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Digital Learning


For many years, I had a special place in my classroom. It was a rectangular table, placed under a bulletin board. The bulletin board's title was "Inventor's Center".  There were boxes of junk, spare parts, and recyclables under the table. There were art supplies on top of the table. It was always there during the years when I taught science, and during the years when I was not the science teacher.  That inventor's center always filled a basic need that I could see that my students had: the need to CREATE!

As humans, we are born ready to tinker. We love to explore, hold things in our hands, and try out different ways of doing things. My little Inventor's Center stood at the ready for kids who needed to make a model they could hold to explain a concept, work on a project when the regular curriculum just didn't fit all their needs, or just wanted to add an artistic touch to a presentation in any subject area.

Two years ago, I started to plan my retirement, and also began to notice that Maker Faires and Maker Spaces were starting to appear in the news. Further investigation told me that the basic concept was very much like the Inventor's Center that my students had been tinkering around in for so long.  But the Maker Spaces that I was reading about were really more like my little Inventor's Center ON STEROIDS!

Yes, Retta, they have 3D printers, and YOU have retired too soon! Nice job!
But seriously, teachers, 3D printers and all the latest tools and robotic building supplies, while flashy and tempting, are not necessary to have a great Maker Space right in your classroom that will fill your students' needs to tinker, create, and prepare for the future. I hope to tell you how to get it started in the post that follows!

You might want to get over this 3Doodler Pen  before you continue reading though! I might seriously just need to have one of these. It's pretty cheap. Please ask for my address if you'd like to send me one. Please!

STEAM is a popular movement that was founded by Georgette Yakman in 2007 to promote and integrate design and art in STEM fields. She defined the movement as "Science and Technology, interpreted through Engineering and the Arts, all based in elements of Mathematics." 2007! Who knew? I didn't! Not officially, anyway!

Using the arts to explain science concepts, though. Of course! Haven't we all asked kids to use diagrams and illustrations to explain their understanding of concepts? STEAM just brings it all together so beautifully in a way we can make posters about and kids can really get!

We once had a fashion show in my class featuring what the well-dressed planets might be wearing, based on their known characteristics. Explain electricity using interpretive dance? Not so farfetched! This could be exactly what a little dancer needs to bolster that science confidence as well.

So without further rambling on my part, here are some fundamentals to help you get started STEAMING away in your own little corner of the world soon!

Start Small. Start Somewhere. Just Start!
S stands for Science, but also for Small and Start and Somewhere.The most important thing is to get going! Gather some boxes. Start collecting recyclables and some basic art supplies. Put the boxes where your students can get to them easily. Get together with a few other teachers or your whole school to set aside a space, or just designate a corner of your own classroom.

You will be truly amazed at how your Maker Space will develop wings of its own once your kids get in there and start tinkering. The ideas and creativity will flow. The excitement will be a force all its own. Give them project ideas or just invite them to enhance other projects. Just get it started! 

Find the Time!

T stands for Technology, and also for Time! With the demands on your time throughout the day, how will you ever have the time to let kids work in the Maker Space?  There are so many little bits of time here and there in every student's day. I always had a poster hanging in my classroom that said, "We Are Never Done!". It's true.  Students do not all finish work at the same time. Having an ongoing project to return to when other work is done will keep a kid from thinking of creative ways to disturb classmates. Project work really keeps the learning happening all day long. 

One strategy that really worked for me was to have a designated block of time (40 minutes) at the end of the day called "Notebooking Time". It was a chance for students to get caught up on their left page thinking in their Interactive Notebooks, but they could have them completed by using other other class time more efficiently or could choose to finish them for homework. Forty minutes of Maker Space time could magically appear in this way at the close of any ordinary day. That forty minutes was also a valuable time for me to get in a few more individual conferences or small groups. 

I also often opened my room during lunch/recess when kids could come in and work on projects. This is a personal choice of course, and we know how little time teachers have without students during the school day. I didn't do it every day, but I enjoyed their company when we did make time for it!

Encourage Kids to Make Connections!

E stands for Engineering, and also for Encourage. With just a little coaxing, kids will begin to see how STEAM is really about real life and real world problems. Why not grab some materials from the boxes to work out a concrete representation of a math problem? Why not test some science concepts while studying for THE TEST (which was how we referred to those wonderful standardized computer tests we always seemed to be prepping for)? What about a gifted kid challenging himself/herself to create an invention to make life easier for a character in the novel they're studying? The connections that can be made are endless. (ENDLESS starts with E too!!!) Just get them started, and you'll see!

Activate Knowledge and Ask Others to Take Part!

A stands for Art of course, and also for Activate and Ask. STEAMing is fun. When others see the fun you and your kids are having, they will want to start their own Maker Spaces, or send their kids to yours! (It happens. Been there.) It's ok though! Encourage them to start their own, and offer to help kick it off! Take action to get a school wide or district wide Maker Faire going. Enlist the help of parents to organize it, or form a staff team. 

Ask (Also an A word. Ha!) everyone on staff, not just teachers. Our custodian did so much work with students during her lunch time on agriculture and reuse of recycled materials. She planted a garden with our kids and built a huge greenhouse from recycled water bottles. Agriculture should be an important part of your STEAMing. Our food supply is crucial to the future of our survival on this planet! You never know what amazing (A word!) ideas are STEAMing in the brains of the people you work with every day. ASK them to join you!

Materials Are All Around You!

M stands for Math, and also for Materials. How will you fill those boxes? You have little enough money coming from your school to fund simple things like pencils, and anything else comes out of your own pocket. I know! I've been there way too many times too! 

Just download my free resource on how to get your Maker Space started, and you'll find lists of very ordinary things already in your classroom and in the homes of your students to get you started. Letters to parents and the community can keep the supply line open as materials are used.

I hope that some of this very long post will encourage you to try a Maker Space in your classroom soon. Your kids will love you for it, and learning will soar! The skills your students will develop in your Maker Space will serve them so well as they prepare to be workers and leaders in a  future that we can't even begin to imagine yet!

I would love to hear from you as you STEAM along on your journey!

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