This Space is Your Space?

When I think of an era that promoted possibilities, I think of handmade items and Woody Guthrie’s American folk anthem, This Land is Your Land. While the song was written as Guthrie’s response to the failed inclusiveness of the American dream, many of us still see the opportunity right in front of us.

Educators still dream and believe all children need access to resources for learning. That dream can become a reality through creating a MakerSpace in your library. Let that legendary folk song serve as inspiration for creating that space and providing more access to resources. The real estate in our libraries is a land of possibilities where the building of a true learning community can take place. New literacies and untold benefits are waiting to be discovered in your library. What can you expect when you open your space to making and tell your students, “This space is my space, this space is your space?”

MakerSpaces have the capacity to become a magnet that pulls kids into a deeper learning that is authentic and user-driven. They seem to lie somewhere between a playground and a toy store as they have items kids want to use, try, examine and evaluate on their own terms. While some things are tremendously popular, others are of a more solitary nature. Like the playground, kids often create new games and rules when the existing ones grow old. The toy store, on the other hand, puts out new items as well as the tried and true, hoping to find the next big success. Kids of all ages still like to make things with their hands and will continue to do so even without a space. Do your students make and wear bracelets?

Not only do MakerSpaces give students the opportunity to discover, they also can give our print collections the authority they deserve. We often refer to school as a learning laboratory, but do we really give students room to flush out the ideas they read about? A library MakerSpace has the benefit of engaging students with print in ways beneficial to all. The deep reading required to apply a set of instructions to a project is a technical skill that will last a lifetime. Teachers searching for an authentic project within their curriculum can match it with a text or set of ideas. Other opportunities to pair items — such electronics kits with a science biography or art books with supplies — are just a few ideas to bring students and their world a little closer.

I see a MakerSpace as “… an endless skyway”—it can become as large or small as your library requires. From a shoebox and a plastic bag to a tabletop and a workbench, MakerSpaces come in all sizes and shapes. Project kits can be stored on shelves in plastic boxes or bags and checked out just like other three-dimensional objects, or just given to the students as take home kits. Remember those bracelets? At the other end of the spectrum are tables full of objects that can be spread out as needed or on a more permanent basis. Some schools keep areas set up as self-service student spaces where common supply items such as poster board and markers are provided. Others have added die cut machines and scrapbooking supplies as these areas have grown in popularity.

Spaces that invite children to explore and imagine a world beyond themselves is part of the creative potential MakerSpaces seek to explore. One sure-fire way to discover creativity is to give kids cameras. Do you only have one iPad®? Why not set up a stop-motion video station with an app like DoInk™ or iMotion™ ? Students can explain their thinking and illustrate concepts, or break down complex tasks into their parts using this type of tool. Perhaps they can even make videos that provide instruction to their peers for everyday tasks, such as how to look up and use a resource. Students can flip instruction for everyone and become invested in the results when they are enabled.

Working together on a public solution or investigation is a synergistic model that illustrates the power of community in solving their own issues. Creating a community of inquiry helps eliminate a lot of other issues that distract from the learning process. When those issues do arise, the community is better prepared to plunge into them with a positive outcome in mind. Learners of all ages will begin to be problem solvers rather than those that are “done to” by some outside force. The idea that everyone is a learner and can learn from one another is a powerful notion. A growing community of experts holds great potential for all its members.

Kids, parents and teachers expect our best efforts, but they also look to us for leadership and direction. Creating a space in your library or school where students can explore and connect their learning will offer many benefits. But perhaps the most important one is about giving them broader access to a world of possibilities. After all, this space was made for you and me.

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