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 http://makerspace.com/makerspace-directory.

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.

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Celebrating Gibault Catholic High School

GCHS Logo

GCHS Logo

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.

Connecting with Parents over The Big Disconnect

Late at night, I am reading a book that has become popular in school circles called The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, by Catherine Steiner-Adair and Teresa H. Barker.

I wish we could make it required reading for all parents, and I offer some suggestions to facilitate that process in today’s post.

The book paints a pretty bleak picture of family dynamics in the digital age, and much of it rings true. Adults are withdrawing into our devices and interact far too little with our children at a time when they need us the most. We are more connected with the external world than ever, more invested in making computer-mediated connections than ever, and less connected with those right under our own roofs. All of that is taking a toll on the development of the whole child.

What does all this mean for those of us who have been actively engaged in the pursuit of a paradigm shift in education toward more systemic and ubiquitous technology integration in schools to better prepare our children for participation in an increasingly complex and competitive global economy (to transforming teaching and learning for the 21st Century)?

The reality on the ground in schools is that more and more technology is being put into our students’ hands. Given that reality, and in recognition of the powerful hold that computer-mediated communication in virtual spaces has over our children in their formative years, some schools are rolling out digital citizenship curriculums (Common Sense Media has developed wonderful and free curricular resources in this area). Some schools, on the other hand, are simply trusting students to develop their own digital citizenship skills – a high-stakes roll of the dice given the potential for the wrong Facebook post to impact lives.

The technology push in schools is not likely to abate. New teaching and learning technologies simply offer too much potential to spur more personalized and active teaching and learning environments, ultimately leading to improved learning outcomes. We live in a world, too, where a highly sophisticated technology skill set (hopefully combined with a strong interpersonal skill set) will be rewarded in a tightening and competitive jobs market.

The Big Disconnect focuses primarily on family dynamics in the digital age, but what about the dynamics of the school-family relationship? For obvious reasons, parental engagement with the life of the school remains an elusive goal. Parents lead busy lives juggling job and family responsibilities, but partnering further with their schools as primary stakeholders in the success of their children will (properly approached as a partnership) have a profoundly positive impact.

Ironically, however, virtual spaces are the tools that schools might well soon be deploying to facilitate the dialogue between schools and parents on this subject of The Big Disconnect.

I am imagining a two-pronged approach, with facilitated meetings in both physical and virtual spaces:

  • At the beginning or end of the school year, when parents assemble for beginning or end-of-year ceremonies, a challenge should be issued to parents to read The Big Disconnect and to engage with one another as well as with the school on the subject of successful strategies for helping our students make the most of today’s technologies as cognitive tools without neglecting the family and peer connections that are so vital to their socio-emotional development. Parent volunteers could host discussion groups, or those groups could be facilitated by school administrators or members of the school’s technology committee in face-to-face style meetings.
  • Since we are so spread out in physical space, meetings in virtual spaces to hold these same conversations should also be part of a holistic approach to the problem. Google Hangouts (the subject of both past and future posts here at transformingteachingandlearning.wordpress.com) or group Skype sessions should be regularly scheduled between school personnel and parents on the subject of The Big Disconnect. In your weekly newsletter push, send out a signup form for the various Hangouts/Skype sessions. These can be recorded and shared on YouTube (as unlisted or private) with the broader school community if they are particularly profound and productive.

If you are a school administrator and you are reading this, you are probably thinking that the last thing you want is a challenge from parents to your school’s noble push for innovation in teaching and learning. You probably already hear too many complaints from parents, and this book does open a bit of a Pandora’s box in the area of technology integration in school settings.

Ultimately, though – and that is the spirit of this very virtual space – thoughtful, guided, productive dialogue between stakeholders is most likely to lead to the best outcomes for all involved. These conversations should be happening, and in fact are already happening.

We are, after all, about the development of the whole child. Let’s have conversations along those lines, in both physical and virtual spaces.

Let’s connect about The Big Disconnect.

New Approaches + Traditional Best Practices = Meaningful Mobile Language Learning

My presentation at the 2013 American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language’s “New Spaces, New Realities” annual convention was focused on how to deploy tablet technology to engage, motivate, and activate 21st Century learning in both physical and virtual spaces. I am supplying the link to the PPT here for those of you who requested it after my presentation. While the Slideshare PPT does not include the student and teacher audio that you heard at the convention, I have added links to the YouTube files. Thank you for attending, and I hope you find some useful material here!

View ACTFL presentation 2013.pptx and other presentations by peytonjobe.