If you’ve been in education as long as me (Um…wow…20+ years), you’ve surely seen educational trends come and go and watched the pendulum swing on what are considered educational priorities. So, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some librarians are sitting back and waiting to see if the library makerspace trend is going to go out of style.
For much of my English teaching career (before I became a librarian), reading and writing across the curriculum was all the rage, and my expertise in these areas was appreciated by teachers across the content areas, who were all of the sudden expected to be teachers of reading and writing on top of their own content. Yet, the pendulum has swung in recent years, and now STEM and STEAM are everything. (Those smarties in Art got in on the acronym action early, and now we are left to awkwardly try to slip in an R for reading, to make it STREAM,).
If you aren’t teaching “design thinking” or “novel engineering,” you are behind the times, dear literacy-loving friends. And, while I do believe Humanities will get their due again eventually (at least I hope so– especially given the way modern life seems to resemble more and more those dystopian novels that fly off the shelves in my library), I have to tell you–having taken a deep dive into the new AASL Standards this semester–I truly believe that this new “makerspace mindset” is not just a passing fad.
If you don’t believe me, then just take a look at these competencies from the shared foundation, Explore:
- V.B.1. Learners construct new knowledge by problem solving through cycles of design, implementation, and reflection.
- V.B.2. Learners construct new knowledge by persisting through self-directed pursuits by tinkering and making.
- V.C.3. Learners engage with the learning community by collaboratively identifying innovative solutions to a challenge or problem.
- V.D.1. Learners develop through experience and reflection by iteratively responding to challenges.
While Explore, with its key commitment to “discover and innovate in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection,” encompasses more than just making, it is pretty clear that the language in this shared foundation encourages it. According to Chapter 9 of the new standards book, learners benefit from “opportunities to cultivate creative pursuits by making and experimenting with hands-on activities within the library space” (emphasis mine), and they advance “by tackling challenges that build skill through multiple opportunities to engage in problem-solving and critical-thinking processes.”
I’ll admit right now, I have been slow to get on board with incorporating makerspace in my library and not because I think it’s going to go out of style. Because I serve a student population that is behind in reading (75% of our incoming 6th graders read 2-3 grade levels below where they should be), the focus of my middle school library program is always going to be on reading. But, I also realize that if I do not provide opportunities to make and iterate, my high-poverty students may not be exposed to it elsewhere.
This is why an METC STEAM Summer Institute session on makerspace activities tied to state-award nominated picture books I attended last summer was so appealing to me. The idea of tying the makerspace to literacy seemed like the perfect fit. I blogged about that session here, and I set out this school year to figure out how I could take the idea and make it work for my secondary students.
My first thought was to book talk a Truman or Gateway book, read a quick excerpt and then have the students complete a related makerspace activity during their regularly scheduled library visits. Yet, incorporating anything but the simplest, quickest makerspace activities turned out to be hard to manage given the limited time I see secondary students, so I had to get a little more creative and reach out to teaching partners who could collaborate.
As it turns out, our middle school science teachers were looking for enrichment activities for their intervention time, and they were more than willing to have me come in and share about an award book. Then, I could leave, and they took care of the related STEM activity. We were able to incorporate maker activities this way, and it also ended up leading to a broader STEM-Literacy partnership. For instance, I read an excerpt from Red Queen to 6th grade science students at the start of a unit on blood types, which incorporated inquiry as well as a more traditional lab. The collaboration has me so excited, that I am thinking about reaching out to other departments, like art, social studies and math!
Another idea we have in the works, is putting together some Family STEM-Literacy take-home kits, where we’ll send home two copies of the award book, along with an accompanying nonfiction title, discussion guides and maker activities and materials. We’re writing a grant this month in hopes of funding this idea and our continued partnership!
For my high schoolers, I decided to focus on Gina Seymour-inspired “makercare” activities, where the projects were tied to community service. I introduced this through my monthly Teen Library Council lunch meetings, and then students could come in during their free time to participate in making with the added incentive of getting to go on a field trip to deliver the items we made that were meant for outside the school. Here is a link to the Donor’s Choose project I did to fund the supplies for this idea.
So, while there are a lot of Future Ready Librarians who are trendier than me and a lot farther along when it comes to their library makerspaces, I hope you find a little inspiration here. Plus, I hope you will join in on these collaborative documents (MASL Makers 2017-2018 & MASL Makers 2018-2019) where we are sharing our maker ideas for the MASL award-nominated books (even if you are not from Missouri!).