Makerspaces: Re-making education

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on March 26, 2016

Photo of a makerspace in action.Makerspace has become one of the new buzzwords in education.  A Google search of makerspace will return approximately 400,000 results.  Makerspaces are showing up in schools across the country—but what is a makerspace and how does it impact education?

A makerspace is simply a do-it-yourself place where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. In schools, it’s a hands-on way to encourage students to design, build and invent.  Many think of these labs as technology centers focusing on robotics and high-tech fabricating, but a makerspace could include activities such as woodworking, cardboard construction or even sewing.  Materials to stock can range from simple items like craft paper, markers, crayons, glue, modeling clay,  and Legos to be more high-tech items like wires, circuits, batteries, resistors, switches, and motors.  Tools might range from sewing machines to 3D printers. (Here’s one example of an inventory list for your makerspace.)

Planning your makerspace

Before you start building your space, you need to first consider what types of activities and projects could be done there.  Administration would brainstorm with staff (preferably including math, science, art and technology teachers) who will or possibly could use the space.  Once it is determined who will be using the space, the next item to discuss is which tools are needed.   Depending on the ideas and activities brainstormed, the space required for materials and project storage can be firmed up.  Will you need a new structure or can you use existing space? Consider renovations such as updates to electrical systems, plumbing and safety equipment you might need.

Another key topic for discussion is who will have access to the space.  Will you have the community using the space and if so, who is staffing and managing it in off-school hours?  If you are focusing your makerspace on students only, you then need to decide if the space is open all day or perhaps students will visit in a dedicated class time with their teacher.

But why?

So, we have discussed how to create your space, but let’s look at why you would want such a space to begin with. That goes back to what a makerspace is: a place to “create, invent, and learn.”  In this environment, you will see students creating open-ended projects and collaborating with each other.  They will be engaged in creative expression and reflect on what they have created.  This curiosity and interest create the type of youth-driven culture for learning in your building that all administrators strive to create.  These spaces promote experimentation with a cross-disciplinary focus that engages multiple staff members.  Students see how the very same tools, techniques, and process skills are found and required in the physics lab, art studio, and auto shop.  Makerspaces are a powerful way to move from a “winners and losers” mentality to one of “every student succeeds!”



OER—What’s this all about?

Posted by Geoff Belleau on December 20, 2015

A bunch of pennies“A Penny saved is a penny earned”…or something like that is what my grandma used to tell me. In life, it’s conventional wisdom to make your funds stretch as far a possible. Businesses get it.  People eating peanut butter or ramen right before payday get it. Schools get it too. Even now, as resources are starting to flow back into schools, we’re trying to stretch our funds, and one way that global education has been doing that is with Open Educational Resources.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” (

Education stateside is starting to take notice. In the fall of 2015, the US Department of Education released it’s #GoOpen campaign to encourage acceptance of OER. Many States have invested resources in platforms to help educators curate OER. In the ESSA update, Title IV can be used, among other things, to increase access to personalized learning experience supported by technology making instructional content available through OER. This can include providing tools and processes to support local educational agencies in making such resources widely available.

Internationally OER has gained traction. In 2012, two teachers “wrote” an algebra book one weekend. The effort expanded to include other complete textbooks. One of the strongest testimonies to the effectiveness of OER came from Italy where students were forbidden from starting their courses early using the OER course materials for fear that they would finish the course before it started.

Also in 2012, California passed landmark legislation, Senate Bills 1052 and 1053, which provides for developing a list of 50 lower  division courses for which digital open source text books and related material shall be developed and/or acquired, as well as creating a process in which faculty, publishers, and other interested parties may apply for funds to develop open source textbooks. (See examples.)

One of the premier teacher training programs on integration of technology for teachers, admin, and professional developers is Leading Edge Certification. LEC is complete built and shared on the Creative Commons Platform and a great example of OER.

For educators, OER can have an impact on instructional delivery and student learning immediately in at least two ways.

  •  When looking for supplemental instructional resources. Teachers often need additional strategies and resources for “find another way for a student to learn.” They might have already tried the traditional way, the way the curriculum suggested, the way the grade level team or other department teachers suggested, or even the way they learned the particular topic themselves, but the students still don’t “have it”. Instead of just googling it, a well curated OER process/system can help filter them to what they need to help their students. Maybe it’s a course half way around the globe that has what they need!
  • When searching for appropriate non-fiction text. Current text is hard to come by. OER allows teachers to access what they need for their students. One note of consideration, however, is how OER will be reviewed and vetted.  The traditional material review process is slow at best. After submitting the resource, waiting for it to go on an agenda, go through review committee and then onto the board agenda and approval after discussion, the currency of the material may well be gone. By the same token, if inappropriate resources are used with students, even with the best of intentions, serious consequences may result. No one likes explaining that to CNN. Reviewing your process and procedures for selecting and using open educational resources time well spent.

Yes grandma, a penny saved is, indeed, a penny earned. Saving or redirecting funds saved by using OER truly does help students live in the rapidly changing world!


Making: A course adjustment!

Posted by Beth Stewart on June 18, 2015

Cartoon of helmsman at wheel
Image courtesy of vectorolie at

Standards, assessments, and skills dominate conversations in and around schools. These topics stick with us even when we get together to socialize outside the school environment. As we have continued to research how to help students “get it,” we have extended our conversations to things like engagement, relevance, and even rigor. We do all this in the name of preparing students for their future.

Certainly, there is a place for such conversations. We are well intentioned professionals that only want the best for students. We live and breath learning. Many of us are so addicted to education that it consumes our every waking minute, but I would pose that we have missed the boat! That ship sailed from a different port, in the middle of the night, and we did not see it leave. But never fear, that ship has lights and many  of us have it in our sites. All that is left to do is to turn our heads toward it and chart our course.

How can we possibly catch this fast moving ship? We need to change where we have been going, to refocus not on what adults believe is essential but on areas that excite and create passion in students. Am I suggesting that we throw out everything we have worked toward for the last 100 years? Absolutely not. I am proposing we tweak our rudders and plot a new course, different from the one we are now on. By changing course we can create a powerful workforce like no other in the world. We need to teach through passion. We need to hone in on the interest of students. We need to design curriculum around the student instead of the fitting the student into the curriculum. When we take this approach, we have a great opportunity to create a nation of “makers.”

What is a maker, and why do we need them? Makers are the steam in our engine. They’re the way we will catch that fast moving ship. While various technologies such as 3-D printers are important to this movement, it is not all about the technology. Being a maker is about creativity, critical thinking skills, and problem solving. It is Project-based learning on steroids. It can certainly involve technology, but that is only one piece. In May 2012, Dale Doughtery stated,

To build, to make, to create is something that’s in all of us, but especially in every child. However, like creativity itself, children need the opportunity to explore making and develop their capabilities through practice. Young makers need access to tools, mentors and other people who enjoy making things. That’s how children grow as makers and become lifelong learners. When children and teens make things, they are having fun but they are also engaged in learning. They are learning to realize their own creative ideas, to solve real problems and to overcome failure and frustration in the process. When they say proudly to others: “Look what I made!”, they’ve become a maker.*

The paradigm shift for educators will be great. Being a maker does not fit inside a nice little box or within the context of a 40 minute period. Making is an exciting, cross-curricular approach that must rest within the passions of the students it serves. Teachers and administrators will have to step aside and let creativity run rampant in the classroom and building. It may be loud or quiet, neat or messy, tiny or huge.

With making, the sky is only limited by the vision of the maker and the question that is posed. As schools embrace the “Maker Movement,” how questions are worded to students will be at the core. Instead of “build a sled,” the question becomes “design something that will transport me down a snowy, icy hill. I’d like to go fast because I’m a little bit of a daredevil.” This type of open-ended question allows students to think beyond a sled and allows them to be creative. Isn’t that what we want for all our students? I believe we all want this type of success and passion for all our students—to be able to think, to create, to do, to make!


*Doughtery, Dale. “Making Is Learning.” Maker Education Initiative. MakerEd, 15 May 2012. Web. 16 June 2015. <>.


Veteran Teachers: Developing a growth mindset

Posted by Janice Delagrammatikas on April 30, 2015

Drawing of brain sparking to reprsent Recently, I have been able to observe some exemplary models of 21st Century teaching practices and it reminded me of two things. First, many of our veteran teachers have instructional practices and knowledge about how students learn that far outweigh any challenges they may have with learning new computing skills. Second, it really isn’t about the technology integration; it is about engaging learners and creating educational environments where students learn, and thrive.

In one classroom, I observed a Biology lesson. On the board was a prompt requiring students to draw a model of how DNA was involved in the process of protein construction. While the students were drawing on their IPADs, the teacher circulated checking on homework and entering grades from his phone. The teacher selected one student to mirror her drawing on the screen at the front of the classroom. The teacher led a class discussion reviewing protein construction and connected the learning to student’s healthy eating habits. Around the classroom, there were physical models students had constructed of DNA. In one corner of the classroom, a group of students were getting ready to present a “DNA Rap” they had written the lyrics to and produced using Garage Band.

In another classroom, an independent study student was using padlet to create a presentation explaining the fundamental economic questions. The plan was that other students could add to the Economics Padlet creating a resource for students to collaborate on and benefit from even if they were not able to meet in a physical space.

Another teacher had students creating car models which they raced in a competition. Students used the Internet to research the shape and design of their model. They made measurements and computed rate, time and distance based on their models performance. The activity was structured so that each student had a role, there were steps which needed to be completed along the way, and there were time limits on how long the steps could take.

In each of these instances teachers used well established instructional practices such as checking for understanding, formative and summative assessment, student collaboration practices and project-based learning to engage learners and ensure that all students had multiple opportunities to master their learning objectives. The technology facilitated learning the concepts, but the point is these teachers had well developed instructional practices and they incorporated the technology into those practices.

Sometimes I think our veteran teachers hear that the skills they have been teaching and the teaching strategies they are using are irrelevant and out-of-date. They feel overwhelmed and defensive. Instead, I would like to propose that we help our most experienced teachers develop a growth mindset about technology by recognizing and celebrating the strengths they bring to the table.


Coding: The fifth “C”

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on April 8, 2015

Let’s face it. When exposed to it, most students take to coding. I’ve observed this in class after class. Regardless of grade level, students love the creativity, the challenge, and the control they can have over coding. Maybe the appeal for some is tied to gaming, but still; can we just think about the benefits of coding and its ability to strengthen the skills of creativity and problem solving?

Teacher introducing coding to students in an elementary classroom
Introducing coding in an elementary classroom

Coding is a great way to make things happen. When programming, students can make a robot turn in circles, a dog dance across a screen, or a penguin traipse over a bridge. Creativity is about finding inventive and amazing ways to make things happen.

Coding does a great deal to teach the skills of discovery. Kids move from following directions to controlling those directions. Teachers who know how to tempt and activate interest in students start with a bit of directions, just enough to get students started, but not enough to help them finish an assignment. Skills and their development are important, not the end result. Liken it to coaching an athlete in the triple jump: you want them to know where to hit their plant foot on the board and how to project off the first landing, but the distance is less important in the beginning than the form.

Empowering students

Coding can also empower students. Coding can spin off into an interest in building programs, designing creative presentations, creating games, and more! The programming in coding becomes a form of expression, a way to communicate and hit yet another one of those “Four C’s” we profess as so important for the generation of kidlets in our classrooms.

Girls at computers working on a coding exercise
Girls code, too!

Students exploring their interests? Yes, another result of coding. In order to really build their knowledge, to explore creative license, students need to have the tools and permission to control their world. Creativity may be a mindset, but it is one built in coding. As I observed 2nd graders during their first coding lesson, their teacher pulled me aside. “See that boy right there? He’s been computer phobic for two years. Doesn’t like to interact with technology. Look at him now! He’s moving the dog through the maze and he’s jumping the rolling containers.” They can create, they can explore, they can even overcome challenges. Bring on the coding!

As the superintendent of a small, innovative and progressive school district, I believe we need to focus on the “Four C’s” and more—the fifth, coding! The jobs that will someday welcome today’s students will call on their ability to problem solve and think creatively. Here’s to creating a #FutureReady generation, whatever that future may hold.