Hello, Connecticut Educators!

Hello, Connecticut Educators at the joint CECA-CASL conference at Mohegan Bay Resort!

I’m doing a solo session on makerspaces, for which you can find the handout of makerspaces activities (with new additions!) here and the slides here.

I’m also teaming with Debbie Abilock to talk about visual literacy, and you can find a set of our slides, with the copyrighted material removed, here.


Posted in Presentations | Leave a comment

Oakland Schools K-5 Research Webinar


**Update 10/17: You can now view the archived webinar here.**

Howdy! We just wrapped up tonight’s webinar for Oakland Schools: Small Bites: Research in the K-5 Classroom.

Session description:

The Common Core asks that students engage in small, focused research experiences across the year.  For many teachers, this is a curricular design shift.  In this interactive session, we will consider this important shift in a variety of ways: explore a continuum for varying levels of student independence in the research process; investigate the multiple and key skills we need to develop in our student researchers; and learn about tech tools that can help facilitate and support effective instruction for research and research writing.

You can download the slides here, and when we get the link from host Delia DeCourcey with the archive to the webinar, I’ll share the link here as well.

Thanks, everybody! That was a lot of fun!

Posted in Information Literacy, Inquiry, Research, Search, Webinars | Leave a comment

“Yes, We Can. But Should We?” on Making {Hmmm}

“Yes, We Can. But Should We? : The Unintended Consequences of the Maker Movement” gave me that kinda-love-it-kinda-don’t feeling. On one hand, it makes some important points about corporatization, materialism, the environment, and 3D printing. And on the other, it perseverates on a fraction of what making has the capacity to be and do.

Some meaty quotes that stayed with me over the past few weeks:

Quirky has been clever in melding the old-school notion of being an “inventor” with the new-school notion of being a “maker.” But somewhere in the course of entering the pop culture zeitgeist, the warm and fuzzy self-empowered “maker” idea got turned into an engine for output and profit.

To begin, Quirky pre-dates the popularity of the term “maker,” doesn’t it? That being said, this tension about making — is it just for fun or can people make a living doing it — is a critical one if we want to cast a wide net for makers. If there is something “wrong” with people taking an entrepreneurial approach to making, and the only way making counts is for personal edification, then making cannot serve as a road to entrepreneurship for those from less fortunate socioeconomic classes. And that strikes me as rather unfair. (Now might be a good time for me to point out that this article was published as part of a series sponsored by BMW.)

No idea is too superfluous. Many of the items the company sells are gadgets like “Pivot Power,” designed expressly for plugging in other gadgets.

Well, maybe, but what makes Pivot Power a compelling invention is that its outlets are hinged, not confined in a row. With so many oversized chargers, a standard bricklike surge protector can only accommodate a few blocky plugs, which doesn’t help if you have limited outlets. Pivot Power changed things by providing the ability to move and flex each of its outlets so you can accommodate all sorts of plugs. Seems kinda like an improvement to me.

… Not so long ago it felt like we were beginning to recognize that as a society, our patterns of production and consumption were not sustainable. Messages like The Story of Stuff went viral, refocusing our collective eyes on our culture’s stunning material wastefulness. But that period was short … the drive to produce more has only accelerated.

Fair enough statement, but is making somehow connected to wastefulness? If I make quilts out of scraps, isn’t that resourcefulness, not wastefulness? Is making a cake wastefulness? Or do those activities not fit into the implicitly narrow definition of making in the author’s mind?

… ideas around designing and making have shifted and sectors of the maker movement have veered from basement workshop projects to the production of i-accessories and other trinkets that make Kickstarter fanboys drool …

Well, this makes a pretty radical assumption: that the only things we’re making are trinkets and iPhone cases. Sounds a bit narrow.

I won’t point the finger at one company or one discipline but I am struck by the absence of sustainable discourse in the maker movement.

Fair enough. There needs to be more discussion around critical making, about making for a purpose, though even as I type that, I feel the need to point out that I often see making serve a therapeutic role, and that’s a valid reason for making. But when we start this sustainable discourse, let’s talk about diversity in the maker movement, at which making activities “count” in mainstream maker media, the author’s use of the term “fanboy,” etc.

Daily, we read swooning odes to the 3-D printer … Every tchotchke is celebrated as if it were as significant as the wheel or the printing press.

If there is this level of celebration, is it not being done by the author’s colleagues in the media?

…There seems to be a misconception about what 3D printing does and does not enable. Does it allow us to delight a four-year-old by pulling a mini Darth Vader toy seemingly out of thin air?It does.

This strikes me as an interesting issue regarding copyright and intellectual property. I’d love to hear more about this aspect, but the article abruptly shifts into a new angle.

But the object doesn’t materialize from nothing. A 3D printer consumes about 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than injection molding to make an item of the same weight. On top of that, the emissions from desktop 3D printers are similar to burning a cigarette or cooking on a gas or electric stove. And the material of choice for all this new stuff we’re clamoring to make is overwhelmingly plastic. In a sense, it’s a reverse environmental offset, counteracting recent legislation to reduce plastic use through grocery bag bans and packaging redesigns. While more people tote reuasable cloth bags to the supermarket, plastic is piling up in other domains, from TechShop to Target.

The environmental impact of 3D printers haunts me, too. The odor that comes off as the plastic melts is noticeable. The plastic issue is a big thing we’re a bit afraid to encounter. But how would the author reply to the 3D printers Staples is implementing abroad, which use paper instead? Would being able to recycle or reuse materials in a 3D printer change her position?

Do we need more products? Not really. But we need better ones. So why aren’t we designing them?

Wait … doesn’t the Quirky Pivot Power solve a problem for us? Yet it’s identified as a culprit in the opening lines of the article.

This is not to say that there aren’t good things happening in the maker space …  like The Tinkering School, which encourages kids to make stuff for the sake of making it (they then disassemble what they’ve created and reuse the materials). We need these avenues for supporting craft and DIY, developing an alternative to consumerism rather than a direct line to it.

There’s a role for designers and makers (and yes, even entrepreneurs) of stuff – a really important one – but there’s a responsibility in acquiring and applying the skills required to make things, and it is worth recognizing that just because you can design something doesn’t mean you should.

Who gets to decide whether someone can or should? Isn’t there a significant difference between printing out a Darth Vadar figurine using someone else’s .stl file that you downloaded from the web and designing your own item to help your classmate customize her wheelchair knobs? Maybe a more accurate thing to say is, “Just because you have a 3D printer doesn’t mean you should print guns and copyrighted figures on it,” or, “Burning plastic is bad for the environment, so ask yourself what you’re getting out of a print job in exchange for that small waste of toxicity.” Or just plain ethical making.

It’s disappointing that an article that raises so many important points — especially about environmentalism — doesn’t delve more deeply into its arguments and evidence.

Posted in 3D Printing, Makerspaces/Hackerspaces | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Advice for Successful Kids’ Makerspaces from Toronto’s MakerKids

From the MAKE blog comes advice from MakerKids, Toronto’s kid-centered makerspace. Advice includes a lot of stuff we also do in Michigan Makers. They call it “The MakerKids Recipe:

  1. Dedicated Space - that signals that this site is outside the normal boundaries of their day.
  2. Real tools.
  3. Process Over Product.
  4. Interest-Driven.
  5. Kids Teaching (aka peer guidance)
  6. Exhibition
  7. Community
Posted in Makerspaces/Hackerspaces | Leave a comment

Inspiration: Sorting Your Programming by Dewey Number


Interview: Delaware Division of Libraries | UpNext: The IMLS Blog via kwout

I was fascinated by this map created for the Delaware Division of Libraries that appeared on the IMLS Blog UpNext. It sorts library programming by Dewey number. Would sorting programming in this way give us new insights about where our efforts are over- or undercommitted and help us better reach diverse patron interests? Or would it merely encourage us, as in the days of balanced collections, to do a little bit of everything at the expense of going deep in areas of interest?

Posted in Delight, Food for Thought, Inspiration | Leave a comment

Hello, Booklist Webinar Participants!

Banner image announcing October 7 Booklist webinar about makerspaces

Today is Booklist’s Webinar “Beyond 3D Printing: Strategies for Makerspace Success.” Join us!

You can download a copy of the slides here and a copy of the list of potential maker genres here.

Posted in 3D Printing, Makerspaces/Hackerspaces, Webinars | Leave a comment

Reminder: Free Makerspace Webinar tomorrow at 2pm Eastern/1pm Central!

Banner image announcing October 7 Booklist webinar about makerspaces

Join us tomorrow 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.

Posted in Makerspaces/Hackerspaces, Presentations, Webinars | Leave a comment

Food for Thought: Choosing a Topic

With my information literacy students, my pals at U-M Library, and my K-12 colleagues, I keep wondering about how to improve the process of winnowing a topic down to the just-right size. I like this version a lot from Pegasus Librarian:

Two things that come up a lot are appropriate topic scope and how to know when you’re done researching. For the first I often use the analogy of a cropped photograph for a good topic: focused in on the important parts and only gesturing toward the rest of the things that you mentally know are part of the original scene but are cut out of the cropped image. We’ll also talk about how to combine related bodies of scholarship into your new, combined topic (students often aren’t very good at thinking about related research as useful to their new claims). And as far as when you know you’re done? Being true to your cropped image and then running continually into bibliographies that list people you’ve already read.


Posted in Inquiry, Research | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Classroom Culture, Creativity, Delight, Makerspaces/Hackerspaces | Leave a comment

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)

Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com – 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

Posted in Makerspaces/Hackerspaces | Leave a comment