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Making inside the space and outside the box

AASL’s new mission: empowers leaders to transform teaching and learning.  I keep thinking about how this mission also applies to learning that is is informal and interest-driven.

A couple of days back, Michelle Luhtala, Shannon Miller and I brainstormed informally about informal learning, and makerspaces, and where we are all going.

Michelle was preparing for her must-see EdWeb webinar, Hands on Learning: The Power of Interactive Learning in the Library. Shannon was thinking about the notion of makerspaces to go and makerspace in a bag, after a few pretty exciting shopping expeditions and after experimenting with the very intentional use of activity folders on her mobile devices.

And I was thinking about a whole bunch of things.

Back in September I wrote a post about rethinking makerspaces. In that post I shared my belief that libraries have always been about making. We encouraged digital and visual and dramatic and rhetorical creativity before, during, and after school for as long as I could remember.  We’ve always been about discovering and connecting people with their interests.

That post, my post about the super-amazing Sylvia, my recent reading of Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators, and our conversation got me thinking about the conditions under which people create and the need to have folks with all types of intelligences engaged in the process.

I believe passionately in the importance of tinkering and coding and introducing design thinking.  But I questioned the value of imposing what it is that students make and of randomly carving out space for a 3D printers and electronics stations in already highly valued floor real estate.  For instance, in our high school, other teachers had those areas covered in ways far more expert and inspiring than I could possibly attempt, in spaces designed to accommodate and celebrate serious engineering planning and feats.

And, as all of us girls agreed, it’s just not about the stuff.  Caine Monroy’s example using the cardboard he was able to scavenge is evidence that you don’t need a whole lot of expensive stuff to create something wonderful and to inspire the universe.

And then there’s a growing convergence.

  • School pressures and discrete curricula make it challenging to make space for interest-driven, interdisciplinary learning.
  • In many schools, the library is the only haven for self-directed, informal, life-wide learning–the place to go when a student just wants to know more about or know how to do  . .  .
  • In some schools, curricula have dramatically narrowed to focus heavily on areas of high-stakes assessment and remediation.
  • In some schools, students love their library spaces, but the time they spend in them does not always involve meaningful learning or creative activity.

It is within the mission of the library to respond to this convergence.  Though for some, the response may best come in the form of 3-D printer or a variety of electronics kits, or coding opportunities, other responses may be equally relevant, valid, engaging.

Makerspaces need not be one-size-fits-all kind of spaces.  There are all kinds of idiosyncratic ways to make and meet local needs and interests.  There’s something a little icky to me about imposing informal learning and not considering choice.  If the agenda comes from outside, it may not be as engaging or as easily embraced and it’s almost antithetical to the culture of libraries.  (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could achieve model of choice presented by Charlotte’s beautiful Imaginon!)

We need to ask kids about their interests.  We need to see what classroom teachers are already doing, as well as what they believe needs doing or augmenting.

Makerspaces in schools can easily connect to student’s authentic interests and experiences.

In my Rethinking Makerspaces post, MIT’s Amos Blanton shared:

When students have to spend all their time fulfilling an external agenda, they don’t have a chance to learn how to create their own agenda. Teaching kids only what adults think they need to know can take up all the time kids need to explore what it is that they care about.  Freedom to choose changes the way students invest in a project.  We need to connect learners to their interests, to give them the freedom to choose what to do and learn . . .[W]hat I love about the library is that when I enter, I set the agenda. 

Shannon believes all sorts of choice can happen with the options you include in a makerspace in a bag.  We agreed these options could also live on carts or little red wagons or in the pockets of aprons.  It’s another way in which we might rethink collection.

Here’s Shannon’s bag.  Inside she’s got art supplies; bags of Legos; duct tape;  weaving kits; cameras; Sphero app-controlled robotics; splitters; a beautiful assortment of craft, designengineering and inspirational books and maand so much more.


Our conversation moved to the notion of a mobile makerspace.  So, if you have a cart of iPads, for instance, wouldn’t it be fun to curate open-ended creativity apps that could be combined as menus to help learners create around a number of themes.

Here’s a screenshot of Shannon’s Lego folder.  You might also make folders for music compositions, digital storytelling, cartooning, drawing, writing, etc.  You might also create a physical display of groups of makey type books or virtual displays and groupings on your websites or on a library app like MackinVia.

We began to brainstorming a variety of rotating learning stations or centers and realized that it would be much more valuable to do this brainstorming with that group of study hall, lunch or after-school students who are always with you and inspire them to creative activity.

Worlds of Learning post on Worlds of Making, Laura Fleming described her first shopping list that included:

•    Legos Architectural, Simple Machines
•    Raspberry Pi
•    3-d Makerbot Printing Station
•    Makey Makey Kits
•    Little Bits
•    Arduino Boards
•    Molecular Gastronomy Kits
•    Robot Kits
•    Papertronics
•    Wearable Technology

She described her greeting to both her physical and virtual Makerspaces, a greeting that respects innovation and choice:

What is Worlds of Making @ NMHS? Well, that is up to you, the maker. This space, both physical and virtual, is a place for you to collaborate, hack, invent, share, create, make and do. You have been given the tools you need to get started, but where it goes is up to you. The world is your platform. 

I wonder if those choices might also include activities to celebrate creative efforts across intelligences:

  • found poetry
  • book spine poetry
  • puppetry
  • costume/performance (with green screen and video cameras)
  • cartooning
  • sewing and knitting and fabric arts
  • nail art
  • music recording (maybe in a more closed studio space or office)
  • upcycling or making new useful things out of old things
  • storytelling (perhaps with a prompt basket)
  • a design challenge basket
  • a science challenge/experiment table
  • a mathy problem solution challenge

Better yet, can the kids drive the learning?

The incredible resource list Michelle curated from her webinar will give you hundreds more ideas to expand making of all sorts in your library!  Among the resources I discovered, was the uTEC Maker model created by Bill Derry, David Loertscher and Leslie Preddy to


assist those who are interested in the Makerspace movement to recognize  the progression in many fields the characteristics of a person of any age who is making progress along a continuum from being a user of something created by others to the act of creating something that is innovative.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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