I receive a few questions a week asking what I use in my makerspace and how to begin one. This blog post will provide you with tips on creating a makerspace no matter what your budget is. According to Makerspaces.Com, “A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools.”
In 2017, I switched from teaching fifth and sixth grade technology class, to teaching kindergarten through fourth grade enrichment class. I saw 350 students each week, in five different grade levels, in two different schools for 45 minutes periods. To put it lightly, I was super stressed on what to teach and how to get all of the materials organized! As the days went by, I learned and realized what worked and what didn’t. Here are some of my favorite tips:
Donations are such a huge help! When I first started in this position, I contacted everyone to ask for donations. I wrote on my personal social media accounts asking friends and family for old Lego pieces, wooden pieces, and so on. I went to garage sales to look for fun furniture. I even posted in my local town’s Facebook page and searched Mom’s on a Budget groups. I received MANY items this way, and for free!!! I received lots of building materials that people were looking to get rid of!! I even got a nice carpet for my room. Moral of the story, don’t be shy to reach out to others!!!
Recycled materials are wonderful to build with, and they are ….FREE! These can make so many fun and engaging STEM challenges. Once used, they do go quickly, but they can be collected just as fast. I keep a small box in my house where I toss in any cardboard boxes, whether it is a tissue box, toilet paper roll, or cosmetic packaging.
On back to school night I give a donation letter to parents asking for recycled materials. When I am running low during the year, I send it home to parents too. This is a great way to get items for nothing. Just be careful about sending it school wide, you may end up with TOO many items! I suggest staggering who you send it to.
I’ve found that materials that can be reused are key. I teach five different grade levels, and often have to clean up quickly and set up for the next class. Giving something as simple as a popsicle stick to every first grade student means I am down 100 sticks in one day. Things just can’t work like that, so I decided to use items like Lego, Magformers, and Keva Planks …. Items that don’t get tossed are more beneficial. Purchasing these items once, means I can use them throughout the entire year and so on. Not only is it more cost effective, but they are easy to quickly clean up and place back in a bin. These types of items can be used for multiple activities. Click here to see my favorite building materials.
Simple STEM Challenges
At first I was creating these complex challenges with multiple page response sheets and I realized this just could not work for my classroom setting. Not only do I hate wasting paper, but photocopying a three page booklet for 100 students took forever. I was rushing through class trying to explain everything, give time for building, and stop so students could fill out various steps. I realized something had to change, and decided to create my own one page response sheets. I still review the design process, and give students planning time, but I was able to do it in a more simple way. For a 45 minute lesson it worked better. I also keep my lessons simple, I provide them with reusable or recycled materials, and students are able to complete a challenge in a short amount of time.
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These hands on activities are low prep and require common classroom materials. Digital & printable versions of sheets are included. There are enough activities for you to do one per week ALL YEAR LONG!
Rotations are one of my favorite ways to set up class, especially for grades K-2. In the beginning of the year, I give students simple building materials to work with, such as Lego, plus plus blocks, gears. As the year goes on, I start to incorporate new technology and materials for them to use, (robots, math activities) I do this with rotations, which makes it a lot easier. Plus, if you do not have enough materials for every student, this is a perfect way to allow every student to try every activity.
I have six tables in my classroom and 3-4 students sit at each. I usually set up two of the same tables, and rotate three different times. For example, I will provide Lego with building task cards at tables 1 and 4, Magformers at tables 2 and 5, and robot mouse at tables 3 and 6. Table 1, 2, and 3 rotate together and table 3, 4, and 5 rotate together. Building with Lego and Magformers are simple, which allows me time to sit and focus on teaching the other two tables how to use the robot mouse. Getting two robots is also much easier than having to buy six. As the year goes, and students are more comfortable with all classroom materials, I will create six totally different stations. I let students select where to go, but I still limit the number of students at each table. This allows students to try various activities, especially with limited supplies.
Click here to view my makerspace rotation chart.
I hope this helps you as you continue your journey in STEM. I would love to see photos and hear about your makerspace setting!!
Happy Making! – Dena
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