Our makerspace continues to grow and we continue to learn better ways to manage the equipment, the space, and the students. It’s only been two months, but I’m proud of how things have rolled out. It’s super important that those of us involved in this process continue to learn from others to make sure we are not settling for good enough. We have and will continue to share our process. We’ve learned from others and I feel it’s essential for us to tell our story so others can learn from us – both things that have gone well and things we would do differently. I love that we’ve been getting the word out about our makerspace and sharing the great things that are happening. We try to do that via our school Twitter account, our new Instagram account, and our makerspace blog. I believe an even stronger message can come from students.
At an upcoming School Board meeting, we’ve been asked to have a few students talk about our makerspace and demonstrate some of the items we have available. Choosing which students to share would seem to be an easy decision, but with so many students using the space and so many good candidates, the decision wasn’t simple. After watching the students for a few days, a few clear choices stood out.
We recently held parent-teacher conferences and one of the things we wanted to share with parents was our new makerspace. We had signs encouraging parents to stop by with their students to play and explore. During one of the nights, one particular student came by with her mom and went from station to station explaining in great detail the expectations. I wish I could have followed her around with a video recorder because she was amazing. Naturally, when I needed to find a student to speak at the School Board meeting, she was my first choice.
Another student was working in the makerspace with a friend and exploring the Little Bits. They were working together to make a little piano and I suggested she try to play a song. It didn’t take long for them to figure it and when she did complete it, she said, “Yes, I did it.” Fortunately, I was recording this, and you can see the video clip below. That phrase made me so happy. I immediately thought she should be another great student to speak in front of the Board.
To provide some structured activities for students in some of the centers, we created challenges the students can complete. During one of the study hall periods, two boys came in to complete the challenges. They were successful with the first challenge and were ready for more. After completing three of the challenges and earning the badges, all during one class period, they were interested in more. I really liked their enthusiasm and felt they would also be great students to represent our school at the meeting.
I cannot be at the meeting myself, but I’m very confident the students will represent themselves, our makerspace, and our school wonderfully. When we put students in front, given them a voice, it can be very powerful. I’m excited to hear how it goes, I know they’ll do well.
For whatever reason, the schools I’ve worked in lately or the ones my children have attended, have experienced a lot of turnover when it comes to the school principal. When I started a new position after leaving my position with Discovery Education, I didn’t think there’d be a leadership change after one year. Surprisingly, I was asked to be on the interview committee for the new principal. The person we ended up hiring was excellent and I feel the school is in very good hands. After moving to a full-time position at a new school this year, I was hired at a school that didn’t have a principal. A new principal was hired shortly after. I’ve been very happy with her leadership and from what I’ve gathered from other teachers, the change has been a good one overall for the building.
I’ve been working in various schools and positions for about 18 years and have worked with 9 (I think) different principals. Almost all have been ones I’ve gotten along with and feel were assets to their schools. I don’t know if I realized it early on, but the principal plays such an important role in the school environment. They can set a positive tone for not only the teachers, but also for the students. Their energy, enthusiasm, and positive interest in student success is extremely important. Two things that I feel is extremely important is their organizational skills and confidence. Another quality I feel is important is being real. I have really appreciated when principals are real people, interact with you in a way that is sincere, and help you grow as an educator. Sometimes the “real” part is hard to put into words, but when you see it, you know it’s there.
The high school where my daughter currently attends, is in the process of hiring a new principal. My daughter’s a junior and had one principal her freshman year and then an interim principal for the past two years. In the next week or two, a new principal will be named for next school year. I attended two of the three finalists meetings for parents to see what the candidates were like. I have a favorite of the two I saw, and I’m hoping that person is offered the position. From the hour long Q & A session I attended, the ideas for the school, experience, and ideas seem like a good fit. Obviously, it will be a while before we really know for sure if this person is the correct person for the job, but I have a good feeling. This person seems like a good leader, has a good vision, and seemed real. I only hope the people in charge of making this decision, which includes the staff at the school, are pleased down the road.
I’ve mentioned a few traits that I feel are essential for principals. I’m curious what you think. What makes a good principal, what’s important to you?
If you have any Ollies (or Spheros) in your classroom, library, or makerspace, you’ve probably discovered that kids love driving these little devices around. Students love to test their driving skills, which as I’ve witnessed, generally aren’t that good. We have 4 Ollies in our makerspace and, in an effort to have students program the Ollies instead of just drive them around, have created “challenges” for students.
The idea is to have students use the SPRK Lightning Lab app on either a Chromebook or iPad to program the Ollie to complete a certain task. One example (shown below), has the students creating a program to move the Ollie in a square, changing color on each side, and not crashing into anything. When a student completes the challenge, and has someone confirm they did it correctly, they will receive a badge that will be displayed on a poster in our makerspace.
We have plans to create more challenges for other makerspace items soon. I’ll certainly be sharing those as well.
The idea to start a makerspace in my school wasn’t my idea. The groundwork began before I was hired. I feel my willingness to help grow the idea and my knowledge of and connections to makerspaces in other schools was an added bonus when I joined other educators to keep the ball rolling. When you want to introduce an idea that can lead to a culture shift in a classroom, school library, or building, you cannot do it alone. Gaining supporters along the way, getting buy-in, and educating others along the way is critical.
There are a number of groups that you need to educate along the way. Our district leadership team was the first step. Fortunately, some were involved with the idea from the beginning and others were supportive soon after. That is not always the case. We did, however, need to put together a plan that included our vision, rationale, and timeline for the implementation of the makerspace. I work with some very talented and smart educators. Putting together our plan could have been more difficult if this wasn’t the case, but for us, the process went rather smoothly.
After our plan was shared with the district leadership team, it was time to proceed to the Board of our Educational Foundation. These were the people we were hoping would fund the idea. I’m really not sure what we would have done as a Plan B if they said no. Regardless, our presentation to this group went well and they were on board. The next step, and arguably the most important, was to share the plan with the school staff.
We were given time at a staff meeting to share our plan. Not just a few minutes, but the entire meeting. I believe this showed support from the principal and stressed to the staff the importance of what we were doing. Prior to the meeting, we put a few Keva Planks, Legos, and Little Bits pieces on the tables for teachers to play with. We wanted them to tinker while we talked. We wanted them to experience a few of the items we had in store for the students. We went through our presentation, tweaking it a little for this audience. There weren’t as many questions as I expected. One of the reasons, perhaps, is that we were prepared for what might be asked and tried to do our best to address those concerns in the presentation. This was the third time we shared the plan with a group, streamlining and preparing the message. Overall, I felt the staff was on board with the idea. If they weren’t, they weren’t showing it.
Changing a mindset in a school is not an easy thing. A consistent message needs to be shared with all of the stakeholders. I feel we’ve done a good job communicating the message of what we’re doing and why. We’ve put together a website with resources, have a blog sharing student work, and are sharing ideas via social media. We are just beginning, but we feel we are taking the steps needed to make this a success.