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.

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Doug Robertson

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