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. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 10.15.02 AM

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.






Use Storyboard That in Your PBL!

22 03 2016

Every now and again, I am blessed to feature a guest blog post on my page. This week, we’ll hear from the folks at Storyboard That and how this tool can help enhance PBL units in the K12 classroom. Full disclosure, I love this tool and they are not compensating me in any way for this post. You see, I love this tool already and I believe in its power to excite kids’ visual thinking (and beyond), I’m happy to let them have some space here. If you haven’t checked out Storyboard That, please do! Oh — and just so you know, it falls into one of my favorite categories: FREE!

StoryBoard That students_teamwork

Project Based Learning (PBL) mashes many subjects together to approach a problem or question. Project Based Learning has an end goal, a purpose. Students create something – a model of an ancient vessel, a video production, a web campaign, etc. – and work collaboratively from the early planning stages to the end. Projects can be small or long-term, lasting a few class periods, several weeks, or longer. Many projects include involvement in the community, showing the impact of student learning and action in life outside of school.

When these big projects are worthwhile to students, from interest, real-life application, or prospect of profound change, students become more motivated. PBL engages students with authentic learning; students take ownership of the work they do and student collaboration increases. Learning by doing, rather than just reading or watching, is far more concrete and memorable for students. PBL integrates real-life learning, making it clear to students that they are not doing busywork or being dragged towards a test, while still addressing educational standards.

The creative process is complex, and the process itself is what provides the greatest benefits. By doing projects, students better prepare for later grades, college, and careers, by developing valuable skills. Project Based Learning encourages students to try out different possibilities – make mistakes, but also learn from them. They develop learning strategies and practice various speaking, listening, and writing skills. They learn to speak intelligently and respectfully to others during small or large discussions. Teachers get students to think for themselves, learn how to approach problems or obstacles and not back down. They think it through and work together; teachers give tools to students, not just information.

Because PBL can involve many people and many steps, using visual assets, such as storyboards and graphic organizers, makes planning and communicating ideas with others fast and easy. PBL is beneficial for all subjects and levels, so whatever your project, Storyboard That wants to help! Use Storyboard That throughout the creative process: brainstorming, planning, creating, revising, editing, publishing, and reflecting.

Use any of our graphic organizer layouts to brainstorm! Try out different ideas in a spider map or on the traditional layout. Use the large art library of characters, scenes, and items to spark your creativity.

Storyboard That is perfect for planning film projects. Part of many projects include filming in some way. You might be doing a quick commercial, making a music video, or creating a full-length movie. No matter what you and your class are doing, you will need to decide on story, locations, props, characters/actors, costumes, dialogue, camera shots, and actions. Phew! Work like the pros and plan things out using storyboards!

StoryBoard That movie-maker-matt-s-finished-board-example

Create a comic, visual narrative, or chart to accompany bigger digital storytelling projects. Storyboard That’s Storyboard Creator is fun and easy to use. Use the simple drag and drop interface to make a quick comic, or maybe spend some more time making a detailed narrative. The art library is not only vast, but customizable! In addition, you can use Photos For Class to include photographs and give your own twist on things.

StoryBoard That george-washington-example

Use storyboards for role-playing possible scenarios before speaking with an important community member, pitching an idea to a bigger group, or conducting an experiment. Easily revise and edit storyboards as new ideas come up. Either edit the storyboard directly, or make a copy first. Keep different versions for comparison or to try out new possibilities. Share your storyboards with peers so they can make suggestions for additional revisions and edits.

Publish storyboards on websites using the embed feature, or print out storyboards or individual cells for plans and posters. Present with PowerPoint or use the high-quality images for countless other digital storytelling possibilities.

Reflect on the amazing work that you have done! Look at each cell of your storyboards carefully by using the slideshow feature. What worked, what didn’t work? What needs to change? How did the audience respond? If you were to do this again, what would you do?

Don’t be fooled, PBL takes a lot of hard work for the teacher ahead of time. While students do most of the work during the project, so much more time is spent by the teacher preparing.The teacher maintains a tremendously important part – but takes on more of a guiding role: facilitating learning and providing assistance and instruction on background knowledge when needed.StoryBoard That storyboard-that-logo-512x512-jpg

Storyboard That offers project ideas for film making, brainstorming, and provides templates to get you and your students going. Also, Storyboard That has various layouts and applications to help you through your lessons, project planning, and project implementation.Students get so much out of interdisciplinary projects with PBL. The end result will make the work that you put into all the planning worth the effort. Student creativity will always amaze us. Worth it.



9 Hooks and 6 Powerful Ways to Deliver Them for a Bulls-Eye PBL Launch

10 03 2016

It’s an educational holy grail to have a classroom full of engaged students, telling us what they want to study and hitting all the marks that we know they need to in order to be ready for their futures. We dream of being able to walking a classroom where we ask, “Hey y’all! What do you want to learn this semester?” and we’re met with a clamor of student-generated thoughts and ideas coming straight from the students’ passions! And lo and behold, those thoughts and ideas all have perfect handles on which we would then hang our Social Studies and Science and Math, and Reading, and Writing and … standards! Wow! What a wonderful world this would be.

*snap back to reality*

Does this ever really happen? Is there such a magical, captivating classroom? A splendid and supernatural school?

"What do you know?" hook

“What do you know?” hook

Actually, yes, I think this — or a very close approximation — can and does happen in pockets around the US. But is it the norm? Can we expect it to ever be the norm? Weeellll…we can hope, but I’m not sure we can expect it to be happening in every classroom with every teacher any time soon.

So then if you’re a normal teacher who teaches normal kids (whatever that means) and especially if you’re new to PBL, you know you aren’t going to just hand them your challenge. You know we want to grab their attentions first to warm them up to the challenge or question ahead. And that means that you’re going to want to kickstart your PBL units at first. And yes, these units might also have to smell a little bit like school in places because if you’re normal, you probably have certain academic standards and expectations to uphold in your classroom, right? Yep. Me too.

A question I get from teachers is how to vary those kickstarts, or PBL launches, those moments where we hook the kids’ interests; where we create a story, scenario, challenge, or question that begs to be answered. We want a variety of ways to grab kids’ attention and there’s no better way to figure out what hooks our kids than to look at the media that grabs them daily. Consider their sense of humor. Consider what makes their eyes wide and jaws drop. Consider what evokes various emotions. The one thing you will learn by varying your launches is what makes your kids — and may kids of that age group — get excited. What a wonderful opportunity and a powerful tool for any teacher to have in her pocket.

Below I’ve outlined 9 types of dynamic launches, 6 powerful ways to deliver that compelling launch, and a handful of pro-tips to remember when setting up your launch for your kids.

Questions that lead to a powerful hook:

  1. Is it a movie or video game trailer that shows some exciting action?
  2. Is it a trailer that provides some intriguing scenario or question that we just have to dig into?
  3. Is it a story that pulls at our hearts?
  4. Is it a story that leaves a piece of the puzzle unsolved?
  5. Is it a challenge handed to us from some outside person or entity?
  6. Is someone hiring us for a job?
  7. Are we saving lives?
  8. Are we saving the world?
  9. Is it something that matters?
"Hmmm and what do you think we could do about that?"

“Hmmm and what do you think we could do about that?”

Ways to deliver that hook to create the perfect launch event:

  1. Tell a scenario story yourself. Bonus points if it’s a true story that kids can confirm online. If you’re telling the story, be sure you’re a good story-teller. Get into it! Get silly or dramatic. It’s ok. You know your a nerd, right? All teachers are. And if you’re not a storyteller like that, find a colleague who is and ask them to help. I’m thinking your friendly librarian does this sort of thing all the time with book talks, right?
  2. Find a video online that you know will hook the kids. Be careful — this seems like an easy solution, but the video must be tuned to your kids’ interests as well as your goals for the project. Be sure it’s a bullseye, because a near miss will only cause the kids to roll their eyes and your PBL will fizzle on the launch pad. It’s better to have a little more effort on your part at the beginning, making your own video to ensure a spot-on powerful launch than to take the easy route and create a lukewarm interest.
  3. Invite someone in to tell a story or to provide the challenge. Could it be a total stranger (think education faculty at a nearby university) or could it it be a parent in your school? Or an administrator? Or a colleague at another school? If the hook is interesting and the kids recognize a parent pretending to be the Secretary of the UN or the President of the US, they’ll often forgive you and go along with you just because it was unexpected and funny (true story). Just write a script for that person so they share what you need them to. DO NOT make them make it up themselves or the chances are they’ll go off-mark and the PBL is dead in the water.

    "Gather round as I tell you a story..."

    “Gather round as I tell you a story…”

  4. The story or situation being shared by another person doesn’t have to be in real time. It can be a video. Tell the kids you received the video instead of a livestream because the person … is in another timezone? Or isn’t able to talk in real life for some tasty reason.
  5. Set up a “found scene” and have kids come take a look at it (i.e. crime scene or location-based challenge). Now the hook is getting tangible.
  6. Pro-level launch: get a kid involved in the scenario. Have them play along with you to corroborate the story. Or to even deliver the story. Consider having an older talented student launch a scenario for younger kids. What a great opportunity for both levels!


Important tips to remember about designing your launch:

  • Keep the launch short. And “short” is relative. Sometimes a 30 second video is all that’s needed. But more likely, we’re looking at 2-7 minutes as a ball-park figure. Long enough for them to sink their teeth in. Short enough to leave them wanting more. And if you’re using a guest, do NOT let him/her ramble on. This is where pre-planning and even possibly you writing their script is very useful!
  • Keep the stakes to failure high. We want to succeed. We have to succeed. Will there be mistakes along the way? Yep! But ultimately, what we come up with has to be the very best we can make it!
  • Keep the launch scenario interesting to the kids — not necessarily interesting to us. We’re nerds. We LOVE our subject areas and think that there are really interesting parts all over it. But do the kids love our subject as much as we do? Look at it through your kids’ point of view. If it’s not interesting to them, start again. Spoiler alert: sometimes we have to be a bit immature (can we say middle school boy?) and way outside the box to capture their minds and bring them back to us.
  • The launch event must cause a need to know in the kids. They are compelled to want to dig in. They can’t help themselves! “Let me at it!”
  • Do something different each time you launch a project. Novelty attracts and holds attention. If you get into a rhythm of predictability, the kids’ interest will wane.
  • If you use a guest to launch, be sure to provide a script for them in advance and quickly release them from further questioning by saying to them (in front of the kids) that you know they’re very busy people and that you received their memo with all the extra details in your email. Thank your guest for their time and let them go quickly so you can answer the kids’ additional questions from the “memo you received” from the guest. In actuality, you wrote the script and the details, but the kids won’t know that. And if they do know that, laugh and ask them to go along with you. They usually will if the launch event has been fun.
  • Lastly, your launches will get better the more you do them. Try out many different ways to grab the kids’ interest and see what works for you and for them. Above all else, keep trying!

And now you have them launched, it’s time to help them set the expectations to ensure high quality work because they know it matters! But that’s another post for another time… 😉

What are some of your favorite ways to launch kids into their learning?

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.

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