· How did you get started working in this area? ·
The term “maker” is recently coined, but I’ve always been one. When I was a kid I was constantly coming up with projects for myself: weaving bracelets to sell at a local boutique, designing and sewing a cover for my neighbor’s birdcage, turning my closet cubbies into jungle habitats for my sister’s beanie babies. One summer I organized a group of kids and we scavenged local construction sites for materials to build the most epic network of forts ever devised by children (in my opinion).
Later, when I went back to school for my teaching credential, I realized I didn’t want to be a traditional classroom teacher—I wanted to foster the kind of innovation that comes from being bored. I think kids these days are over scheduled, and a lot of them never have the opportunity to create things because they’re never given the freedom and time to invent. I do my best to provide a freeform space where I can inspire and support but not limit imagination
Be who you are.
In more specific terms, I first took a job running the library in a K-8 public school. After a year I realized a lot of kids were wandering in at recess because they didn’t really fit in with the usual recess crowd, and I wanted to give them a safe and creative space. I began with a craft area and have since expanded to a full makerspace in the library. I also started a STEAM program at my school and teach science and engineering projects in K-5 as well as a year-round middle school elective.
· What’s a project you’ve done that you’re proud of? ·
My greatest achievement is the environment I’ve created in my makerspace and in my classroom. Kids don’t grow up learning how to fail at school. There’s a due date for a project and when they turn it in they get a grade—but not in my class. We spend at least ten weeks on each project, creating prototypes, testing, modifying, getting peer feedback, modifying again. It was really hard for the students to get used to at first, but every year it gets easier for them.
They can now create scale models; dust for and classify fingerprints with a variety of different materials; build video games; write, direct, and edit claymation movies; and hand-draft floorplans. And, most importantly, they can confidently set goals and complete a project on their own.
· What tools do you use? Have a favorite? ·
The most-used tools in my STEAM classroom are my mini transparent t-squares (which my students, despite all my attempts at vocabulary development, call “the pickaxes”), YouTube (because that’s where many experts hang out), and dry erase markers (because plans are constantly changing). In my makerspace, the favorites are patterned duct tape, toilet paper rolls, Sphero SPRK robots, and LEGO.
· What’s your workspace like? ·
A perpetual disaster. That’s how you know it’s being used, right?
· What kind of projects can someone try with you? ·
The first thing I tell my students is that I’m not going to teach them anything if I can help it. The ideas have to come from them. The process has to come from them. The end goals have to be ones they’re invested in, and the timeline depends on the ambitiousness and technicality of their project.
I help them think through the big-picture stuff using backwards planning, but then my main role is to provide the resources they need to get from start to finish. I like to set benchmarks to make sure they’re staying on track, and I always have a playlist of YouTube videos on hand for when I know I won’t be able to answer their inevitable questions. Or when we just need to take a break from making. Otherwise, I step back and learn along with them.
Also, I make sure they’re not going to cut their fingers off or poke someone’s eye out. This is, believe it or not, more of a problem with adults than with children.
· Favorite local spot? ·
Food? Drink? Hike? Museum? Theatre?
Honestly? My makerspace. It has yarn, it has cardstock, it has robots, and it has snacks.
· What have you always wanted to try? ·
Everything. That’s why my job is awesome—I get to.
· Favorite inspirational quote? ·
My motto is “Be who you are.” A lot of the kids who hang out in my makerspace are the ones who are less socially successful. They come in at recess instead of playing basketball or gossiping in the quad. The most rewarding part of my job is providing a safe space for those kids to flourish, create, work together, and be themselves. They give me courage to be who I am, too.