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:

VISION

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

 

SPACE

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?

LEARNING

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?


COMMUNITY-BUILDING

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?

PUBLICITY

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

Last but not least:
SAFETY

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?

HELP?
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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.





Lingering Thoughts on a Popular Theme: we’re not helpless!

14 10 2015

As one does, I ran across a very popular picture quote on Facebook the other day. It had been shared quite a bit and it was getting a lot of positive comments. So of course my eye was drawn to it. It was a Diane Ravitch quote that someone had pasted onto a graphic. In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education (2010), Diane asks the following:

“Can teachers successfully educate children to think for themselves if teachers are not treated as professionals who think for themselves?”

What a great question! Vital. Important. You see, if no one lets us be professionals… if we’re not given permission to … If they continue to demean and demoralize us … if we were only allowed to … we ought to be treated better … PowerFist

whew! I can see why educators would share that widely!

But as you might guess, I had some follow up thoughts:

Yes! I agree! How can we do our jobs unless we’re given the freedom to do so. And so if we’re tired of “not being treated as professionals who can think for ourselves,” then let’s do something about it! If we’re tired, then we as teachers are obligated to pick up the mantle of the responsible, proactive professional and become education leaders. We’ve got to offer suggestions and ideas. We’ve got to experiment. We’ve got to take risks.

Because if we want to continue to play “victim to the system” then we’ll always get what we’re given.

What are you tired of? And so then what is your first step to do something about it?





15 Common PBL Mistakes | mistake #15: a strategy that’s THE panacea

27 01 2015

I have the best job in the world. On a regular basis, I’m given the extraordinary fortune to talk with teachers who are embarking on a PBL journey with their students. To dig into the smaller, everyday details of how to make this type of learning environment work. To answer the tough questions about sustainability, rigor, behavior management and then take the questioner further…that’s like chocolate to me! I can’t get enough.

Over the years of starting my own PBL school and learning in a baptismal fire, I’ve been able to find a way to talk with new or reluctant teachers about their concerns. Additionally, there are things that excited, energetic teachers might want to consider as they take their first steps into the PBL fire as well.

In the next month or so, I’ll be publishing a regular series to include 15 common mistakes that educators make and some solutions they might consider. Here’s the next one in the series:

Mistake #15:
Think that PBL is another strategy, when applied, will solve all problems.

Problem: Have you heard educators say any of the following?

“This too, shall pass.”

“I’ve seen all sorts of things come and go. And if I wait long enough, this pendulum will swing the other way again. All I have to do is keep in the middle with my head down and I won’t get hit.”

“Just tell me what to do and I’ll be sure I’m doing it when they come visit my room.”

Each of these represent a professional who has been “strategy-ed” to apathy. And it’s also represents a professional who has found a way to become ritually compliant. Interestingly enough, many of our students have the same attitude toward their learning. Why? Because this is all we’ve asked for in the past. Just do what I ask you to do and that’s all I’ll ask for. We’ve done this to them.

Solution: When we believe that teachers teach how they are taught, we begin to rethink what professional learning might look like. How do we begin to mimic what we’d like to see teachers doing in their classrooms? How do we value them as individuals? How do we help them find their own learning, their own passions? How can we create a need and a value in their eyes in order for them to see a need to contribute to the greater Good? How do we stop blaming them and reexamine our own practices? Again, it will take some teachers longer than others, but if we continue to treat them as individuals with unique (and valuable) skills, the ones who want to do the right thing by kids will come around. And I believe there are more of those teachers than we might imagine.

Want to learn more about Project/Problem Based Learning and how to support it?


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.  








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