With the start of the academic school year in late summer 2012, we focused our efforts on learning from and working with our 15 high schools in the MENTOR Makerspace pilot program. These schools represent the full spectrum: big, medium, and small; private, public, and charter; urban, suburban, and rural; serving low-income, middle-income, and high-income communities; alternative and traditional approaches. All 15 are in the greater Bay Area. Of our 15 pilot schools, at least five are quite advanced, having already designed and created programs that teachers have refined and grown over the past two to six years. The remaining 10 schools are either brand-new to making, or “intermediate”, with room to grow and learn.
Our teachers are dedicated, inspiring, and passionate individuals, excited to reach students in different ways. For myriad reasons, making — or whichever term fits best for their audience and environments — is a key pathway to better engage their students. Making can meet students where they are, providing an entry point to learning that is most relevant to their own experiences and curiosities.
We set out to better understand what making a makerspace within an academic school environment would — and should — entail. By December, having spent hours and hours talking with teachers, observing their classes and students, taking part in projects, brainstorming new ideas and proposals, working through confusing concepts or frustrating resources, looking at classroom spaces, thinking about equipment and materials, and generally gaining a much deeper understanding of what these teachers, schools, and students need and want, the findings were clear. In no particular order, our first few months of findings indicated that educators need:
- A library of turnkey, vetted curricular resources
- Educator workshops and other professional development opportunities
- Organizational tools
- Suggestions for space layout
- Guidance and resources for project planning
- Online documentation and portfolio tools
- A network of like-minded educators and makers
- Funding opportunities for sustainability and growth
- Ways to integrate standards and subjects
- New assessment tools and strategies
We are rethinking “shop,” opening it up to the advances in digital technology and fabrication but also recognizing the value in working with timeworn tools and basic materials. Most importantly, we are trying to make making more accessible for teachers, students, and schools. For many, there’s a big, daunting barrier to entry; we aim to make it easier, more feasible. Our learnings, drawn from the past four or five months, do not present us with simple tasks; rather, they’re large endeavors that will evolve and grow with the network of teachers and resources involved. We are focusing on fleshing these out, working closely in conjunction with our education community to extract the best nuggets of wisdom and insight.
Going forward, we are continuing to work with our teachers on a number of separate, individualized streams, based on their unique needs and interests. In combination, these will serve as examples and modules and help populate the resources and documentation we create to address the areas listed above. We will continue to hold online video G+ Hangouts bi-weekly, as simple touchpoints, as well as more extensive Educator Workshops once per month that provide time and space for our teachers to collaborate while learning new skills and trying out new projects.
The Bay Area Maker Faire in mid-May will provide an opportunity to schools and students to present and exhibit their work, and we continue to find other avenues for presentation, documentation, and evaluation. We are also talking with other formal and informal institutions, both in the Bay Area and nationwide, aiming to combine our overlapping efforts and strengths. Our website and playbook resources will continue to grow, and we hope the community of educators and users grows with it!