Saturday, October 26, 2013

The MakerSpace: Equipment and Programming

Exciting title, eh?

Once you have the space, you need to add the "Maker" element, which consists of both equipment and programming.

Now, personally, I think there are all kinds of Makerspaces.  The point is to lure the kids in to hands-on activities that get them creating and learning.  Whether that's video production, 3D printing, carpentry/'s all good.  Having said that, I was at a Learning 2.013 conference a few weeks ago, and attended a Makerspace un-conference session.  After I showed the panorama of ours, the leader flat out told me: "That may be other things, and it fits your needs, but it's not a Makerspace," then went on to talk about carpentry and mechanics.  Sucks to him, I say.  This is a pilot program with plans to expand.  If you wait around until you have the ideal space and tools, it may never happen.

The school already has 3 Design Tech rooms,  two art rooms, and a film and recording studio.  These, however,  are located in a building separate from the high-school.  As an all Mac/iPad school, with a 1:1 laptop program in the high school, ours students do a LOT of video and digital media productions.  We were also starting a weekly TV program in the HS.  We needed a space to both facilitate student production and improve the quality of their work.

The Equipment

After discussion with the Film, Art and DT teachers, we either purchased or re-assigned the following equipment:

Most of it is self-explanatory.  The Legos are for stop-motion videos (or anything else the students think of!).  You might notice it totals far more than the $3,000 I had leftover in last year's budget; the extra comes from this year's budget.  Fortunately, I have a VERY generous budget!

We house the large items in the Makerspace, but keep the cameras, tripods and other portable items in the library for students to check out.

A word about the large-format printer:  We are working to improve the design of both student and teacher posters, banners, etc.  There is nothing more empowering for a student than seeing their work as a large banner in the school--but it has to be good!  In order for students to print their posters/banners on the (very expensive to print) large-format printer, it has to first be approved.  This means it is in it's final format and tested on the regular color printer before it is printed on the large format printer.

UPDATE: I just realized I forgot to include this tip:  We went with a green screen, rather than painting the whole room green, because the green paint reflects on the students when they video.  This not only gives them a rather sickly hue, when you attempt to remove the green while editing, part of the students disappear, too.

The Program

Teachers and students will need to be trained in appropriate use of the space/equipment before they can use it.  Fortunately, we have a strong student Geek Force, and I'm working with a core group of them (Maker Geeks!) to provide both training and workshops for students and faculty.

The "official" roll out happens in two weeks, when we have two PD days.  Faculty rotate through a mix of both obligatory and optional workshops.  The Makerspace workshop is obligatory, and will be run by the Maker Geeks.  They will attend a lighting tutorial run by our Film teacher next week, along with a session on the cameras and other equipment.  The Tech Integrator and I worked together to develop the faculty workshop (Brief intro to the equipment, followed by the time to create their own video, which we'll showcase at the end.  The group that uses the most Makerspace Equipment "wins").

We'll give students the workshop outline, along with two practice faculty groups to practice on before the PD days, then leave them to run it (though available if they need help, obviously!)

We're rolling out with the faculty first, using the theory that familiarizing teachers with the space will trickle down to the students.

The Geek Force will also offer regular tutorials in iBooks Author,  video editing (iMovie and Adobe Premiere),  green screen techniques,  stop-motion videos and more.

We'll populate the back walls with poster guidelines for various media:  e.g.  if you're filming an interview make sure you have x,y,z.  Putting together a documentary: these are the steps.   Basic reminders and quality-checks for students, in other words.

The library itself will sponsor various "challenges" or showcases  throughout the year, promoting student use of the space.

Finally (and I need to put these together next week) after each class or individual use of the space, students and teachers will fill out a brief questionnaire, that we'll use for documenting how the space is used, and what improvements would have most impact for next year.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The MakerSpace: If You Build It, Will They Come?

I'm about to find out.

Thanks to a dream, an under-utilized workspace, and a $3000 end-of-year surplus in my budget,  the library now has a MakerSpace!  It's on a different floor, the space isn't ideal, but hey!  It's there!

Ever since Buffy Hamilton first blogged about it a couple years ago or so, I've wanted a makerspace.  OK, sure, I'll admit it.  The geek in me waxed euphoric at the mere idea of more tech toys.  But I also firmly grounded my makerspace-lust in the belief that the library needs to support ALL literacies, not just reading and writing.  What better way to broaden our sphere and empower students than by giving them the tools, space and permission to go in and engage in meaningful play??

In my last school, money was the issue; in my current school, with its four different DT labs, film and recording studios, I figured we didn't need one.  I was so wrong.

When we were working on the WW II history project last spring, we set up the tech integrator's room as a mini-studio, with two soft box lights borrowed from the film studies teacher, using the whiteboard as a backdrop.  Next thing we knew, kids from all over the high-school were dropping in to use the lights.  This was my ah-ha moment:
  • Students recognized the need for better quality in their digital creations, and
  • We needed something local, as the DT laps and studios are in a separate building halfway across campus.

First Step: Collaborators
 I explained the vision to the tech integrator.  As one of the key-players for how technology is used in the high-school, she needed to play an integral role in promoting the space. Since she was part of the history project and saw first-hand the improved quality of students' work as well as the kids coming out of the woodwork to use the space, she was on board immediately--even though it meant giving up her work room. We moved her to the library's back-office instead, since I never use it; this has the added advantage of making it easier for us to collaborate.

More importantly even agreed when I insisted it be part of the library.  In fact, I was adamant.  If the space "ran" out of the tech department, teachers and students would connect it with them, and view it as just another tech lab.  Run as part of the library, it's a communal space for everyone to use.

We then got our curriculum coordinator on board, as the first person to present it to our principal.

Finally, we met with the all the film and DT teachers, had a good look at the space and asked for their recommendations. I've embedded a panorama of the room below. You can see it's quite long and narrow, which limits what we can do in there. We also wanted to  keep our goals attainable and achievable over the summer,  saving the dreaming for next year.  Thus, the current space is very oriented towards digital media production.

Step Two:  The Proposal
Now we needed a brief but powerful rationale for why we needed the space, and how we'd pay for it. Fortunately, this was going to be relatively low-cost as it mostly involved the re-purposing of an already existing space and buying equipment, all of which could come from the "leftovers" of last year's budget.

I focused on three areas:  An explanation of what it is and how it would be used, the impact on learning, and the benefits to the school.  You can see the document below.  Like most admin, mine are very short on time and don't want to read pages and pages of rationale; I didn't quite make my  two page goal, but almost (I've blacked out names for obvious reasons).

I have to say, there were no real road blocks to this, mostly because my school is very tech-forward and progressive, with challenging and inspiring students part of our mission statement. The principal read the proposal, loved it, and arranged a meeting with our director.

He asked me one question: How will you pay for it.  When I explained I had enough money from my budget, he exlaimed, "Fantastic! Get started!" and moved on to other business.  Shortest meeting I've ever had here!

And here's the space, though it's not the best panorama in the world!  Next post, I'll describe the equipment we purchased and how we're running the programming.