My district has charged me with designing and creating these spaces in 8 elementary schools across the district. the parameters were simple, make them innovative and as economical as possible. simple enough.
Currently my position in the district is Director of EdTech, but I have a background as a science teacher, mostly my experience is in chemistry, which has a fair amount of math. That being said, I am guessing that the thought is that I have a good rooting in the S, T, and M of STEAM. I am like 60% of the way there. Through a bunch of research, relationships with principals, and connections with others in my digital and real life PLN (personal learning network) I have gone from make a space that is awesome to a plan. That is what I am wanting to share through this blog and subsequent posts. Not that anything that I have done, or am going to do is earth shattering, but I figured that somebody may benefit from reading this.
Shared VisionThere is no mystery that without people, stuff will fail. From my current position at the district office, I feel that my mantra has been a shared vision and ownership.
Every space needs a champion and a group of teachers who "own" the space.I am going to work to create and install these spaces, but at some point I am going to step back and this will be solely in the hands of the schools and teachers. If I am the only one who is bought into the vision, or if the shared vision is only between me and the principal then the students will not benefit from the space. My job is to purchase and gather materials. The job of the principal is to get the teachers and students involved in the process. The more that I can do to help that, the better off the efforts will be. Every space needs a champion and a group of teachers who "own" the space. Without it, things will fail.
Keep GroundedFor room selection, be careful. There are places that we like to spend money and places that we don't. When selecting rooms work with your technology and maintenance & Operations departments to determine if the rooms that you would like to use have enough data drops or access points to support the computers and technology in the room as well as power. These can get pricey and take away from other things that can be done. I would also look at the walls and floor to with M & O to ensure that the space is capable of supporting equipment and students. Finally, how secure is the room? Is it indoors and more secure or is it an outside portable that can be easily broken into from the outside. It would be horrible to complete the project to watch everything get stolen.
Teachers are overwhelmed. Even if doing amazing things in the space, it is ok to leave some things out in the beginning. If teachers begin working in the space and there are too many things in there, they will get overwhelmed. Scaffold the equipment. Start simple, gradually introduce items to the space. Provide just-in-time training for teachers as they ask to work with robots, building materials, or other equipment that is in the room. It might be nice to have a list of coming attractions to the space, so teachers know what to ask for, but make sure they are asking for it. It is also a good idea to introduce things to the teachers so they start to think about how they will use the new equipment in the lab.
Support is another place to stay grounded. We currently have less than 10 teachers on special assignment (TOSAs) to support all of our elementary schools (36). Of those, I have 1 to support technology. Be practical with technology purchases. Standardize on 1 robot district-wide that you can support, 1 3D printer and software that you can champion, and 1 of any other purchases of technology that you put into the space. If not, then you will overload your tech people and support and training for the material will be diluted. Not to mention that having the same tech across schools fosters collaboration through lesson creation in PLC (professional learning communities).
Forward ThinkingMany places have had makerspaces for years, even decades, but they have been called arts and crafts rooms. Same or similar things will be in the room, but the focus of the use of the materials is slightly different. We do not hear too much about those spaces any more. When building the labs, ensure that there are plans to adapt the lab as teachers continue to innovate and get students innovating. In our labs, that is a focus on growth through the incorporation of computational thinking (thank you Jeremy Shorr for that idea).
Our introduction of computational thinking will be through robots that can extend and build upon the groundwork and lessons of the hour of code. Namely sphero and Code-a-pillar for now, but that list is sure to change as we move through the years.