I work with an innovative administrative team that begins every year's back-to-school professional development with an engaging, fun activity. In 2015, I read several journal articles about makerspaces that shaped my view of making as a key way to engage learners through truly authentic learning experiences. During my evaluation conference that spring, I raised the idea of starting a makerspace program in the library with my administrative team. Their response—and I am paraphrasing here—was something like, "that's great Brian, but how will this be tied to the curriculum?"
That conversation started our makerspace program and led to an opening professional development activity that fall. Our teachers were divided into their academic teams and tasked with making something that represented their team or the goals of their team. They were given access to a collection of Legos, duct tape, craft supplies, green screen video equipment and other materials including a one-foot-tall Iron Man doll.
This opening maker activity could not have provided a better beginning for the Lakeside JHS maker program! It gave all teachers first-hand experience with the wonders of making and a lens to start considering how makerspace activities could be included in their curriculum. The Next Generation Science Standards have brought renewed interest in inquiry-based learning and problem solving. The Common Core literacy standards also reflect this emphasis on inquiry. And, as Andrew Tawfik has noted, libraries are uniquely positioned for collaboration on inquiry-based projects such as those often conducted in makerspaces. In our school, the initial positive experience with the teachers has fueled an ongoing series of content area collaborations with science, math, English, social studies, and family/consumer science teachers.
Science might be one of the most natural avenues for collaboration through making, since inquiry is such a major theme in the curriculum. The makerspace has hosted collaborations with our eighth grade science classes on projects to answer questions such as, "what type of container will successfully protect a potato chip as it is transported through the mail" and "what is the most efficient design for cars and roller coasters?"
For each of these projects, students were asked to do some research (inquiry) prior to creating their projects. For example, students researched the best materials for their potato chip containers. Then, they had to work through the design process to develop the best protective case. We made an arrangement with a local middle school to send the student-designed containers through inter-school mail. The students were highly engaged and the looks on their faces were priceless when some of their containers came back with the potato chips intact!
The library has also collaborated with the science department on DIY car and roller coaster projects. In both cases, students started with a question about materials. They researched the best materials and designs before building and testing their prototypes.
I collaborated with a social studies teacher who wanted students to start with a problem they had learned about in their study of the Progressive Era and build a solution. These problems were then transformed into questions such as, "how can we build an invention to solve a given problem from that time period?" or "what are the best materials to build a given invention?"
What students developed was truly amazing. There was a Morse code receiver created with two Microbits to solve the issue of long distance communication, a working vacuum cleaner built using Little Bits components to improve the cleanliness of life at home, and a 3D aspirin molecule design to aid workers who returned from a hard day in the factory with sore muscles.
Probably my favorite invention was a counting machine. For this invention, students sought to solve the problem that children employed in factories were not in school learning how to count. To solve this issue, a group of students built a game using Little Bits components to teach students how to count cookies before they went into the oven.
We also extended our learning through a Google Hangout with Stony Evans, librarian at Lakeside Hot Springs High School in Arkansas. He had collaborated with one of his history teachers on a similar project, and our students had a chance to share their projects/process with their peers from Hot Springs.
Our invention literacy projects turned out better than I could have ever imagined! It was exciting to watch students grow their inquiry skills as they invented and innovated their project designs. By seeking out these opportunities, we stoke the fires of their inquiry learning and promote ingenious thinking. As librarians, we can collaborate with our teachers to help students make their inquiries visible through making. Given the importance of information seeking during the inquiry process, we truly have a unique chance to take a leadership role with our teachers as they implement inquiry-based learning.
Graves, Colleen. "Invention Literacy Research – Part One." Create+Collaborate Innovate Blog. September 20, 2016. https://colleengraves.org/2016/06/07/invention-literacy-research-part-one/