I am so grateful for all of the lovely and amazing people all over the world who have supported this project so far! I can’t describe how deeply satisfying it feels to know that there are educators and leaders out there all over, who eagerly await their copy. (Insert bashful smile here)
I thought it would be fun to share a small piece of what’s coming – the chapter titled “The Recipe for Success.” It’s something you can take and use now, as you wait for the rest to come.
Writing this book has been such a joyful process and the words are flowing freely – I am really looking forward to bringing all of my “secret recipes” out into the world in a way that allows everyone to take and use them in their own special way. Because that’s what it’s really all about, at least for me. I want to make the world a better place. I want to have a positive impact on the lives of children and teachers and school leaders. I want to do this in a way where cost and expertise is not a barrier. I know this may seem counter productive, as this is how I put food on the table at my house, but I am on a mission to do this work and I am certain that silly money thing will figure itself out somehow.
So here it is. I hope you enjoy the sneak peek chapter of 180 Days of Making. 🙂
The Recipe for Success
Everyone likes a recipe, so here it is, in elegant simplicity:
You can just about guarantee success in a makerspace program when you have the following three things solidly in place:
Proper equipment and supplies
The right people leading the class
Seems like a no brainer, right? Well, after several years doing this work, I’ve come across far too many passionate and dedicated educators with stories of rock solid starts and disappointing ends in creating these programs. So, as much of a no brainer as these three things seem to be, it’s clear we need more support in bringing them into focus.
A huge part of my “why” for writing this book is to offer support and a clear path to success for every person seeking to bring joyful and relevant learning to schools across our nation and beyond. It is my sincere hope that, in providing this information, you’ll have more of what you need to develop your vision for your Maker program, and to surmount any challenges that you find along the way.
Knowing the recipe up front, and insisting that these three things are taken care of before you dive head first into creating a makerspace at your school will save you a great deal of heartache (and headaches) in the long run. It will also help to ensure that your efforts are generative. This is the kind of work that has the potential to change lives like nothing else. I’ve seen firsthand how makerspaces create a lasting, positive impact for individual children and entire communities when implemented with fidelity to the Maker philosophy. With so much potential for greatness, you want your time and investment to really count when you dive into a project like this.
Here we go! Let’s unpack the three integral pieces, shall we?
First and foremost, support from someone who has the power and authority to remove road blocks, make tough, important decisions and help you find funding is one of the most critical pieces for you as a Maker Movement trailblazer. Because in the long run, you can have a rock star teacher and all the stuff in the world to work with, but if your leadership isn’t on board, you may find yourself standing alone with no one to champion the work or help to move it forward. I don’t want to belabor this point as I’m sure every person reading this right now can recall a scenario when leadership was key to making something happen. We all know how leadership can make or break just about everything in our education system.
Luckily, for those of us bringing the Adventures in Making elective class to life in Corning, we had district superintendent, Rick Fitzpatrick. Rick identified the Maker elective as a priority and offered fantastic support across the board to those of us who were tasked with getting it up and running.
Because of his support and leadership, the program took off and soared to heights that amazed us all. Rick’s collaboration on the project is a huge piece of why it was so successful and I am personally very grateful to know him and work with him to make magic happen for kids. Later in the book, Rick offers some of his thoughts and reflections on the project, in the chapter Making the Case for Making.
Rick taught me that people need a recipe, and until now, I’m not sure I could have really given anyone a clear and easy to follow recipe for creating a wildly successful Maker program. After lots of experiences, challenges, and successes, I’m confident in this recipe. Confident because I now follow it to a tee and when I stick to it, it never fails me.
To sum it up, leadership support means consistent, long-term support of the vision, unblocking the road and figuring out the money.
Proper Equipment and Supplies:
Unlike the leadership piece, which is pretty defined, the supplies piece is much more flexible in what it can look like.
You can have a makerspace that looks like a shop class, you can have one that focuses on art, sewing, or high end technology. I have found that, at least for middle school, it’s great to have a broad range, including art and relatively inexpensive supplies like craft sticks, duct tape and paper clips, alongside technology like iMacs and robotics equipment. I am especially inspired by the things students create when they have high tech as well as no tech options to work with in an environment that affords them the freedom to explore these diverse materials on their own terms.
I think it’s also important to point out that not all highly successful and engaging makerspaces have a 3D printer. Ours didn’t. My experience with these devices has been that they are sometimes pesky, most times expensive, and always slow to produce a print. Don’t get me wrong, 3D printers are amazing and absolutely have a place in the world of fabrication and design, but if you’re on a budget, look for tools that aren’t quite as expensive and definitely don’t discount the importance of art and creativity in your Maker program.
I expect that the time will come when 3D printers are able to produce items faster and are less expensive to own, and when that day arrives, I will enthusiastically explore them as a necessary tool in a Maker classroom.
From a high level overview perspective, I like to focus on stocking makerspaces with supplies and equipment which allow students to imagine, build, iterate, and ultimately develop skills such as perseverance, decision making, communication, and problem solving. Honing these skills will help tremendously as young learners travel through the stages of their life, and can be applied to any career path they choose to pursue.
For a deeper dive into the various types of makerspaces, equipment lists and so on, you can check out the resources that our friends at the Maker Education Initiative (makered.org) offer in their various Makerspace Playbooks. And I will, of course, share the list of things we purchased for the Corning program later on in this book.
The right people leading the class:
Finally, and equally important, is having the right person or people leading your program or class. I want you to know I had to backspace over the words I first put down for this one. I first wrote “teaching the class” and had to stop myself. Yes, you will likely have a “teacher” who is responsible for the day to day activities, but you are looking for that teacher who sees him/herself as a coach and mentor; not the person who is most comfortable standing up front teaching the class.
Maker programs are very different from your traditional classroom, in that they are almost entirely student driven. Again, there are a lot of variables here and I’ve seen these programs take on many different forms, but in order for it to truly honor the Maker philosophy, a focus on student choice and student voice is paramount. The right person understands how to lead in ways that empower students to lead also, and each student’s experience in the program will be unique to them.
Your “right person” is the one who is comfortable stepping back, and allowing the students to step up. It’s the person who doesn’t feel the need to control every aspect of the classroom, and instead is happy to allow the students the freedom to explore, fail, struggle, and learn from their experiences. In this particular story, that person was Phil Mishoe – and before the makerspace – he was the school’s P.E. teacher.
Phil did a podcast with me, which you can find on my website (www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com). It’s a great introduction to what this all looks like from the teacher’s perspective. Phil’s tremendous success leading the class reminded me that it’s not the title, or the degree, or the type of credential that you look for when searching for that “right person.” It’s the person who is open, positive and willing to work with you, who will make magic happen for your kids.
So, there it is. The recipe. If, after reading this, you are unsure about any of these three pieces, I would focus your efforts here; get the recipe for success happily bubbling away and then move forward with a sense of joy, knowing that you’re choosing to focus your energy and efforts in ways that will allow you to move forward and bring your dream to life.
By focusing your efforts in ways that allow you to create maximum impact, you can also take great pride in the fact that you are be paving the way so your community’s children can have bright futures – in jobs they love – and because of that, you are doing a great service for the future of this country as well.