Our school story: Embracing the maker movement

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is ​a retired educator in Ottawa area. He has a keen interest in promoting technology as a progressive learning tool among the students in his school. ​Paul is active on Twitter (@mcguirp) and blogs on all sorts of topics, including climbing (climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in April​), mental health, politics, a wide variety of education topics and anything else that comes to mind. His blog is called 'Whole Hearted', taken from the author and researcher Brené Brown, whom he admires greatly.​ Paul loves writing for Innovate My School and connecting to other writers and educators whenever possible.

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One thing that I have found is that to have a successful makerspace in your school, you need to keep up the momentum. What are the new activities that need to be added? How do we integrate what we are making with our curriculum? How do we get more teachers and students involved in maker culture?


Thanks to a grant from Telus Canada and a visit to the FETC (The Future of Education Technology) Conference in Orlando, Florida this year, I think we have the energy and momentum to really step up our makerspace as it enters its second year.


Our library technician (the heart of our makerspace) is very keen to experiment with the new equipment she is receiving. We now have Lego WeDo 1.0 kits, and 2.0 kits. These allow students to build all sorts of interesting robots and then program them to move and perform tasks.


The wonderful thing about WeDo and other robotic kits now on the market is that they all incorporate a measure of programming into the activities for the student. At FETC, there was a huge emphasis on coding as a way of manipulating objects remotely. All very exciting!


A WeDo 2.0 kit by Lego.


Not everything we have recently acquired requires a high level of technological expertise. We have purchased inexpensive kits like Squishy Circuits and Paper Circuits. You don’t even need to buy these kits - all you need is conductive tape, Play-Doh, some LED lights and paper templates to build your circuit - the circuit templates can be downloaded for free.

As you can see below, our students have already been trying designs with the Squishy Circuits.


We are also beginning to experiment with Minecraftedu and hope to have a Minecraft club set up in the library very soon. What is actually holding us back is a lack of the right computer to run Minecraft, and some of the programs that come with the WeDo kits.

Technology moves at a lightening pace. We now find that Chromebooks - our staple computer for the last two years is not good enough. We need cheap laptops with hard drives to run the programs for these activities.

The solution may be the new Lenovo laptop that comes with a small hard drive and is very inexpensive - basically the same price as a Chromebook. These machines were introduced at FETC and we hope to get our hands on a few very soon. Then we are back in business!


The new Lenovo N22 - competition for the Chromebook?


With the new additions to our makerspace, another challenge will be coming up with a schedule for our students to get into the makerspace and innovate. We have our library technician, our science teacher and me - together we need to keep the library open at lunch so the makerspace and Minecraft clubs can really take off. A bit of a challenge for a small school.


We can set up some terminals with Minecraft using Raspberry Pi, but we only have seven of these.


Our next challenge will be the Tetris kit. Again, we need the computers to download the software. These kits can run on arduinos so we will probably need some help in figuring out how to program these machines. We have developed some very good connections to the maker community in our area, so we just need to invite one of our partners in to show us how to set up and program these kits.


Moving apace with the development of our makerspace is the continuing process of digital integration. This week we realised that we are now 1:1 from grades 3-6. It seems that each year we get closer to being 1:1 from grades 1 to 6. The 1:1 environment is working very well. All grade 4 - 6 students are required to bring the devices home every night. They are now being assigned work that requires them to use their computers at night. We are training our teachers in the use of Hapara - a learning management tool - so they can monitor the work that students are doing. We need more Hapara training, but they are getting better at using this system to push out assignments and monitor student work.

We are scaffolding computer skills starting at grade 1 - in other words, we are making sure kids are trained on using Chromebooks and programs like Mathletics by grade 1. By grade 3, we are teaching students about privacy issues using the Chromebook and Google tools.

What is essential right now is embedded professional development. We can’t move teachers forward in any of these areas unless we have a concerted plan for digital integration. We have trained all teachers on Mathletics - a great online Math tool (twice this year), Discovery Education and Atomic Learning. We also planned a special session on Hapara because it is essential that teachers become very well versed in the learning management system. We need one more session this year to move teachers forward.

Teachers also have release time assigned to them so that they can further explore Atomic Learning, Discovery or another digital tools. They are doing well with Mathletics, but need more time on Discovery and Atomic Learning.

So, our learning continues. While we are doing well by acquiring new equipment and programs, our most important asset is our teachers. Their willingness to take risks and learn new ways of doing things is truly astounding. It is heartening that in this age of technological innovation it still comes down to the person.

Have you embraced a maker culture in your school? Share your experiences below!

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