A Culture of Making and Learning

It was spurred on by fear.  Fear can sometimes be a motivating factor as great as nearly any other.  My great professional fear: when I leave my school for the next step of my career, the work I have done to provide kids with an opportunity to learn through creating will disappear.

I am not alone in this endeavor, I have an inspiring partner teacher that holds many of the same beliefs about education.  But, one person is not enough.  On the last day of the school year, our science teacher and I discovered that we shared a passion for creating a makerspace that could engage our students.  Without a librarian or media specialist, the task was left to us.  We were allowed to do it, but given no funding or assistance.  We worked together to plan, acquire materials, raise funds, and develop a new space for learning where once there was nothing.

We opened the space for the students, many of whom have been inspired or at least excited by the opportunity to take apart technology, code, build functional circuits, craft, make with legos, and work with spheros.

We presented the space and our goals to the board.  They loved it.  The parents and community have loved it.  But, throughout the entire experience, it has been two teachers driving the entire process.  The fear has continued to sit with me: how do we make this space self sustaining?  We needed to find a way to create a culture of making and learning. Doing that means making it more than our space.

I took the conversation to my co-worker that has been building our makerspace from the beginning.  How do we get more teachers involved?

That simple question led to a surprisingly quick professional development opportunity.  With three days to plan, we built activities to engage our staff in the makerspace materials we had available to kids, in hopes they would find ways to bring their classes into the space.

Some people will tell you that giving design challenges goes against the true nature of a makerspace.  I understand those arguments, specifically, that giving students constraints is limiting.  My goal however, has never really just been to create a makerspace, but to create a school in which students have the opportunity to demonstrate learning and engage with knowledge.

The purpose of the makerspace is bring people together to collaborate, learn, and create.  I don’t need the space to do that in my own classroom, but I have never been the norm in my school.  If teachers are bringing their classes to the space, we can start to expose more kids to exciting options for demonstrating learning.  By  engaging teachers with the materials and brainstorming ways to bring lessons into the makerspace, we took big steps forward in the journey toward creating a real culture for making and learning.

We have a long way to go in this transition, but the feedback on all fronts continues to be very positive.  People are open to exploring ways to use making and creating in their classrooms.  What started as a whisper has echoed throughout this year into something so much louder.  I have hope that this is becoming more than just a a few individuals, standing against the tide, but rather a shift in the tide toward greater engagement and opportunity for our students.