presenting? Displaying?
What lighting is best for that particular place? Choose intentionally. Thoughtfully  

How does the space become another vital element to foster exploration in its own right?


How will it enhance classroom curriculum? Or does it need to…because it might not. Consider both points of view before settling on your vision/mission.

Which comes first in your planning?

  • Activities & Challenges
  • Learning — academics and skills
  • Materials — hardware, software, furniture, consumables, tools

What skills do you want your learners to develop? Why?
What activities are you considering? Why?

What materials (both top-of-the-line and broken-shoestring-budget) are you looking for? Why? Be cautious. MANY of the buzzed-up tools are expensive one-timers. How does that tool lead to something bigger?

How do we intentionally foster independence, risk-taking, and perseverance in ALL our students’ learning and behavior?

What will you do for the kids who are AMAZING at making?
What will you do for the kids who think they’re TERRIBLE?
What’s the role of the classroom teacher? The makerspace coordinator? The Superintendent? The para?
What’s the role of the PTA?
What’s the role of the business down the street? (are we just asking for another hand out?) How do we ensure the partnership is mutually beneficial?

How will you keep it from being just a crafting space? Or do you need to?


Who are your guest experts?

How will *all* the teachers take ownership?
How will *all* the parents take ownership?IMG_1528
Most importantly, how will all the learners take ownership? And how/why do we let them?

How do we intentionally foster independence, risk-taking, and perseverance in ALL our students’ learning and behavior?

How will you continue to learn and develop your own space? What community will you get in a hurry and develop so you can continue to learn and grow yourselves?


How will you get the stories out about your space?
Who will tell those stories? Are they media trained?

Last but not least:

Do you have a first aid station?
Safety equipment?
Skills practice sections?

How will students take a role in room tidiness to ensure safety?

What tools will they get to use? What modifications to tools would make them appropriate for those who need modification? Can they ever graduate up? Why/not?

Looking for more help getting your space set up? Check out our STEAMmaker Camp website for help getting your staff and students ready. And contact me if you have additional questions. 


Ginger Katie STEAMmaker 2.JPG

Katie Perez and Ginger Lewman hanging out in the ESSDACK Makerspace.






Thinking Deeper

12 03 2016

I saw a “bumper sticker thinking” post recently on Twitter that said, “Teach from your feet, not your seat.” And at first, I nodded and agreed. It seemed to make sense. And it rhymed.

But then I thought about it for just a moment longer. And I’m not sure I can agree.

You see, I like to create student centered, democratic classrooms where the teacher isn’tScreen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.46.36 AM.png the focus but that the work the students are doing is. That means that I may not be
standing and pontificating at the students hardly ever. It might mean that I’m sitting right next to them, talking closely and individually, based on what that child needs. It might mean that I’m an embedded participant in my own classroom. It might mean that because my students are truly engaged, I don’t have to walk and stand next to them at regular intervals to keep them on task. It might mean that our furniture is something other than desks in rows and I can pull a chair up next to almost any child in the classroom.

Do I wholly disagree with the bumper sticker quote? Not necessarily…and truth be told,  my ear likes that it rhymes. It’s catchy. And I’m sure there are situations where it is accurate. Who knows…I’m not even sure it’s meant to be taken literally…but I can only take it by the words that were used.

And that’s the problem with bumper sticker thinking: it’s not always accurate if you think a little longer beyond your first reaction. It feels good in the moment and we feel we’re actually doing something good. Woo! But where does that leave us?

So today when we see education quotes that come across our social media feeds, I encourage us all to think a little longer and to consider the words a little deeper. Let’s truly ponder the types of classrooms we want to have with the kids we currently serve. And let’s consider the educators we want to be for those kids.

Do You Know What You’re Looking For?

22 12 2015

Often, I get to do walk-throughs with Principals who are looking for guidance with supporting their teachers who are trying to embrace Project, Problem, or Passion-Based Learning. I say I get to do this often, but I don’t think it’s often enough because in nearly every single workshop I give, I hear the same general fears from teachers who have bought in to PBL.

They beg me.

“Would you please tell my administrator that this is what s/he should be looking for? I keep getting dinged on ______.”

Sometimes it’s that they’re literally off-script from the colleague down the hall or across town. Sometimes it’s because they’re not using the lesson plan template that all teachers K12 are required to use in the district. Sometimes they’re not posting the learning objectives on the wall each day, effectively uncovering the mystery (read as: learning) for the kids before they even get to dig in to the day’s work.


Working with teachers and students together are always the best days!

But before you get too excited about me bashing the PBL-newbie administrator, I also get to see walk with terrific administrators to visit teachers who are absolutely dead-sure they’re fostering a PBL setting for their kids when in fact, they are not. I hear the voices of too many teachers echoing the same things:

“Yeah, we do PBL. We’ll start the project right after I teach them the basics because I want them to have a good foundation so they don’t struggle or fail. And then we’ll practice the standards. And then after I know all the kids have the learning in place, we’ll start this project. I’ll give them lots of checklists so I can be sure every single kid is getting the exact same learning experience, because there are things they just not able to “discover.” But of course all the kids can take my — I mean their  project as far as they want to. And yes, I ask the kids questions to guide their learning. Of course. What teacher doesn’t? Besides, the kids don’t like it when I ask them things that are too abstract or that they don’t have an answer to. Because parents. Because college.” 

Right. That’s not PBL. It’s maybe fun. And it’s maybe something your kids do well. It might be “doing projects,” but baby, it ain’t PBL.

And so I’ve decided to borrow an idea from McRel’s Power Walkthrough and change it up to fit the specific — and flexible — needs of the PBL classroom.

Not familiar with the Classroom Instruction that Works walk through advice? Check out the first minute or so of the following video:


Let me be clear: I’m a big fan of administration getting into classrooms on a regular basis. I’m also a fan of the administrator being the a curriculum and learning leader for the community. So toward that end, I have fully bought into the 5-minute walkthrough concept. Go in often. Look. Take observations. Then talk with the teacher.

But I’m also a fan of curriculum coaches doing the same thing.

And I’m also a fan of colleagues observing each other, especially in a PBL community. And especially cross-curricular colleagues. Let’s get into one another’s rooms, for a purpose, with an objective tool to help guide the conversations that will drive our own professional learning — and application — deeper.

So toward that end, I’ve created a PBL walkthrough Google Form based on my past 10 years of experience as a PBL teacher and consultant/keynote, working to support budding PBL students and educators across the globe with the LifePractice PBL curriculum.

A couple words first:

  1. In order to get the best experience with the form, both the observer and observed will want to be fully PBL trained. If you don’t have a common understanding of why and what it looks like, the conversations could really go off the rails.
  2.  If you’re wondering why I didn’t include _____ (fill in topic of your choice), look again. It might be there, included within another concept — hence, the need for high-quality PBL training (more than a 1-day drive-by). I’ve designed the form to be brief. A snapshot. After all, you’re in there for only 5 or so minutes. It’s not an evaluation. It’s meant to capture a snapshot and then spark further discussion.
    Full disclosure, this is my 3rd attempt at a comprehensive walk-through form. The previous two got to be so cumbersome, I had to cut them loose. I think I found a good combo here.
  3. This is intended to be used on a mobile device with grades 3-12+. I believe that PBL works well at a primary level. It simply looks a little different. If you’re interested in a primary-level PBL walkthrough form, please let me know in the comments.
  4. I would expect that the observer would make his/her own copy and collect the data into a spreadsheet. If the info needs to be sent to the teacher, a quick screen-capture of the form before submitting could be sent before hitting “submit.” (thanks for that idea, Kevin Case!)

My last words of encouragement here:

There are many, multiple ways to do Project/Problem/Passion-Based Learning right. Don’t get stuck in tunnel-view as you’re visiting classrooms. Are the students learning by doing? By answering a big question? By solving a big problem? Then they’re doing PBL.

Please take a look at the LifePractice PBL Google Form here

Contact me if you like it and want your own copy of the editable form.

And please, if I am missing something, please leave a comment and let me know!

In 2006 with 12 years of traditional classroom experience and 2 days of formal PBL training in her pocket, Ginger Lewman started a middle school, grades 5-8, that was a 1:1 laptop and Project Based Learning environment. Five years later, the middle school had doubled in population twice and had expanded to include PBL in grades K-8. They were also in the process of opening a PBL high school the next fall. Ginger now works with school leaders in helping them learn how to support the PBL shift, and inspires their teachers to take the leap. Meanwhile, she also continues to co-teach with K-12 teachers in the training process, keeping her own teaching chops sharp and ready.  Her book, LifePractice Learning, is coming out soon! 

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Sharing PBL is my mission.

The Time I Lived In a Residential Boys’ Home

22 12 2015

Filed under, I’m not sure you knew this about me:

In the mid-90’s and directly out of the Teacher’s College, I worked as a Teaching Parent at The Farm, Inc. This means I worked in a Level 5 group home setting with both boys and girls, aged 11-18 who were either designated as Children In Need of Care, or as Juvenile Offenders going into, or coming out of lockup. These kids were the best wake-up call to education I could have ever asked for. I worked as day school teacher (out of our dining room), public school liaison (IEP advocate), doctor liaison (and there were many), and social services liaison, making sure the boys met all their appointments and had their needs met there. I also helped cook meals, clean the house (with the boys), and basically tried to nurture and teach them life lessons and coping skills in the time we were living together in the group home.shadows

Meanwhile, at every single turn, the kids were teaching me patience, love, passion, caring, and tenderness, forgiveness, tolerance, and culture. There are kids there whose faces, names, and stories are permanently etched upon my heart. Some for their gentleness. Some for their troubles. Some for their growth. Some for their struggle to simply survive in a world that kept demonstrating to them that they didn’t matter. All these kids were brilliant, in their own ways. Most just were bad at making decisions. And some were there because they had parents who made bad decisions.

My Farm kids are now aged 31 to 40 years old — those who’ve survived. If I had a magic super-power, I’d peek into who they are now. Heck, I’d have been peeking all along, helping each I could at each moment I could. I know there are laws, but I also regret not being able to keep in touch with so many of them.

With Blue, who was a red-headed kid whose real name was blue and not a gang-related name, as we first assumed. With Phillip who tried mightily one day to get me to break. But I knew he was and just let it slide off me as I loved him more. With Andre who lashed out at me in pain, momentarily breaking me, and to the boys who rallied around me getting me water and a paper bag to breathe into. With the giant 14 year old who had size 14 shoes and the kindest heart who we sent to Alma with a watermelon under his arm. With Bruce who was struggling minute-by-minute to get back to his grandmother. With Ray who, at age 16 had 4 year old gang tattoos across his knuckles who worked so hard for his GED and a job so he could afford the laser tattoo removal process. Robert who worked hard doing whatever it took to keep others out of his personal space. With the 17 year old who had huffed enough inhalants to effectively melt his frontal lobe and so between bouts of extreme anger, we’d have to help him tie his shoes. And 50 other faces and names that flash by.

Funny. Right now I am 43 years old. Thinking back on the boys and girls, now come full-grown women and men, it turns out I was helping kids who were not much younger than myself at the time, but the gulf back then seemed so far apart. I’d finished my Bachelor’s degree and had experienced college life. They’d barely had a childhood at that point. It’s not that they were older. It’s as if they were frozen beyond being children and yet so very far away from adulthood. And I now realize that during all my own childhood, I was one phone call away from being one of these kids in a residential home.

Working here was the best 2 year training I ever received in being both a teacher and a real human being. When I left that job, I knew the “bad” kids were still just scared and confused kids trying to create some control and stability in their lives and that I could handle whatever a classroom teacher might see in her lifetime. And I thank these kids for more than they would ever know.

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