The wood piece falls from my hand. I pick it up, put it in the clamp, and saw away at the block until the blade slices through the remaining attached fibers and one piece becomes two. I have thirty minutes to turn a simple light-colored wood block into a cat.
In the end, it turns into a reindeer.
But I am proud of my creation and set the little guy among his more sophisticated Christmas Village counterparts in my apartment.
So where am that I have time during the school day to design this reindeer? At the Queens Hall of Science Museum to work with librarians and their teacher partners for the first day of the NYC Library Services’ Secondary Innovation Grant, a fancy name for a makerspace grant. Our office partnered with the Hall of Science to award the grants to five schools after a competitive process. Unlike most makerspace grants, we did not focus on the stuff: the 3-D printers, robotics, and knitting needles that capture educators’ attention with their shiny brilliance. What makes the Innovation Grant different is the emphasis on the pedagogical ideas and planning behind the stuff.
Our first activity is to make a circuit board nametag. We receive no directions, but supplies and a model of a working circuit to emulate. We deconstruct the model to learn how it is put together. Good instruction involves modeling, but for most content areas, the teacher guides the students through their thinking and actions as they make inferences and draw conclusions. Having a tangible model in the makerspace world enables educators to facilitate student learning and questions as needed.
Later in the afternoon, we work with Legos. In each box are simple directions: play, make something specific, make whatever you want. We work alone or in teams, each member taking on their designated role through discussion and collaboration. Likewise giving students permission to create whatever they want makes them bounce ideas off one another to learn and create. Or they work together for a common purpose from minimal guidelines to solve problems with a persistent mindset. The educator takes a step back from directing the learning, so students take center stage in the process.
The value of makerspaces is how they give educators opportunities to facilitate fun learning opportunities for students centered on creativity, teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. Do these skills sound familiar? They only happen to be the ones identified by employers as the most desirable qualifications of their workforce and life. As Craig Weber writes: “the more diverse the information and perspectives to which we have access, the wiser, more informed choice we’re able to make about tough, complex issues because we’re able to see and think more.”
 Weber, Craig. Conversational Capacity, McGraw Hill Education, 2013, p. 68.
Author: Leanne Ellis
I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.