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Making a MakerSpace

“Rise up, it’s time to take a shot.”

My Shot from HAMILTON

20160316_112023 That’s all Michael Stephens and I had to go on when we gathered in his 4th grade  classroom to hatch a plan to build a MakerSpace. It was early in the year and I was new to the school, looking for a kindred spirit. When I was hired my principal said I would get along with this fourth grade teacher, and she was right. Michael and I spoke the same nerd language and we shared philosophies on teaching. He’s tech savvy and has been coding with his students for a few years, and I pretend at being tech savvy and have been moving in a more Maker-style direction over the last few years. Once we finished talking geek properties (a common nerd bonding exercise) we got into ideas for our school. The Big Idea we landed quickly on was, “What if we had a MakerSpace? That would be amazing for our kids.”

“Where would we put it? There’s that one empty portable. What if we had one of these? Think of all the things we could do. What do we need?” We took to twitter in search of answers. In one night, with lots of help from experienced makers like Nathan Stephens, we built a strong list of Needs and Wants.

A list is the easy part– Now we have to sell it to the boss. Two things to know about me- 1) I have no fear going into my principal’s office to ask for something or talk about something. This approach has served well over the years, even when I shoot my mouth off about things a teacher in his first year at the school maybe shouldn’t. 2) I had just left an awful administration. A terrible VP who had no interest in anything but tearing my ideas down and pulling my leash. So while I wasn’t nervous about pitching our, “Hey, can we have a few thousand dollars?” idea to the boss, I was ready to be told “No,” in short, declarative sentences. And if I was I’d find a way to work it in my own class.

Instead, our principal was even more supportive than we could have imagined. She was on-board from the word Go. She got us in front of our PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) within a week. She had us pitching the staff. She went looking for funding with us. All we had to do was explain to her WHY we wanted a MakerSpace and HOW it would benefit the kids. Reasonable.

I am great at ideas. I like being an engine and the energy, but I’m not the most organized human. Which is why when I’ve run projects like this I need a partner who is those other things. Michael has a mind for organization and planning. He helped channel me and together we put up a fantastic presentation for our PTO. They loved us. They were over the moon about it. One of the parents, Alison Gentry, became the third member of our team. She wrote grants and hunted down supplies and made lists and did all those things we didn’t have the time to do because we were teaching. Without Alison the MakerSpace wouldn’t have been made. She spent her free time repainting the room we were going to use.

We had many meetings and hammered out a Phase One Wishlist and budget. Supplies start rolling in- Spheros, iPads, LEGO, arts and crafts supplies, a green screen, old sewing machines, and more. Polar3D accepts me into their Ambassador program and donates a 3D printer (Thank you!). Michael and I start a GoFundMe and make an OkGo-inspired commercial for it.

Which leads us to the last, but most important part of building a MakerSpace– Selling the teachers. Think about it, a teacher you’ve never met before steps in front of you at a staff meeting and says, “Hi, I’m here because we’re building a new room to our school. We’re funneling tech funds into it. It will have a bunch of things in it you’ve never even heard of before. Come with us on this adventure.” To be honest, Michael did a lot of the talking. They know him, he’s calmer than me- it’s a better plan. We had a little resistance, but not as much as we expected. Anyone who’s ever been in a staff meeting knows there’s always a few of Those teachers, who have “too much on their plates already.” To assuage them we made it clear the space was, at least for this year, completely optional. No pressure. And that we’re both happy to do any helping needed.


My 5th graders training 1st graders in all the Space’s tools

Many teachers jumped– jumped– at the idea though. “This is how teaching used to be back when I started!” they exclaimed! “Finally we’re moving away from the drill and kill of the last few years and back to creativity.” We explained to some that were optimistic but cautious that there were baby steps in. We listened to the teachers of tiny people when they brought up concerns about what a ten year old can do that a kindergartner can’t and did some digging to find kinder and first-grader-friendly activities. We knew that once we got them in the room with their kids they’d be hooked.

All in all we went from having a crazy idea in late September/early October to having a fully operational MakerSpace when we got back from the winter holiday in January. Nothing in education moves that quickly. It takes six months to get new pencil sharpeners. Without an enthusiastic partner willing to put in tons of his own time, an administrator that believed in us and supported us to the hilt, without a parent group that jumped on board, without a parent who took on massive responsibilities, and without a staff who took a risk with us, we wouldn’t have a MakerSpace. We would have an idea that never got done. We would never get this-

Take a risk. Take your shot.

All the documents shared in this piece come from our MakerSpace folder, and if you have more questions about what we did and how we did it either of us would be happy to answer those. I will also be presenting a session on this called “Making a MakerSpace” at the CUE 2016 Fall Conference.

CEO’s note: if you run into more resistance than Michael and Doug, you might consider signing up for FREE CUE STEAMpunk mobile labs program. It’s a great way to make the case to all stakeholders without first having to buy the gear!


CdxiPwKUYAAr5NwDoug Robertson is the CUE blog editor and a tenth-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome) and an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words).  Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.

“I was born by the river in a little tent
Ohh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”

-Sam Cooke

If you were a student in my classroom, there is no way that you could have read those words. Once you’ve experienced music, you find rhythm and meaning in words like that and you don’t just read them, you hear them. There is a lot of talk in the educational community about engaging students. As a teacher, we are up for a pretty big battle. The world that our students live in is full to the brim of engaging devices, experiences, and situations.

Nia escuchando msicaI had the absolute pleasure of looping with my class over the past two years, 4th and 5th grade and according to the South Carolina standards, we covered all of human history in that time. We went from the Land Bridge right up to Globalization and how interdependence has shaped today’s world. As you can probably figure out, that timeline doesn’t lend itself to a lot of depth but certainly covers breadth. As their teacher, not only am I asking kids to take that giant journey with me, I’m also asking them to relate to time periods that are vastly different from their own. Vastly different from my own.

However, one note that strikes a chord with almost every human being that I have come into contact with is a beat, a rhythm, a deep rooted tapping of the foot that leads straight to the heart. We don’t just learn about the Native American tribes that lived upon our soil, we hear the rhythm of their drums and the tones of their pan flute that can be used to evidence how multiple influences and cultures ended up on our continent. When the boys go marching out to War on the battlegrounds of Antietam and Gettysburg, I have a lone drummer at the front of my room, tapping out the march as we feel the footsteps of those who died in our country so long ago.

As a southerner, I have always felt a sense of pride in my heritage. However, there is great sadness that fills me when I think of the inequality that my history was founded in. I am so lucky to live in a time when the simplest of dreams that Dr. King spoke of are alive and flourishing in my diverse classroom. But we also remember when we hear Mr. Cooke sing, listen to Mahalia Jackson with a voice that can only be described as “angelic,” and look at the beautiful Mrs. Lena Horne that these fine artists were denied entrance into the very places they performed. My technology may not be high-tech. I bring in an old record player and a few worn out looking squares, some with “hippies” on them. But the moment that needle touches the groove, my kids are standing at their desks, debating over whether or not we should send our young men to Vietnam to fight communism or paint peace signs on our faces to oppose a battle that we already know will end in death for so many.

Fotolia_98968755_Subscription_Monthly_MThe moment the first note of Thriller fills the room, the kids all eye each other knowingly, as if to say, “Michael Jackson is a part of my family.” But what they don’t know is how we will connect his music to punk rock, the Reagan administration, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. We don’t just read about Globalization, we hear the pop music currently playing on the radio in India, Russia, Tibet, Brazil, Greece, and any other place we want to “visit”. Technology allows us to travel like this. We move past the record player and recognize that the past isn’t in the past and that the struggle isn’t over in other countries (or maybe even our own).

I begin every unit with music and incorporate the sound of history into my lessons. Science has sound too. When we are studying oceans and landforms, for instance, I take the kids on a journey to San Francisco Bay with the sound of the water lapping, a distant foghorn, and seals playing in the water. Nature creates its own music and connects us, once again, to the learning that is happening in the classroom. It moves us beyond the walls and across the continent. It soothes us during reading time or gets us fired up during an energizer.

By the end of fifth grade, the kids are asking bigger questions than I know how to answer, so sometimes, we just put on some jazz, put our thoughts on paper, and let the rhythm in our hearts write our very own history. Teaching isn’t just about facts, those are available in the pocket of every kid with a phone. It’s storytelling, awareness making, and future hoping. We aren’t just there for their minds, we do our best to give them a little heart and a whole lot of soul.  

xT79NO7sI am a 5th grade teacher in Columbia, SC and a proud graduate of the University of South Carolina where I cheer on the Gamecocks for every game during football season! I think of myself as a “Teaching Ninja,” but not just because I am the height of a 5th grader and blend in well. I am a coach in the classroom and I let the kids take charge of their own learning as often as possible. Through workshop, Genius Hour, and inquiry activities, I hope to inspire, encourage, and ignite creativity and passion. In my free time, I cater to the whims and appetites of two adorable dogs named Picasso and Willowby and I make things out of yarn. Sometimes I say neat things or retweet other people who say neat things. Follow me @miamayer or my class @msmayersclass.

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