How to Deal When Things Go Wrong in Your Makerspace

How to Deal When Things Go Wrong in Your Makerspace | AASL Knowledge Quest, @DianaLRendina | Despite what it may seem like from Instagram feeds and blog posts, makerspaces are not always rainbows and sunshine. Stuff goes wrong. Things get broken. Students aren't always engaged. Here's some advice on how to deal when things go wrong in your space.

If you solely went by my blog posts and Instagram feed, you might think that my makerspace is all rainbows and sunshine, that all of my students are 100% engaged all the time, always building insanely amazing projects and happily color-coding their LEGOs as they put them away.

But the fact is that I live in the real world, and this is middle school, and things go wrong. There are days when there’s paint and glitter all over the floor. There are days when my students rebel and refuse to work on any projects. There was an incident involving a 6-foot long K’nex launcher and a television screen (read on to learn who wins that battle). The fact of the matter is that things go wrong in my makerspace all the time. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about how to deal with them and not let them get me down. Hopefully this post can save you a little pain and suffering.

What do to when…

Insane mess of paintThe kids make an INSANE mess and don’t want to clean up

Yeah, this happens pretty much all the time in my makerspace. A few days before the end of school last year, a group of students was working on a project in the makerspace. By the time I realized what they were doing, there was paint all over their hands and glitter all over the floor. Eventually, we got things cleaned up. Here’s what I do when things go wrong and giant messes happen:

  • Set up a (fun) procedure for cleanup – My afterschool makers group was really struggling with the cleanup concept. Eventually, they created something they call the “human vacuum” cleaner, where they crawl around on all fours and make ridiculously obnoxious vacuum cleaner noises. When all else fails, give kids permission to be annoying. :)
  • Bribery – Not always the best strategy, but it can work. I usually tend to go along the lines of “if you guys get this all cleaned up, we can watch a movie next week.”
  • Reward those who clean up without asking – My school has an incentive system called Buzz Bucks. If I see a student cleaning up without being asked, I reward them for it. Other students notice and soon they’re all cleaning up trying to get this little piece of paper.
  • Make sure YOU approve when the cleanup is done – If you have middle school aged children, you know that THEIR concept of clean and the ADULT concept of clean are two very different things.

Not exactly engaged studentsNo one is engaged in the project

There are times when I am really excited about a new project, but my students could care less. There have been days when all they want to do is play computer games. My students have even thrown a full-blown protest with picket signs made out of cardboard when there was a project they didn’t like. Seriously. No one is ever going to be 100% engaged all the time, and that’s okay. Here’s some things to try when this happens:

  • Consider an open-ended exploration day – Sometimes, students just want to do whatever they want to do. If you try to force students into a specific activity, it could backfire. You might just need a free day
  • Ask the students what they would like to do – Find out why the students don’t want to engage. Maybe he had a really bad day and just needs to chill and listen to music. Maybe she has an idea about how to make the activity better but feels like she isn’t being heard. Listen to your students.
  • Restructure the activity – If an activity is too broad, students can feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to start. Consider adding more structure or guidelines. Set a time limit. Sometimes this can help students to refocus.

The infamous broken televisionSomething gets broken

This story is one of the more serious “when things go wrong” stories. Back to that six-foot-long K’nex launcher. My students “accidentally” launched it indoors and in the direction of our television set, managing to crack the screen as you see above.  It was an accident and not intentional, but it still really sucks to have your television broken.  Here’s how to deal:

  • Have some consequences (but don’t be too hard on them) – My students couldn’t afford to replace the television. Fortunately, a new one was donated. But to have them make up for it, they came and volunteered to help me do inventory for a few days during their lunches.
  • Make it a tech-take-apart – Well, if the television is already broken, you might as well take it apart and see how it works, right?
  • Create procedures to prevent future breakages – I now have pretty strict rules that my students are only allowed to launch things a) in the library stacks, when there are no other students in the way, or b) outside and afterschool. So far, our new television is holding out.
What have you done when things go wrong in your makerspace?  What kinds of crazy antics have your students gotten into?

Author: Diana Rendina

Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory, an independent 6-12 school. She was previously the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and learning space design and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace and is the author of Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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2 replies

  1. Thank you for this article. It really helps! Maker Spaces are a great concept, but like you, I work in a middle school. I love how you set guidelines but always respect and understand your students.

  2. Ask you art teacher for advice! This is what we deal with every day!

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