I had the second class of Tinkering 101 last week, which also includes several Sewing kids who couldn’t make the time for the Sewing class.

The sewers were working on pencil pouches and a stuffed letter locker decoration.


She put a tiny magnet inside and then another outside, so the letter sticks on the inside of her locker.


Pencil pouches in progress!

The Tinkerers were a bit aimless at first, until I pulled out the Littlebits kit, and then they really got busy, particularly with the Bits that involve sound (microphone and synth kit Bits). I gave them headphones, but you can’t connect headphones to the buzzers, unfortunately! At the end of the period, they were talking about plans for what they want to do next session.

One notable moment: the Bits have these little bases that you can use to hold a project together, but one boy was frustrated that there was no way to attach the battery to the base. He mentioned the problem several times, clearly wanting me to fix it, and I was too busy to try to help with it (so just told him he’d have to hold the battery or have the project resting on the table). I just now noticed, uploading these pictures, that he solved the problem by attaching the battery to the base with some tape!  This is a tiny thing, but it’s also an important thing, I think–it gives me something I can point back to with this kid as a time when he figured out a solution on his own. Often in the Makerspace, multiple kids will be asking for help all at the same time (typically the younger kids–the older ones know I’m not much help! ha ha!), but then after having helped whichever one managed to get to me first, I’ll look up and realize that the rest have managed to either solve the issue on their own or found another student to help. Maybe I just need to always look too busy!


LittleBits synth kit fun.


LittleBits. Note the red underneath the battery–that’s tape!


LittleBits experimentation.

My other observation from that class is that the LittleBits are providing these kids with a really nice, safe entry into some basic electronics concepts. I had planned to have them doing something a bit more complicated in that class (building a basic circuit with a photosensor and diode)–still very simple, but requiring a bit more patience, I guess. They were not interested. BUT, I think that once they have played with the Bits for a little longer, they will be curious to know how those Bits are built, and we can step into some of those concepts and projects that involve starting with the basic components. I also look forward to showing them the Arduino Bit and seeing if they are up for trying out some programming!

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Read It Forward!

I read sometime last spring about this idea of Read It Forward programs–in the case I read about, the library planted multiple copies of a single title around campus, with the idea that the books would be read and then passed along to other students, creating a Common Read experience in a more informal, organic way than assigning it. I loved this idea, and then in talking with colleagues multiple times over the summer and this fall, we came up with our own twist on it, described as follows (this is copied from our library blog):

Middle school English and Reading teachers have been asking students to bring in a copy of a book they loved to give away.  The morning announcements this past week included this:

What book made you laugh, cry, or a little of both? What book changed your life? What book would you most like to share with other kids?  Please bring a copy (used or new, doesn’t matter which) of a book you loved and that you are willing to give away, and give it to your English or Reading teacher by October 15.

So, what are we up to?

A few things, actually!

1. First, we want to continue celebrating the Middle School’s love of reading (last year, we did this with Mad Millions).  Our vision is to have every student bring a beloved book to share with other Collegiate students. These books will get a “Read It Forward” sticker for the front, and then as each student reads the book, they will add their name to a list in the back.  After 10 years of working in the library, I know that there is no more powerful recommendation for a book than someone, especially a peer, saying, “I LOVED that book!” With this program, we hope to really encourage this sharing among peers.

2. But it doesn’t stop there!  The most significant aspect of this project will come at the end of the school year. We haven’t yet decided exactly where the books will go (it will depend in part on how many we have! we might need to have multiple recipients!), but we do know that they will go to kids who don’t have the access to great books that our kids have.

Whenever we “weed” books from our library collection (books that we don’t need any more in our collection), we give them away to other schools or to Better World Books. This is important, and I’m confident the books are useful to those who receive them. But it occurred to me that so often, our donations are books that are outdated.  What if we were donating the best books, the ones that are still loved and popular? They don’t have to be shiny new, in perfect condition. They can be worn and well loved! The idea is that, in spite of the condition of the book on the outside, the power comes from the fact that this is a book that a middle school student chose as one of their favorites, one they wanted to share.

Let’s Read It Forward!

[end of quote]

My vision is for every kid to donate a book–right now, that is looking like it might be a bit lofty! But I’m curious to see what does happen, and how it all pans out.

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Book Tasting and More Makerspace Stuff

My day started with a class of 5th grade boys doing a Book Tasting activity. Somebody at the AISL conference last year gave me this idea, and I love it! I set out a bunch of books–new stuff and stuff that doesn’t circulate but is good–and then kids spend 3-4 minutes with a book (getting a “taste”), then get up and move to another book. They have a sheet where they rate the books (1 to 5 stars). During the activity, each kids looks at 4 books. If they like one, they can keep it when they move to the next choice.

Before the boys arrived:


Most boys found something to check out, and after the book tasting was done, we had some silent reading time in the library. These boys were amazing! They were so quiet and focused, during the tasting and after, so I had to take some pics and tell them that I’d be bragging on them on my blog today. I love how they flop all over the furniture!

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On a separate note, an email discussion group I am part of is discussing Makerspaces right now, and I’m going to respond to some of the questions/topics that have come up here.

1. Do you work with student clubs and their advisors?  

Right now, I am running my own Maker clubs, with a (fabulous!) co-advisor on the Sewing activity.  Another faculty member is running the Lego Robotics club at the same time as one of my Tinkering clubs, in the library, and we hope to have some collaboration and cross-pollination there. But I really would like more faculty members getting involved. I think one key issue is that I haven’t really put out enough information about what the Makerspace is, and what can be done there–I think many teachers just think it’s a 3-D printer (which I don’t even have right now!) and don’t realize how broad (and deep) maker education can be.

2. How do you fund some of the projects? 

I am using my library supply budget, part of which is earmarked specifically for Makerspace supplies. This budget is going to have to grow in order to keep up with demand. Last year, we received a one-time, very generous gift specifically for the Makerspace, and that helped us immensely in getting initial supplies.

3. Do you have a dedicated space where things are always available? So kids can just drop in and make? 

Yes, but our school’s schedule limits the times when kids are free to come to the library for books/making. The down side of this is that all of the kids are free at the same times! We have (sort of) solved the problem of overflow by assigning days of the week to different grades–grades 5/6 can come on M/W for recess and Tu/Th for study hall, and 7/8 can come on M/W for study hall and Th/Th for recess.  Friday is open to everyone during study hall. We also have one activity period most days, and I’m hosting Maker activities during every one in the Makerspace.

4. How do you staff the area? How have you fit Maker Space planning and implementation into your schedules? 

This is a challenge! We have two FT librarians and one PT library assistant, so we are very well staffed, but it can still be a challenge. I tend to get pulled into the Makerspace a lot during the times for grades 5/6, but grades 7/8 are pretty independent at this point, and I’m working with the new 5th graders to get them used to helping each other before coming to me, and also cleaning up without nagging!  Makerspace has become a large part of my job, but since I really enjoy it, it doesn’t feel stressful. But I do feel pulled in multiple directions and don’t know how sustainable it is for me to be the Makerspace person while also being the head librarian. I’d love to have a FT makered person at the school–I think that person would be extremely busy right off the bat.

And that’s all I’ve got for today!  :)

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First Activity Period: Success!

Today was Day 1 of the 8-day rotation of activity periods (55 min, once every rotation). My Makerspace activity for today was Tinkering 101, but because of scheduling issues that are too boring to go into, I had some Tinkerers and some Sewers.  (I’ll have Tinkerers in my Sewing activity as well, so in the end, it will balance out.)

I wish I had taken some pictures, although it’s the same as what I have been posting lately: kids playing with motors and LEDs and batteries, and kids cutting fabric and sewing. I was super impressed with this group of kids–after having them fill out a short info sheet so I know what they hope to make and a quick intro from me about how I expect/need them to help each other when problems come up, and how things going wrong is part of the process, they got right to work. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do because I suspect that the tinkerers will keep upping their game each week–they are a sharp group, and seem pretty fearless about learning through trial and error.

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Rainy Day

We’ve started allowing kids to come to the library for recess–5th and 6th graders can come on Mon and Wed, and 7th and 8th on Tues and Thurs.  (The librarians need to eat, so we have to split it up.) Today was a 5/6 day, and it was rainy, which meant recess in the gym.  We were flooded with kids–sewing, tinkering, reading, using computers, helping shelve books. It was wild!

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The rest of the day was pretty uneventful by comparison! :)

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Week in review, sort of

I did not do a good job last week of daily reflecting! It was kind of a crazy week, and now it’s all a bit of a blur. But I’m going to attempt a week in review.

Chaos took over a bit in the Makerspace and the library in general–not because of any poor behavior, but just sheer numbers of kids. More formal activities start this week all over the middle school, which I am hoping will reduce the chaos a bit and give the Maker kids some opportunities to really dive into longer-term projects. I’m curious to see who signed up for which activities (we’re doing 4 in the Makerspace: Sewing, Paper Circuits, Tinkering 101 (2 sections), and Scratch Programming (2 sections), with each activity meeting for 55 minutes during each 8-day rotation). I’m also considering allowing daily drop-ins in addition to the kids signed up, but need to wait and see how things play out.

I got a new shipment of hobby motors, so there was a lot of experimentation with those.


Tinkering with motors and LEDs.


Motors, wood sticks, tape, and playdoh. When turned on, it looked a lot like those light-up spinning things you can buy at Disney.

And of course there was sewing!

IMG_0088I don’t have a photo for it, but the Raspberry Pi crew continues to experiment. Sometime when it is not so chaotic in the library, I need to check in with them and see what they are up to.

And of course we are still checking out loads of books. Here is our hold shelf this morning. A healthy hold shelf is, I hope, a sign of a healthy reading culture!

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Finally, this weekend was the RVA Makerfest. Collegiate had a few tables in the student showcase portion of the Fest. The lower school had some awesome Scratch, Makey Makey, and Lego WeDo interactive games set up, and the middle school had SEW for SOS, Sparki the robot, and a paper circuits station where folks could make an electronic card. I ended up helping out with the paper circuits and didn’t get a chance to take many pics or see much of the Fest, but here are a few shots:

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Fixing Sparki!

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Interactive games from the Lower School.

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Lower school helper!

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The student showcase was a lot of fun, and we stayed busy the whole time. One interesting observation, though, relates to the idea of frustration tolerance that I’ve written about recently and that has been discussed on the #makered chat on Twitter. The kids who came to do paper circuits were pretty much able to handle it fine when they did it wrong the first time or things didn’t work out quite the way they wanted or as easily as they thought it would. The process is pretty simple, but when you haven’t done it before, there are many ways to mess up. Which is fine! It’s okay! For every single “mess up,” we were able to get the card working by the end, with a little tweaking and revising. My sense was that the kids were okay with this. But the parents? Not always. I had a student helper who got snipped at by a parent who insisted on doing things the way they thought they should work, but then was upset when it didn’t work at the end. I got snipped at myself. People! These are middle school kids volunteering at an event! The kid’s stress kind of became my stress, and I ended up taking over more than I wanted to and more than I believe in doing, just to try to protect my kids and myself from snippy adults. Blergh.

I wonder if, by changing how we do education, and incorporating frustration and failure more consciously as something to be expected and even embraced, we might create adults who will welcome those moments when their children are wrestling with something that doesn’t come easily or doesn’t work the way it should. I know it is hard for me as a parent/teacher–as evidenced by my stepping in when the kids were uncomfortable with the cranky adults!! It’s a hard line to walk, and it’s hard to know when to step back and when to step in.

In the end, though, it was a good experience for all of us!

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The Faire!

The very idea of trying to write about the Maker Faire is overwhelming. There was so much to see, and I had such a wonderful time, I don’t even know how to begin to process it in an articulate way. So I guess I will just do some highlight bullet points and see where that takes me.

1. SEW for SOS. The kids represented. On day one, their booth (and some other booths–not just them) was in a not-great location, kind of set off from the main activity of the Faire. This was probably both a good and a bad thing–they didn’t have to be overwhelmed by too much activity and chaos on the first day, but they also didn’t get to be in the thick of things. On day 2, however, they were moved to a better location, and the action picked up. I don’t know if they counted how many pillows were sewn, but I do know they ran out of stuffing and also won a Blue Ribbon award from Make. I was really proud of them–it’s not easy to do all that traveling and be “on” for two straight days with thousands of people walking by and asking about your project, but they handled it like pros.


Blue Ribbon Award presentation


Writing messages to go inside their pillows.


So proud!

2. Physical computing.  I think this is what might have most interested me–exhibits where folks were combining microcontrollers with real world materials to make stuff do stuff. Some of this was robotics, and some just off-the-wall creative stuff.  I could see my students having so much fun exploring this kind of thing–I kept snapping photos so I could share with the kids and see what inspires them.


Combining old pinball tech with arduino to create custom pinball machines. The guy who made this was AWESOME.


Cool cube with spinning things


Boat thing made of Lego connected to a microcontroller


Lego car connected to microcontroller

3. 3D-printed artwork. I will confess that I have not been as moved by the whole 3D printing revolution as some folks. I think it is extremely cool and has amazing potential for the world (and I was really intrigued by the two displays I saw devoted to 3D-printed prosthetic hands), but I happily breezed past most of the 3D-printing exhibits. Until I came to Shane Hope‘s exhibit.  Here’s a photo of his sign, because the description is still a bit incomprehensible to me:


Here are a few of his pieces:

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I’m not an art critic at all, but these pieces were super compelling for some reason.


4. Good people, doing what they love. It’s wonderful to be able to just stop and talk to people about their work and passions. I didn’t do nearly as much of this as I wish, in retrospect, I had done. But even when I couldn’t stop to talk for long, the energy coming off of these people just filled me up.


Sparkfun Guy!


Teen inventor/innovator


Robot artist

5. Weird stuff.  Giant cardboard robotic dinosaurs with kids inside. Crocodile bicycle trains. Huge robotic creatures. Sculptures made from junk. There was no limit to the weird and wonderful.


Huge Flow game


Cool machine that tracks data


Giant robot


Life size game of Mousetrap


Junk Sculptures


Cardboard robotic dinosaur with kid inside

Honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I had an amazing weekend, and I’m so grateful to have been able to attend the Faire. I also had a wonderful soup dumpling dinner in Flushing with friends; a chance to visit with a former colleague while we explored the Faire together; an amazing hotel experience and view; and relatively smooth travel.  A++ weekend!

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