Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Collective Impact around the role of makerspaces in our schools

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a day in two different Vermont schools as they introduced new maker tools and supplies to students and teachers that their school received as winners of the Educate/Innovate Grant  developed through a partnership with the Vermont Lottery and the Vermont Agency of Education.

Brownington School unpacking new maker tools and supplies from Educate Innovate Grant

Montgomery School exploring new maker tools and supplies from Educate/Innovate Grant

I loved watching the process that these schools went through as they carefully considered WHY they wanted a makerspace in their school and WHAT tools and supplies would best help meet their WHY!

Both groups started by helping their school community EXPLORE the ideas and concepts related to makerspaces.   What is a makerspace?  Where does  CREATING and MAKING fit into the LEARNING process?  What does MAKING look like in a classroom?   It was a pleasure to be part of that process.   Both schools invited EMMA (my mobile maker studio) and I to visit their school and help their school community during what I call the EXPLORE stage in conversations around makerspaces.

I still remember the white knuckled drive last January, as I filled my mobile studio (EMMA) with maker supplies and drove EMMA through the snow covered back roads of Vermont.

EXPLORING MAKING as a vehicle for learning at Montgomery School. (January 2019)

The Explore Stage can provide educators with some of the vocabulary and concepts often found in conversations about makerspaces.  An Explore stage event introduces new tools and processes to teachers.  Seeing  THEIR own students interact with copper tape, circuit boards, and coding can help educators see what a maker mindset can look like in their school as well as introduce them to tools and supplies they might not be familiar with.  For example, even though most science teachers have lead experiments with batteries and light bulbs,  many of them have not used copper tape or conductive thread or codable LED lights like neo-pixels. The Explore Stage opens up conversations about new possibilities.

EXPLORING possibilities for Creating, Making, and Learning at Brownington School. (January 2019)

As educators see evidence of learning and engagement with different materials and processes during an Explore stage event, they are better positioned to ask deeper questions and imagine more possibilities for making in their learning environments. 

The Explore stage should get the attention of both your students and staff. It should start the wheels turning  and stimulate curiosity.  As your staff starts thinking about making,  new questions should arise.  Following this stage,  your staff should  notice opportunities to learn about makerspaces or related tools, supplies,  and processes and how making might connect to content and pedagogy. After a maker exploration event, your staff may start to notice opportunities like local makerfaires,  workshops and conferences,  student competitions, or grant opportunities. 

The one day EMMA Visit during the Explore stage positioned both Montgomery School and Brownington to notice and consider applying for the Educate/Innovate Grant.  One of the functions of a good grant RFP process is to stimulate innovative ideas and scaffold the process for those ideas to become reality.  The Vermont Lottery Educate/Innovate grant provided two schools with the  funding to help their project ideas to become reality because of the resources that grants provide.  However,  the impact of a grant RFP process can and should expand beyond the stuff that those who are awarded the grant receive.  Every school who applied for this grant received a chance to go through an inquiry process that prepares their school or classroom to plan for a makerspace.  This process is very similar to the stages of Guided Inquiry (Ann K. Caspari, Carol Kuhlthau, and Leslie K. Maniotes)

Schools like Montgomery and Brownington, whose staff and students have participated in some type of Explore stage event,  start the grant RFP process with ideas and questions that have surfaced during their Explore stage event.  The grant RFP process allows them to focus those ideas, IDENTIFY learning goals that could we well served by having a makerspace in their school, and streamline their search through the many maker education resources available.   The next step for each school that applies for a grant, is to IDENTIFY a question for deeper exploration.

For the Montgomery school, that focus was on engaging more student learning through the Nature Trails that are an integral part of their community.    For the Brownington school, the focus was on leveraging the engaging properties of music and sound to create  a year long, cross-grade level and cross curricular STEAM project promoting collaboration, creativity, and student choice.  Each school used the focused inquiry question that they IDENTIFIED to search for information and GATHER resources that might allow them to CREATE a prototype project.

The process to IDENTIFY a focused question, GATHER resources to CREATE a prototype design as part of the grant RFP process was also valuable to several other schools throughout the state.  I received calls and emails from several Vermont schools asking about tools and materials and professional development during this time.   I noticed that the RFP process scaffolded many schools through the learning that often happens within a guided inquiry. When I look at the positive outcomes that have already happened to individuals and organizations (schools) through this process,  I'm super excited.   I can't help but think about ways that we can build on all that individual school-based learning that has happened through the grant RFP process to become a broader learning organization.

It is my hope that every school who went through the RFP process uses the focused question, knowledge, skills, and resources they have worked through and shares it with each other as a way to spread ideas of what's possible.  It is my hope that organizations that did not receive the funds through this process will still be energized and look for other ways to pursue their vision, whether it be other grants or local funding.   The value of a grant RFP process extends beyond the financial resources or "stuff'.   By continuing to share ideas and resources gathered during the RFP process, we can have a broader collective impact on statewide learning around the role of makerspaces in learning.

I've been thinking about how I can continue to contribute to our shared learning and  have collective impact on the shift in teaching towards greater hands on learning.

  • I'm super excited to be working on a new series as part of the Tarrant Institute blog around makerspaces and design learning.   The series will become part of a makerspace toolkit.  I'll include resources that I shared with many who contacted me during the Vermont Lottery RFP as well as resources I've shared with others who have contacted me with questions around makerspaces.  I'd love to hear what you would find helpful to include in this Maker Toolkit. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.
  • I'll also continue to blog and  share stories, tips, ideas and resources on this Create Make Learn blog and invite others to join me. 
    Would you like to guest blog or be featured in a story that would inspire others?

    You can receive emails of new posts by subscribing to the blog.  Or better yet, attend one of the upcoming Create Make Learn Summer Institute, Two Day Bootcamp or other events face to face and connect with other like minded educators.  See more at
  • I plan to continue working with organizations like Tarrant Institute on rural outreach and continue to bring EMMA - my mobile maker studio -  to Vermont schools as a way to collaborate with Vermont educators and spread our collective learning.

    • I have joined the Vermont Agency of Education STEM/STEAM network.  You can get more information from  Greg Young at or (802) 479-1448.  Here is their next face to face event.

      STEM/STEAM Resource Sharing Day
      Register for STEM/STEAM Sharing Day, a free, full-day professional learning opportunity for STEM/STEAM educators on Thursday June 20, 2019, from 8:30 a.m.– 3 p.m. at the Teddy Bear Factory’s Makerspace, in Charlotte, VT. Participants at this STEM/STEAM sharing event will have the opportunity to engage in the development of interdisciplinary performance assessments, learn from and collaborate with other educators, examine best practices around STEM/STEAM education, and outline future work and outcomes of a statewide STEM/STEAM network.
    • I have renewed my membership to our local community makerspace.   I value my membership at the Generator in Burlington Vermont.  Yes, I value the tools, but more importantly I value the network and the wealth of knowledge and inspiration that comes with that.
    • I will continue to participate in the Champlain Mini Maker Faire as a way to share, get inspired and connect with others.  Check out their upcoming K12 School Day this Fall.
    These are just a few ideas  and I would love to hear how you might also  contribute to our collective learning about makerspaces in education.

    According to Peter Senge,  learning organizations are

    …organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.

     Let's keep sharing and learning together.   And let's celebrate together and cheer each other on throughout the process of learning together.

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