Edutopia: Lovely Post about “Wonder shelves”-cum-Makerspace

From Rafranz Davis’s “Embracing Student Creativity with a Wonder Shelf” on Edutopia’s Maker Education blog:

A few years ago, the wonder shelves housed our classroom math manipulatives sorted into individual or group containers. I knew that I wanted our learning tools to be accessible as needed, but I also knew that I needed to keep them organized to save time. Using disposable food containers individualized by purpose or tool, I created a system for organizing tools that kids could explore during lessons, after lessons, and sometimes before or after school.

As I got to know my students, I began learning about their other interests outside of class. I found that many were dabbling in the creative arts, so I added quite a few things specific to those pursuits during the course of the year. Our shelves grew to hold art pads, sketchbooks, air-dry clay, molding tools, various markers, art pencils, beads, string, Legos, K’nex, and glue.

While this may sound a bit much for a high school algebra 1 or geometry class, it was amazing to see students use their downtime to explore their interests, create, and learn. On many occasions, I found them creating items specific to areas that we were studying, like making bracelets or necklaces that involved recursive or geometric sequences, and then challenging their peers to determine the equation. They created structures using Legos and K’nex to build us a geometric city where we explored concepts like taxicab geometry, angle pair relationships, and even measurement…

[W]e inherited a Lego Mindstorm kit and that opened up an entirely new world to students in the area of robotics. We had no idea how to actually program the robot, but the Mindstorm kit didn’t sit idle on the shelf. We learned together, and in the process, we developed meaningful relationships that enhanced our growth in and out of class…

As I talked about this space over the summer, many teachers asked how we did this with administrative holds on creativity outside of the curriculum. Simply put, my students and I had designed in-class learning that adhered to our goals. What kids did when they met those goals or on their own time was fair game, and this space gave room to the idea of learning beyond our standards.

The wonder shelves also meant that my students, with a majority of them falling into more marginalized populations, were provided experiences that they would not have had in any other learning venue.

Love this pragmatic approach to fitting in creativity: have it waiting just offstage, ready to be put into use when a spare moment or two comes along.

Do you have a wonder shelf or something similar in your classroom? Please tell us about it.

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Makerspace Funding Ideas

Image of a chalkboard with the quote, "Please, sir, I want some more" from Dickens' Oliver Twist written on it

{cross-posted from the MakerBridge blog}

We received a Twitter request and a query during a recent presentation about funding for makerspaces. Here are some ideas:


Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) - This is the federal government’s funding agency for museums and libraries. New funding for libraries include STEM and Learning Spaces in Libraries. They have stated that they prefer to fund capacity-building (e.g., professional development, staff growth) over equipment, however.

MEEMIC Foundation Grants for educators - usually $500 – $1000 (they also link to other grant-funding ideas here) and – Can you create a great video pitch for why your community needs what you plan to purchase? And, perhaps, time it so you can publicize it in your next round of marketing materials? Can you set up a dedicated station in your library near the front door where people can pledge? Then this crowdfunding avenue might be right for you.

Donors Choose for educators - a crowdfunding site for teachers

Library Grants blog – posts links to available grants

TechSoup - A not-for-profit that connects other nonprofits, charities, foundations, or public libraries with “technology products and services, plus teh free learning resources you need to make informed technology decisions and investments.””

Local Organizations

Sometimes, if you partner with another organization, you can find a synergy that allows you to pool your resources. Maybe you have a great room full of tables, free parking, and time on Sunday evenings when the library is closed and the site is dormant. Maybe you can partner with an organization that has a supplies budget but nowhere to meet. Consider how you might work collaboratively with one of the groups below with existing resources or by partnering together on a grant.

Girl Scouts

Boy Scouts


Local makerspaces and hackerspaces

Local hardware stores

Local robotics, quilting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, woodworking, pottery, or other arts and crafts groups

Local writers and illustrators groups

Chamber of Commerce

School district

Service organizations (Kiwanis, Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, etc.)

University programs and student groups

Retirees and/or independent living facilities

Local/regional economic development authorities

Local theatre groups who have money to buy supplies for productions but need volunteers to help make props, costumes, and sets

Large corporations or universities who regularly discard technology and other equipment (see Cory Doctorow’s post on Raincoast Books for inspiration)

Thanks to John Burke’s Makerspace Resources page for reminding us of some funding ideas!

- Kristin Fontichiaro

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Food for Thought: New Harris Poll on Libraries

From a new Harris Poll on libraries, some useful snippets for future use:

66% of American adults are either extremely (24%) or very (42%) satisfied with their public library. This number represents a seven percentage-point increase from the 59% of Americans who indicated the same in 2008. An additional two in ten (20%) are “somewhat” satisfied.

Yay, numbers are up!

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,306 U.S. adults surveyed online between July 16 and 21, 2014.

Oh … data comes from an online survey. How might that influence the overall pool of available respondents when we consider issues of Internet access that persist in rural or low-income areas.

Higher levels of education coincide with higher likelihood to have a library card. Adults who have completed a postgraduate degree are the most likely to have a library card (79%), followed by a near-tie between college graduates (67%) and those who have completed some college (66%). Americans who have a high school education or less are the least likely to have a library card (58%).

Consider that last sentence: 42% of Americans with a high school diploma or less have library cards. When I think about the real power of library makerspaces, I think about yes, how we can provide more and better services for existing patrons. But I also think about how makerspaces can bring in new skillsets and new patrons. If it’s still fair to equate levels of education to interest in readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic at least in general terms (and is it?) then we have to take a moment to ask ourselves how libraries can serve those who perhaps are less-entranced with books. Can makerspaces in libraries signal that more in the community should feel welcome? After all,

when asked how important it is that a child have one of his or her own, 89% of U.S. adults believe it is important, with 56% finding it to be very important.

What role does a library play in a community?

Nine in ten Americans (89%) feel it is important that a library be a valuable education resource, with the majority of adults specifying they feel this is very important (59%). Meanwhile, just over three-fourths of adults consider it existing as a pillar of the community to be important (77%). In addition, roughly seven in ten Americans agree that it is important for the library to be recognized as a community center (73%), a cultural center (70%), and a family destination (68%). Finally, 65% of American adults believe it is important that a library should exist as an entertainment resource.

These stats aren’t quite as compelling as the 2013 findings of the Pew poll, which put approval ratings more in the 90% range, but if 73% of Americans feel it should be a community center, then what does an ideal community center-based library look like?

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Food for Thought: Why do librarians so often equate purchases with “better” information?

From “Locating Infomation Literacy within Institutional Oppression” by Joshua Beatty on In The Library With The Lead Pipe, inspired by an outline by nina de jesus:

Information today is largely a commodity. We have an internet that continually walls off portions: newspaper subscriptions, digital versions of books, and especially scholarly publications. The portions that are free we tell students to look upon with suspicion. Consider this: an encyclopedia exists on the internet, free to access, free for anyone to correct or to comment upon, and in many different languages. We view it with suspicion precisely because it is open and free.

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Hello, Mid-Michigan Library Cooperative!

Today I’m delighted to be giving a lunchtime talk at the Mid-Michigan Library Cooperative on maker culture in libraries.


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From MakerBridge: “What is a Makerspace? (Day 5)”

cross-posted from the MakerBridge blog

MakerBridge, we’ve each taken a turn this week defining what makerspaces mean to us. Today, as we wrap up our five-day series, we think about how others define it. Here are some definitions from around MakerWorld.

“A makerspace is a physical location where people gather together to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build. Makerspaces provide tools and space in a community environment – a library, community center, private organization, or campus. Expert advisors may be available some of the time, but often novices get help from other users. The makerspacce – sometimes referred to as a hackerspace – is often associated with fields such as engineering, computer science, and graphic design. The concept emerges from the technology-driven “maker culture,” associated with Make magazine and the Maker Faires it promotes. This idea of a collaborative studio space for creative endeavors has caught hold in education, where the informal combination of lab, shop, and conference room form a compelling argument for learning through hands-on exploration. On campus, the makerspace is being embraced by the arts as well as the sciences, and a new energy is building around multidisciplinary collaborative efforts.” - Educause

“The maker movement in libraries is about teaching our patrons to think for themselves, to think creatively, and to look for do-it-yourself solutions before running off to the store. In short, a makerspace is a place where people come together to create with technology.”- Caitlin A. Bagley, ALA TechSource

“Makerspaces, sometimes also referred to as hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs are creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn.””- Ellysa Kroski, OEDb

“It’s the place where an idea turns into a thing. A makerspace is the distance between your head and your hands.” - Allison Parker, Make It At Your Library

“I like using a simple definition for Maker Spaces: “A shared work area where people build things collaboratively.” - Michael Groenendyk in Public Libraries News

“[A] way to bring together generations of learners who can share and build on each others’ knowledge and skills that will benefit both the individual and the community.” - Peggy Watts

“It’s not the tools and resources that define a makerspace — A makerspace is defined by what the people create using the available information and resources.” -Patrick Molvick

“Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces.” - Jennifer Cooper, Edutopia

Your turn … how do you define it?

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Free Makerspace Webinar Oct. 7

Banner image announcing October 7 Booklist webinar about makerspaces

Join us Tuesday, October 7 at 1pm Central (2pm Eastern) for a free webinar about makerspaces in libraries:

When someone mentions “makerspace,” do you hear, “Buy a 3D printer?” While digital fabrication tools can be a robust part of a library makerspace, they’re not the only options. From lanyards to laser cutters and crochet to coding, all kinds of crafts and skills are welcome in makerspaces. In this free, hour-long webinar sponsored by Cherry Lake, Kristin Fontichiaro, clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, will discuss strategies to help create a maker culture in your library that welcomes and supports all patrons and their creations. Moderated by Booklist’s Books for Youth editorial director Gillian Engberg.

Register here, and if the webinar occurs during your school day, your registration will enable you to watch the archive of the live presentation.

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Over on the MakerBridge blog: Defining a Makerspace

Over on the MakerBridge blog, we’re running a special week in which each of our core blogging team shares her definition of a makerspace. (Yup, despite the male-centric view of makers that occurs in some circles, we’re all women.) Hope you’ll hop over there and see what my colleagues have to say!

Here was my contribution:

I spend much of my time during the academic year in Michigan Makers, after-school mobile makerspace projects in local K-12 schools. I often start to describe maker culture by quoting two people. First, Dale Grover of Maker Works, who says that makerspaces are “tools plus support plus community.” I might also quote Thomas (2013), who uses the triad of people, process, and place.

Definitely community. Definitely process. Definitely shared tools. Definitely space.

Yet when I step back and really think about it, what is it that makes my Spidey sense say, in the midst of a maker activity, “Ahhh, this is it!”? That takes me a bit longer to verbalize. Then I realize that it’s a feeling that comes over me, some combination of seeing and hearing, that tells me we’re in the zone or what Czikszentmihalyi (2004) calls “flow.”

I know our makerspace is working when I look around and realize every kid is working on something that interests him/her and, for one brief moment, they’re doing it without me. (Don’t get me wrong: mini-lessons and peer instruction are critical for skill development, but after 45 minutes of threading needles, a moment when everyone is in the groove is a wonderful feeling.)

Maybe one kid is showing another how to use the stop-motion animation app she likes. Another is manning the Silhouette Cameo, showing a peer how to rearrange elements and “weld” them together. Someone else is spending some solo time with LEGO; a boy is running the foot pedal on a sewing machine while a mentor guides the fabric, and a girl is churning out handmade infinity scarves for her friends. Some kids are in the hall, competing to keep their gliders in the air. In those moments, I sense what Dewey (1900)called a student’s “center of gravity,” when they’re settled into themselves, concentrating on what they chose to work on, and intently focused. I feel the same sense when I visit Ann Arbor’s Maker Works and All Hands Active: a kind of focus even within a larger social setting.

To quote a certain judge, it’s something where “I know it when I see it.” And when I see it, it’s a pretty magical moment.

Photo from the Michigan Makers project; copyright 2012 Regents of the University of Michigan

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IKEA’s Apple-style catalog ad

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A Charter for Your School Makerspace?

Image showing the words, "Make things for other people," a quote from Mythbusters' Adam Savage

I got to talk a lot with educators and librarians this summer about makerspaces, maker-friendly culture, and even (gasp) assessment of maker work. Now I’m back in the rhythm of the school year, with a bit more desk time during which I can reflect on all I have learned and solidified in my mind since the last school year – and maker season — came to a close.

For a long time, I’ve been reminding folks to “know their purpose” and how important it is to have an answer for why you’re adopting/hosting/creating a makerspace. It could be to support academics, to supplement academics, to bring in new faces, to provide a safe and social space, to develop soft skills that our frenetically-paced classrooms can no longer make time for, etc. Just saying it’s about STEM or “21st-century” isn’t enough … what exactly about STEM are you developing? Because let’s face it … STEM is a pretty wide field, and just think of how most the projects we hear about related to STEM are really about technology and engineering. Poor M … the poor relation of T and E.  Collaborative skills so kids can code in pairs? Animal identification to support biology class? Geometry skills to help future mosaic makers? Memorized multiplication tables so engineers can calculate more quickly in their head?

I’m being a little bit snide here,  but the point is that if you don’t have a clear understanding of what you want your makerspace to accomplish, then it’s harder to get buy-in, donations, attendees, volunteers, etc. And, as a result, your makerspace is more likely to be a fad that will pass in a few years instead of a vibrant space.

I have used words like “purpose” or “the spine of your makerspace” to describe this to others and have suggested that they take advantage of Mark Hatch’s invitation to hack the Maker Manifesto (first chapter available free here) as a launching point for conversations. One of the smartest thinkers I ran into on my summer travels suggested the use of the word “charter” instead, meaning a working agreement, which bears great promise as being even more direct about roles, purposes, outcomes, etc., than a manifesto (and sound slightly less Marxist to conservative ears?).

Another option — either to launch a discussion or to hack (with attribution, of course) is to have your planning team examine this video of Mythbusters’ Adam Savage, talking about his Ten Commandments of Making:

  1. Make something
  2. Make something useful
  3. Start right now
  4. Find a project
  5. Ask for help, advice, and feedback
  6. Share
  7. Recognize that discouragement and failure is part of the project
  8. Measure carefully
  9. Make things for other people
  10. Use more cooling fluid

I see most of these play out in our most successful maker pilot site (exception: cooling fluid, but hey, the kids are ten years old). Notice how nine of them are about mindset and preparation for making, not tools or skills, which reinforces what we’ve found all along in our Michigan Makers work: that making without maker culture is a series of activity stations. Making with a robust culture that thinks about the items that Savage discusses above? It’s a makerspace. And it’s feels better, too.


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