By: Susan Mongold, OELMA Vice President
Last May, Woodridge High School received a grant from the G.A.R. Foundation to purchase a variety of STEAM-based materials for students to use and explore. Our vision was to build a makerspace in our high school library media center that supported teacher and student led projects in circuitry, programming, engineering, robotics, video production, 3D printing, and digital design. Additionally, teachers could checkout the new materials to use in their classrooms. We were all very excited!
Before the school year began, I had already ordered most of the requested materials. During September, as each new item arrived, we invited students to play and explore independently in our new makerspace (located behind the large circulation desk, where we could be close by, coach, guide, and attempt to keep the kits in order). We had many students begin projects. They were filled with enthusiasm and curiosity.
However, we quickly learned, independent/small group exploration often fell short when there was a tough problem to solve. Homework and (mostly) socializing took precedence over project completion, and by the end of the month, we had a collection of unfinished projects and robots waiting to be programmed. Additionally, we learned that students did not seem too interested in a dedicated space in the library. Students want to sit with their friends and would often choose that over making and building. We knew we needed to adjust our approach. After some discussion, our dedicated space was to become a dedicated day – Maker Mondays.
The library team spent the remainder of the first semester talking up Maker Mondays to our patrons, hoping to build excitement and prepare students for the program change. During October and November, we began sharing all the activities we were planning. In December, the student aids helped us build a few EV3 robots, a bridge and a simple, solar-powered machine with the K’Nex kits. We then grabbed related print materials and other fun tech gadgets to be displayed in the hall showcase with a prominent “Maker Mondays – WHS Library – January 2018.”
As with many high schools, students really like coming to the library during study hall to socialize. Not to mention, teachers with study hall duty count on the library to help with population control. Since our plan was to open for makers only, we were under a lot of pressure to attract students and get this right.
On Monday, January 22, 2018, the WHS Library had its first Maker Monday. We decided to begin with K’Nex kits. We had smaller kits that could be completed in one period and a few larger ones, like the bridges and a roller coaster, that took longer to build. For the larger kits, we planned to have each period continue where the other left off.
The day started slow — scary slow. I had just my two aids during first period. We started on the roller coaster. Only two study hall students stayed second period. They continued to build the roller coaster. Thoughts of flopping began to fill my head, and I started to feel nauseous. By the end of second period, the roller coaster started to take shape. It looked interesting enough to turn heads in the hall and by third period, we snagged fifteen participants. They worked in small groups to build (or begin to build) a variety of items – scissors, simple machines, wheel barrels, etc. Each period thereafter had great participation. We heard some awesome comments too, like “This is really relaxing,” and my favorite, “This takes me back to a time homework didn’t matter, and we could just play.” By the end of the day, multiple small kit projects were completed and so was the roller coaster. The problem was, it did not work!
The next day, we opened the library as usual, but students were not ready to call it quits. Some were not ready to stop building. Others were determined to get the roller coaster to work. Teachers were excited about all the projects on display and quickly began brainstorming ways they could be more prominently displayed. (We have a levy to pass. We want our community to see all this cool stuff we are doing.) By the end of the second day, two bridges were built, but the roller coaster still did not work. It had a motor and the car was to travel up the very large hill, drop, and do a loop-de-loop before it started the process over again. They just could not figure out how to get the car to complete the loop. It continued to fall short!
By Wednesday, we had a third bridge built, and for the remainder of the week, students persisted with problem-solving the stubborn coaster, so did teachers, custodians, and administrators. It was an amazing display of critical thinking, collaboration, all those wonderful soft skills we look to develop. By the end of the week, on Friday, the last period of the day, I get a text with a video. They did it! They solved the problem. What a great feeling!
I am looking forward to many other Makerspace adventures, and so are the students. We have plans for duct tape creations, stop-motion videos, green screen productions, and 3D printing. We are not ready for every Monday to be a maker day just yet, and we are not certain that would be the best approach. Right now, they are fun learning experiences that break up the monotony of the school year and hopefully continue to inspire students to explore independently. I am also in search of some great ideas, so if you have a makerspace in your school library, please consider sharing your experiences here on the OELMA blog.