Monday, November 9, 2015

Starting Our STEM Lab & Making Our Makerspace: Tips, Tricks, Resources & Ideas We Learned About Along the Way.

*In an effort to honor the true meaning of a Makerspace, as defined by the ones who paved the way, I want to clarify that our lab is truly a STEM Lab with the element of a makerspace added in. We offer time for our students to tinker, create, play and explore without the constraints of an objective or directions to follow. However, our STEM Lab does have challenges and a little more structure that offers us an opportunity to meet the NGSS (especially Engineering Design) in an engaging and exciting hands-on learning environment. For more information about the meaning of a true Makerspace check out What is a Makerspace by Colleen Graves.

On October 1st, 2015 the very first class entered our STEM lab and it was truly magical. The kids were engaged, they were learning, exploring and discovering the entire time they were in there. It was the moment we had worked so hard when we created this innovative learning space. It was a long journey that our little STEM lab team took to get there and we learned a lot along the way!

The lab was originally Wendy Townlin's (@wtownlin) idea. She wanted to create a dedicated science lab for our school. It evolved into a STEM lab, then (with a little help from twitter) we decided to add in the element of a makerspace. With the support of our awesome principal Kris Martin-Meyer, four of us, Wendy, Amanda Young (@ajyoung53), Claire Simon (@MissSimon246) and I put our heads together, researched, reflected then began building. Here are some things we learned about along the way.

1. Put your resources and ideas in one spot. For us that place was a collaborative Pinterest page. We were able to add ideas and resources from twitter, facebook, TPT or anywhere we found inspiration. Here is a link to our STEM Lab/Makerspace Pinterest page.

2. Find great people to connect with and follow those twitter that are already doing it! Don't reinvent the wheel. We visited Live Oak Elementary School in San Ramon, CA because we had heard they were doing amazing things with technology. There we connected with Nick Zefeldt (@nzefeldt) and Chi Shui who shared their awesome with us and gave us some incredible ideas. We also followed the experts on twitter then took ideas that worked for us (and that we could afford to do) and tweaked them as we went along. The great thing about twitter is that we were able to tweet to them and ask questions and they will respond and help! There are a TON of amazing people out there doing great things be sure to check out Elementary Library Makerspace Resources by Colleen Graves. Here are our go-to makerspace gurus.

3. Invest in some cool tech tools. We LOVE our Dash robots, Cubelets, LittleBits and Green Screen (used w/ DoInk app @DoInktweets). There are many great devices and tools out there but here are the ones we started with.

  • Dash Robots by Wonder Workshop. Dash is very popular in our STEM Lab/Makerspace! A cute little robot that can be programmed using apps at various levels. Dash is a fantastic edition because it can be used by our Transitional Kindergarten (TK) students as well as our fifth graders. The apps provide different levels of programming skills so the possibilities for using Dash are endless! 
  • Cubelets from Modular Robotics. Cubelets are robot blocks that kids as young as TK can put together to form tons of different types of robots. We also purchased the Lego adapters to make even more creations! 
  • LittleBits by LittleBits. Small electronic building blocks that snap together to make circuits. We started out with 5 Base Kits and upgraded with 5 Gizmo and Gadgets kits. Each LittleBits tub we have contains the two kits, 5 Lego adapters and a bag of "maker" materials (cardboard tubes, tape, wire, lightbulbs, straws, paper cups, rubber bands and more) so students are able to create amazing things! We love these LittleBits Task Cards from Mrs. J in the Library. A freebie from TPT!
  • Green Screen backdrop from Chromakey sold on Amazon. We used PVC pipe to make a frame for the screen so it is moveable. Using the green screen with the DoInk app available on the App Store is an easy way to start using a green screen. If you want a cheap way to get a green screen check out the bright green shower curtains from the Dollar Store, they work great! 

4. Build a Lego and Pegboard wall! We are VERY proud of our Lego wall and pegboard wall. The building, creating and engineering that is happening in these two spaces is pretty cool. Watching the kids put together pvc pipe to build a marble run or use the Legos to make a map of the school is pretty fantastic. Plus they are just plain fun! To make our Lego wall we followed Diana Rendina's tips found here.
The students came up with the idea to make a marble run on the Lego wall! 
These third graders worked hard designing this one.

5.  Find ways to connect and extend the learning after the students leave the lab. We are constantly growing and thinking of new ways to use our resources. Attending conferences, viewing webinars or finding information on twitter is a great way to get ideas. Our team attended FallCue in October and got a ton of great ideas to help us make sure we are using all of these "cool tools" to meet multiple Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. We have our students complete this STEM lab reflection hyperdoc after visiting the lab as one way to extend the learning after their time in the lab. We also reach out to our professional learning network on twitter as often as we can. Check out the storify from a #DITCHBook (Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller +Matt Miller) twitter chat all about Makerspaces where many great ideas, tips and resources were shared.

The most important factor in making our STEM Lab & Makerspace successful is creating a culture of innovation at your site. Our STEM Lab & Makerspace would be just that, a space with a bunch of cool tools if we didn't have an amazing staff that is constantly learning and growing to meet the needs of our diverse community of makers. The staff at Sun Terrace Elementary School (@SunTerrace1) deserves some major props for all that they do to bring STEM education to our students!

Do our kids enjoy our STEM Lab & Makerspace? These quotes, written on our cabinets turned into a whiteboard comment wall, say it all!

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