Sunday / July 21

What’s in a Makerspace?


How we built our Makerspace

Over the past couple of months, the staff at New Milford High School (NHMS) has been diligently creating our own unique learning environments for our students. Building on the success of our Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), we have been hard at work to create an innovative learning space that would inspire and engage our students in new ways. With a school culture ripe for change and transformation, the missing piece was a twenty-first century media specialist to take us to the next level. This past September, Laura Fleming came on board; since then, she has done nothing less than blaze a trail. She embraced the autonomy she was given in a position that functions as  librarian, media specialist, and educational technology integrator to push the envelope. Lucky for her, NMHS already had many innovative teachers on staff and students yearning for changes in how and where they learn since NMHS is in an ancient building (built in 1928).

One of the most amazing transformations that has taken place at NMHS is the creation of the Makerspace in what was our traditional library. A space that was once a barren wasteland is now a thriving learning metropolis where students flock to tinker, invent, create, collaborate, work, and most importantly, learn. When I hired Laura, I basically told her the budget, and she had complete control of how she wanted to use the money. I could never have imagined how quickly she could radically transform this outdated space, using money that previously had always been spent on books, magazines, and electronic databases. Some quick highlights include the following:

She just launched an updated site for the Makerspace at NMHS that I highly suggest you visit. Not included on the site is the recent purchase and addition of an LED chessboard and café-style seating. This has resulted in many spirited chess matches between students and NMHS teachers over the past couple of weeks. For more information on our Makerspace, check out this post that I wrote earlier in the year and view this recent CBS Channel 2 NYC News piece on the space.

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The Makerspace in Action

Ms. Fleming recently hosted Mr. Fowler’s Conceptual Physics classes for some hands-on experiences with electronics in the Makerspace. Prior to their experience in this space, students had worked with the pHET DC Circuit Simulator. They were able to explore current flows through light bulbs in circuits powered by batteries and controlled by switches. This simulation experience gave the students some cause and effect experiences allowing them to witness the interplay between voltage, current, and resistance. Despite these experiences, they missed the reality of low batteries, poor electrical connections, and other real-world experiences that impact circuits. This all changed dramatically when students were afforded a hands-on, authentic learning experience in the Makerspace that allowed them to create artifacts of learning to demonstrate conceptual mastery.

Once in the Makerspace, students began to create, tinker, and invent to learn concepts related to circuitry. When they made Little Bits circuits that rotated paper hands and Snaptricity circuits that launched propellers, they overcame initial impediments and experienced success. They had to troubleshoot to find a broken lead on a connection to the battery or find an open circuit because a connection that appeared to be made was electrically disconnected. The support provided by Ms. Fleming was excellent and pivotal to the success of the lesson. Kits were readily available for the students to use. When batteries ran low, she had backups on hand for all of the groups. Two students gravitated more towards the Legos and she immediately improvised by having electronic motors available that they could work with. This experience has provided a reservoir of learning opportunities for both of Mr. Fowler’s classes that they continue to draw from when working through series and parallel circuits.

While studying the unit on Visual Merchandising and Display Marketing class, Mrs. Vicari thought about our school store, which is currently being redesigned and reopened. She then challenged the students to use all the elements of Visual merchandising and display to create a model of what our school store should look like.

Their project was to design the school store’s storefront, sign, entrance, window display, selling space, storage space, personnel space, customer space, color, lighting, graphics, paint, fixtures, point of purchase display, and props. Collaborating with NMHS media specialist Laura Fleming, who introduced her to Tinkercad, Mrs. Vicari challenged the students to use this website to create a 3-D model of their school store, which could be printed out in plastic using the Makerbot 3-D printer that is a main component of our makerspace. The students also elaborated on their design with a written explanation that included all the elements of visual merchandising. You can check out the written portion of this project HERE.

The Makerspace in the library is an oasis for student self-directed learning. It serves as a rejuvenation center for inspiring of love for both formal and informal learning. In my opinion, a space like this should be a priority for all schools in the twenty-first century; and you do not have to break the bank to create one.

Written by

Eric is a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) and Scholastic Achievement Partners (SAP). His work focuses on leading and learning in the digital age as a model for moving schools and districts forward. His main focus is the use of social media and web 2.0 technologies as tools to engage students, improve communications with stakeholders, enhance public relations, create a positive brand presence, discover opportunity, transform learning spaces, and help educators grow professionally. He is the author of Digital Leadership and UnCommon Learning.

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