Makerspaces: Repurposing School and Community Spaces for Creation and Collaboration

Makerspaces are on the move, in schools and communities, both nationally and internationally, K-12 and beyond.

Our love for creation and collaboration through technology are at the core of the makerspace movement.

In some schools, storage closets and wings of libraries and other underutilized spaces are being repurposed as makerspaces to support 21st Century skills.

They are hands-on environments where students can gather to work on engineering or media projects. Beyond schools, they can be found in community centers and public libraries. There is even a small chain of commercial makerspaces. The “newish” crowdfunding phenomenon is making some of this possible.

With 3D printers becoming more affordable, students carrying their own (video)cameras in their pockets, and hands-on, project-based learning fully in vogue, the possibilities for maker spaces are practically limitless.

Davidson Logo

The best way to begin envisioning your own makerspace is to take a look at what others are already doing, and the best resource I have found thus far on the subject is available at

Beyond the relatively straightforward question of whether a suitable physical space is available on your campus for a makerspace, the more difficult question arises of what kind of creation you hope to inspire in your makerspace. That, in turn, will determine the tools you will need in your makerspace.

Take a look at what Davidson College is doing with their maker space by clicking HERE.


BYOD: Vision, Rationale, Rollout

The work world is increasingly moving toward Bring Your Own Device models. Success in college and life beyond will be determined to no small degree by a student’s ability to adapt to different (technology infused) environments, and to use the technology in his/her hands to efficiently collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically and analytically. Schools are increasingly moving in this direction, as well. Here are some reasons why BYOD makes sense, and the steps and considerations schools should consider as they contemplate a move in the BYOD direction.

Celebrating Gibault Catholic High School



A good deal has already been written about the end of snow days at Gibault Catholic High School in Waterloo, IL.

As it should be.

Certainly, kids should be kids, and they should go out and play in the snow.

I suspect, though, that even on elearning snow days, they will find the time.

The incentive toward greater student engagement and productivity while working in an elearning environment is certainly influenced by the deployment of effective online pedagogy aligned with Bill Pelz’s principles.

Productivity in particular, though, is probably most influenced by the simple pull of fun in the outdoors, or perhaps the pull of the sofa and a video game. For adolescents, in particular, knowing that you’re confined to a single space for a given time – the bells at school, the four walls of a few different classrooms – can demotivate. The current paradigm also doesn’t allow for high school students to start the process of making difficult choices such as the ones they will face in college or the work world – whether to put work before play, and how best to manage time.

Gibault’s move toward eteaching and elearning in virtual spaces on snow days represents a significant step toward fulfilling the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning to better suit the needs of a modern and highly mobile – and sometimes immobilized – world.

It should be celebrated, studied, and refined.

Gibault is helping its students  prepare for participation in a world which will require a high tech skill set as well as a  lifelong learner, work-on-the-go mindset.

It both acknowledges the motivational sway of flexible schedules and makes the most of the hardware and software available today, technology already the palms of so many hands and facilitating a paradigm shift toward anytime, anyplace learning in virtual spaces.

From the “Snow Day Simulation” rollout to actual full-on implementation, Gibault has proceeded thoughtfully, and initial signs of student and teacher buy in are apparent.

Soon, if not already, the rollout evaluation and the harder questions will come. What kinds of skills and content are being cultivated and delivered on those elearning snow days? How profound is the collaboration between peers in the virtual spaces deployed? To what degree is formative assessment, statistical sampling, and scaffolding happening in My Big Campus? Is there a philosophical framework for the whole enterprise, such as Pelz’s principles of effective online pedagogy?

But today, I celebrate Gibault Catholic High School for making important strides toward fulfilling the promise of technology, and toward preparing its students to compete in a global economy and a technology-infused society.

I celebrate the students of Gibault for seizing the opportunity their school has given them to learn WITH technology, and to view their computers, tablets, and smartphones as cognitive tools rather than as simple entertainment-delivery systems.

Just don’t forget to play in the snow some, too.

QR Code Adventures on the Small Screen

20140120-130742.jpgToday’s post expands on my previous link to Joe Dale’s thorough and thoughtful look at the trend toward QR Codes in the classroom.

QR codes are particularly relevant to those of us fortunate enough to work in 1:1 tablet teaching and learning environments. If you are among those, please proceed! If you prefer to go directly to my Explain Everything/YouTube video rather than to read, please simply scroll to the bottom of this post.

First, you don’t need a projector to make the most of this approach to active learning environments and potential differentiation. You can print your QR codes and supply each “pod” or group with its own QR code printout. Those codes could link to the same or different sites/activities, and they could link to some Google Forms for statistical sampling or self evaluation purposes. With regard to the latter, among the QR codes that live in a folder on my desktop are those that link to Google Forms allowing students to reflect on their class performance or to view samples of stellar student work from weeks or even years past. Responses on Google Forms are automatically compiled in tidy spreadsheets. This is a huge time saver!

If you’re like me and try to save yourself those trips to the copy machine (not to mention help save the planet through reduced paper use), then you will likely want to embed your QR codes into a Powerpoint or Keynote file. Kids can either get out of their seats and scan, or scan from practically wherever they are seated.

If you use DropBox to deliver assignments to your students, you can get the URL to that file simply enough. Click on a file in DropBox and the link to the right of that file. Click “Get Link” and, presto, you have the URL copied to your clipboard.

Next, head to any Web-based QR code generator if you’re on your laptop, or simply use your QR code reader on your iPad to generate a code. I use

Download the QR code generated, project, and you have just taken a small but significant step toward paperless, active teaching and learning environments. 

QR Coding the Classroom

ImageAt Educational Technology Today, I found a feed linking to a very helpful piece written by Joe Dale about various classroom applications for Quick Response (QR) codes. Download a free QR Reader to your tablet or smart phone and scan the QR image at left to explore some of the possibilities presented by Mr. Dale (or simply click HERE). I will follow this teaser post up with more detailed observations of my own from personal QR-coded classroom experiences, but I wanted to give Mr. Dale a cyber shout out for this very helpful contribution to the dialogue on active learning environments.

Cyborg Teachers Versus Adaptation: Reflections on ACTFL

I haven’t delivered as promised on Part II of iBooks Author. It remains a work in progress, and will have to wait in the cyber shadows for the time being.

Today’s topic is “Cyborg Teachers Versus Adaptation,” and is inspired by something that struck a chord this past weekend while attending and presenting at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ annual convention and world languages expo in Orlando.

This year’s convention was called “New Spaces, New Realities: Learning Any Time, Any Place,” and the rich menu of presentation sessions and workshops that this particular theme offered up showcased how eagerly language teachers in particular are embracing new computer-mediated communications tools to reach students in virtual spaces and to train them for the world of today and tomorrow. I was particularly interested to see a German professor from Denison University, Gabriele Dillmann, presenting on her work with Google Hangouts, a subject of an earlier blog post here at I will share some of her interesting approaches in a follow-up post. Suffice it to say that I have only just scratched the proverbial surface on that front.

One of the more compelling presentations from the various I attended alluded to the threat of “cyborg teachers” taking over instruction. EdX, Coursera, Udacity, MOOCs, K12 – these are the disruptive technologies of our times, and, just as they embody the promise of technological innovation to democratize and drive down the cost of education, so, too, do they present a threat to the livelihoods of  the teachers who have worked so hard to hone their knowledge, skills, and craft.

The presenter’s challenge to the audience was to embrace an adaptive mindset, to think differently about how we do what we do, to insist on being part of the conversation about reimagining the traditional classroom to better prepare our students for participation in a society which places a premium on critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creation. The alternative to adaptation was presented as the cyborg teacher.

The physical classroom space is it is currently conceived is part of the obstacle to adaptation, and I was left thinking how wonderful it would be if – just for starters – all classroom surfaces were writable so that students could enjoy more non-seat time and spend more of their time engaged in active and collaborative learning. Desks have to be moved to facilitate collaboration, and poster board and notebook paper (which ultimately end up filling up garbage cans) simply don’t get the creative juices flowing the way a large, white wall would. It could even be low-tech marker boards (in some schools and homes walls are painted with a writable and erasable paint), but what I’m really imagining is actually more along the lines of wall-to-wall SmartBoards on steroids, something we would write on in virtually any color with stylus-like tools (no ink needed), that could be erased or screen captured with the click of a teacher’s mouse. While they could ultimately be developed into portals to the World Wide Web and all the accompanying and incentivizing opportunities for sharing that the Internet offers ($$$), these interactive white board walls would be the perfect complement to the 1:1 tablet computer initiatives that are being rolled out in so many of our schools. Students could use their tablets to take photos or videos of their collaborative wall work, then use any number of apps available to reflect in speech and writing on the learning process, ultimately uploading their artifacts to an eportfolio accessible by all of a given student’s stakeholders. It is easy to imagine, too, that tablets will one day feature built-in projection capacities (in addition to wireless mirroring, naturally), and having 360-degrees of white board space on which to project their tablet work would certainly be engaging for our students.

We’re talking about the iMax of classrooms here, only rather than passive, seated viewers and consumers of something created by somebody else, we would have active creators and collaborators, critical thinkers and communicators, partnering with teachers to share their thinking process and their creations with the world.

It wouldn’t be that we had raised the “surrender” flag and declared direct instruction dead, but the building blocks and scaffolding necessary would be delivered differently (flipped, maybe, although I’m not entirely persuaded that flipping holds the key), and class time would be an opportunity to hone in much more dynamically and collaboratively on developing the knowledge and skill set necessary to succeed in an increasingly complex and globalized economy. Rather than adding shock and awe to our PowerPoints, we teachers would spend our time creating ambitious new team-oriented projects and educating our students about Bruce Tuckman’s “forming, storming, norming, and performing” stages of effective teamwork. We would have technology rich stations in the classroom that facilitated each of these stages.

Finding the funding for such a classroom is, naturally, a huge hurdle. It’s cathartic to write this, though, because when new learning spaces are designed and built for us and for our students, we are seldom asked as teachers what we think about the plans. More often than not, it is assumed that we want your traditional unidirectional classroom with a few marker boards at the front, an LCD projector, and a pair of speakers. Imagine how different classrooms would be if they were designed by teachers and students.

Venn for the New Teacher

A “TeachThought” representation of lesson design sequence and the three circles of the 21st Century Teacher

Circling back now to my own presentation at the ACTFL conference (“New Approaches + Traditional Best Practices  = Meaningful Mobile Language Learning”), I alluded at the outset of my presentation to the three-circled Venn-style representation of the skill set necessary to be an effective 21st century teacher. The three circles are (in no particular order) Pedagogical Knowledge (PK), Content Knowledge (CK) and Technological Knowledge (TK).

After attending ACTFL this past weekend, I am more convinced than ever that language teachers are embracing the adaptive mindset that will save us from the cyborg teachers. Like Gabriele Dillmann at Denison, many among us see the value of the TK circle, we embrace it, and we work to maximize its potential to improve learning outcomes.

Statistical Sampling, Part 2:’s Presenter App

I presented recently at an educational technology conference where sales reps peddling expensive and flashy Clickers happened to be just down the hallway from my presentation. I began my talk with a few polls I had created on that allowed audience members to text in their responses to some “get to know the audience” questions via cell phone, iPad, or laptop. One of my audience members nodded his head, knowingly, and said, “This does exactly what those clickers down the hallway do, only with none of the cost.”

First of all, why conduct statistical sampling in the first place? As teachers, statistical sampling can offer us invaluable insight into the effectiveness of our lesson. For students, it can also be an instant engagement tool. You can begin your class with a series of multiple choice questions, free-response questions or (for language learning) sentence scrambles, etc. in order to assess what your students already know, then clear those answers from your polls and end the class after your lesson with the very same questions. Clearly, if there is no quantitative/qualitative improvement in your students’ responses by the end of class, your lesson plan did not lend itself to improved learning outcomes and needs rethinking. You know that further scaffolding is in order.

A good many of you reading this post probably know about, and, if you don’t know about it, I would encourage you to watch a few of the tutorials available on (what a gold mine YouTube is!). What a number of those tutorials don’t cover is the PollEv Presenter App, available for download on the site. This Presenter App is particularly effective in one-to-one tablet or laptop learning environments, for the following reasons:

  • students simply need to be at one Web site (which you will create when you set up your account) throughout your presentation;
  • students do not have to enter any text numbers and simply either type in for free-response style questions or click on their answer for multiple choice questions;
  • you can quickly and easily push out polls to all audience members and transition more effectively from one question to the next (Note the “Push to PollEv Page” in the images below – this is the feature that allows you to push the polls out to your students/audience).

I hope that the following series of images are self explanatory, but please feel free to contact me with any clarifying questions. Happy statistical sampling!


Upon launching the PollEv app, you will see this interface


Note the “Push to PollEv page” button – this is what you will click after starting the poll.


A multiple choice poll as opposed to the free-response poll pictured above