This is the story of our journey when creating a makerspace in the media center of an elementary school. It may or may not be applicable to your situation, but this is what happened to us – the good, the bad and the ugly. Oh, there’s some fun in there too! Enjoy and remember this is our path, yours may be completely different, and that’s okay! Best of luck if you choose to follow this path at your school!
If you want to learn more about Makerspaces or need some ideas & inspiration, feel free to check out our Makerspaces board on Pinterest.
STEP 1: CREATE A PLAN
You’ve been reading about makerspaces, collected tons of pins on Pinterest, and maybe even attended a workshop or two. You think this would be a good fit for your school, and then you share it with your administration and staff for their feedback. From there, you start small, perhaps set up a Lego center in the media center or have a “maker night” to help parents and students. As more people become interested and start to understand the maker movement and its benefits, you make a plan to grow your makerspace and the number of students you can reach. You create surveys to get more formal feedback from students, staff and parents on components to include in a larger makerspace. You begin to think that perhaps it’s time to start looking for additional funding; maybe even pursue writing a grant. This planning phase could take months or even a year or more.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:
We began with a dream fueled by magazine and blog articles and pins from Pinterest. It was a far-off dream, likely years down the road; however, a grant opportunity from within our school district presented itself and the planning moved up quite a bit. As in, the grant is due in two weeks.
We quickly gathered research to support the need for a makerspace and created a team of specialists (comprised of the art teacher, music teacher, technology teacher and the media specialist) to lead the makerspace program. A brief presentation was offered to students and teachers in grades 2-5 during media center orientations. We didn’t include K and 1st grade because it was only August and we weren’t sure they would fully grasp the concept. Surveys were given to students and teachers in grades 2-5 after the presentations and surveys were given to all parents. We used Google Docs to create the surveys, but printed out the surveys for the students to complete. The makerspace location was planned for the offices in the media center – the only large space in the school that could be closed off, yet easily accessible for all students. We submitted the application at the very last possible minute and took a breathe. We were told the grant announcements would be in mid-September.
STEP 2: SECURE FUNDING
You would spend additional research time locating grants that fit your purposes and goals. Do you want your makerspace to be an outreach program for girls and technology? Is it more of a robotics program? Are you leaning more toward a make & take type of program? What you are planning guides your search for funds. Don’t forget to ask your staff and parents for assistance. You never know what they know or who they know until you ask. You would also give yourself at least a few months to actually write the grant application, allowing time for multiple readers/editors to ensure you’ve written an application that can be understood by someone who isn’t in the education world and that you’ve accounted for every possible need.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:
As you read above, we had about two weeks to go through the surveying, planning, researching and writing phases. Not ideal. The results of the student surveys helped us decide what areas to focus on for the makerspace. In other words, what were the students interested in making and what did we need to buy? The top four items were: 3D printing, Legos with Lego Movie maker, Augmented Reality and Video Production. In the grant application we were told to create a timeline based on receiving funds in August. Then after submission, we were told the announcements would be made in mid September. We actually received news of our grant approval in mid October, We were thrilled but shocked – we were one of 14 selected from 48 applications. We were approved for just over $21,000.
STEP 3: SPEND YOUR MONEY
This is the really fun part – buying all the cool gadgets that you asked for in the grant – provided you received the full amount you requested. If you’re new to writing grants, you need to realize that even if your grant is approved, it may not be for the full amount. If this happens, the grantors usually request you to submit a modified budget within a certain time frame. Once that is done, back to the fun stuff! Be sure to keep track of all your packing slips and invoices! Luckily, I have an amazing bookkeeper at my school and she kept track of all this for me. You may not be so lucky. Be sure to recruit others to help you with the setup process. This is a good time to start up advertising again – hang promotional posters in the media center, blog about it, talk about it at staff meetings or collaborative planning meetings. Get the makerspace buzz going like crazy!
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:
Now the really difficult part – making it happen and sticking to a timeline to meet the January and May report deadlines we’d have to submit. Not to mention that in the grant application we were told to submit a timeline based on receiving funds in August, so when the award announcement didn’t happen until mid October, we had to make some adjustments to our timeline.
To add to the difficulty, we quickly realized that we’d forgotten a few things in the grant – mainly paying for the cost of adding internet drops and a phone line to the room we’d use for the new media center offices. We had no idea how much this would cost and couldn’t move forward with any other purchases until we found out if we were going to have to remove something from our original budget. We are part of a very large school district and things can sometimes move more slowly than expected. This was true in our case; it took three months for us to get an estimate on the cost of adding the drops for the offices. So if you’re keeping track, it’s now the end of December, just days before our two-week winter break and we’ve only spent money on the internet drops. There’s a mid-year project report due a week after we return from the winter break. My wonderful bookkeeper and I worked furiously to order as much as possible in those two days before the break and I updated the grant office again (I’d been keeping in touch with them as the internet quote delay kept dragging on and on).
In January, the internet drops were finally installed and we could begin moving things around. A few items began arriving in mid to late January, more items arrived in February and finally in March everything arrived. We did encounter some issues along the way. Some items were back-ordered or no longer available from the selected vendor and we had to find new vendors and often slightly different versions of what we originally wanted. We also changed from the mac-daddy 3D printer that was on our county’s bid list (to the tune of $11K) to a more manageable (for elementary students) Makerbot 3D printer ($3K). This meant we had money leftover, and yes we had to return it.
STEP 4: GET THE MAKERSPACE UP AND RUNNING!
You have a large group of people there to help you unpack and rearrange everything. Everyone is excited, sharing ideas they’ve seen or plans for lessons. Everything is set-up in one or two days with possibly a few hiccups here and there. Minimal stress involved.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:
If you’ve read the information on our main makerspace page then you know we had to rearrange almost everything but main library itself. The makerspace was being created in the media center offices. The media center offices would be relocated to the book set room. Then the book set room will be relocated to what is the current morning news broadcast room. The equipment from the morning broadcast room will be moved to join the makerspace as part of the video production area. Remember those internet drops? Without them, we couldn’t move the media center offices. So, when we couldn’t move the media center offices, everything was on hold. We had to shift everything at the same time to minimize the downtime of any particular area. Many of the rooms are used for more than the intended purpose and most of that is extra storage. We had to do some creative space planning and lots of purging to get things rearranged for the makerspace. Below are the “before” images of the spaces had to be modified to accommodate the new makerspace:
During the months of January and February, I kept trying to find time during the school day to get things unpacked, sorted, purged, etc… However, with a busy media center that’s nearly impossible. By the time March hit, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get things up and running at this pace so I began coming in on the weekends. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. Here’s what I was able to accomplish the first weekend:
We finally opened the makerspace on March 23 and everyone was excited. We began advertising with classroom tours – teachers would come with their classes for a 10-15 minute tour/demonstration, students just dropping by and doing a walk-thru as well as a demo night during a Reading Night in April. Below are photos of the finished makerspace.
STEP 5: MOVING FORWARD
We’re looking forward to beginning the 2015-2016 school year with the makerspace available in August. We plan on incorporating regular makerspace activities as part of the media center lessons for all grades. We will also be working on collaborative projects with homeroom teachers and the specialists (art, music, technology).
We shared our Makerspace journey with other media specialists during a pre-planning training session in 2015. We’re sharing the presentation with you in hopes that it, along with everything else we’ve listed above will help you on your journey.
Just for fun, we’ve added a few video clips of the 3D printer in action – enjoy!