Scheduling a Middle School Library with Makers in Mind

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One of the questions that inevitably comes up whenever someone is asking about our makerspace is how it is scheduled. Having free access to the library is important to me and to our administration, and striking the right balance between having a makerspace and providing traditional library services has been a challenge, but not impossible. For me, it has to work for our students, the teachers, and of course for me. This is where we are now, though it may be tweaked next year to incorporate more time for students to come in and use the makerspace during the day.

While every school is different, our school has a built in advisory period in the afternoon that is 30 minutes long. This is the time when students are able to go to tutorials, head to the library for a book, or spend time in the makerspace. While it would be super-awesome if our kiddos could come every day to the makerspace, for our school, it doesn’t work. And while the makerspace is open before and after school, I rarely have kids come by to work on their projects.

At our school we have the makerspace open two days a week- Monday for Maker Monday and Tuesdays for Makerspace. Students sign up in the library and pick up one of our passes that are date stamped. The passes help me see who is coming each day, keeps the numbers from ballooning to unmanageable and helps me monitor who comes each week and who hasn’t been in to tinker in a while.

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Our Maker Monday poster that hangs outside the library. (Created in Adobe Illustrator)

Maker Mondays-

Generally, we have anywhere from 15-20 kids per Maker Monday who sign up. We use this time to provide guided activities that build the students skills in a certain subject. Stay with me, I know that sounds lame, but I found that at the beginning of the year when I asked our first group of makers what they wanted to do in the makerspace this school year their ideas of what they wanted to do would rival the plans of a software engineer at Google. Really. They wanted to build apps, construct websites, build a robot, save the world- all in 30 minutes twice a week. So, I decided to offer guided activities that could build their skills. As an avid maker myself, I know from first-hand experience that making is about learning as you go, but you have to start somewhere. I didn’t start out in my sewing career by making a three-piece suit, because I needed to have some cursory knowledge or exposure to how a sewing machine worked…how to cut patterns, etc. This year we’ve seen and heard from experts about coding and engineering which have really spurred some of our future designers and engineers to think beyond building the Taj Mahal in Minecraft, from consumers of technology to makers. And in addition to guided activities to build their skills, we also have design challenges that pattern how inventions solve problems and serve as a jumping off point for maker projects.

Tuesday Makerspace- 

These days are exploration days where students can come in and tinker, build, and grow. It can look like chaos, but at this point in the year, I fully understand how much chaos I can handle. They generally stick to a few key areas including our littleBits corner, driving and programming our Spheros or completing a maker-themed project in our “What Will You Make Today?” corner. These days also give me time to go around and check-in on their long term projects and to see how they are progressing in coding or whatever they are learning. And, yes, I also do crowd control on these days, but I can’t stress enough that just like in the classroom, you should build relationships with your students.

Want to see how others schedule their makerspaces? Check out Diana Rendina’s post from her amazing blog Renovated Learning.

The Takeaway:

Each school is different, and it’s important to find time in the day that doesn’t disrupt what students are required to do everyday. Communicate, communicate, communicate. With each group I use a physical calendar outside the library and a Remind to communicate with students.

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Our Dry-Erase Calendar of Maker events. (Created in Adobe Illustrator)

Talk to your admin, talk to your kids, and see how you can grow a community of makers that works with the schedule of your school. If that means during lunch, before school, after school, or with whole classes in the library-do what works for you and your school.

Keeping the maker in mind means asking them what they think is doable. Ask what days your students are busy or if they can come before school, don’t assume, ask.

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