Office Depot & Office Max Support GCAA Student Ideation

Office Depot has pledged support of GCAA student ideation this year via Sticky Notes. Here is the first shipment!

Office Depot & Office Max have pledged support of GCAA student ideation this year via a donation of Sticky Notes. Here is the first shipment!

Our highest used material for the past three years has been cardboard tubes.  They’re perfect as structural supports for prototypes, tunnels, and ramps.  However, this year as our maturing students learn to become design thinking session facilitators, we’re anticipating a large need for sticky notes.

We’re honored to announce the support of Office Depot & Office Max in this endeavor, and today our first shipment of sticky notes arrived.

Special thanks to Mike Johnson, Education Specialist for leading the effort to make this happen.

Three Models for Makerspace Learning


Learning in the Makerspace is different than in a traditional classroom.  Rather than learning a concept first and then demonstrating their understanding on a test, students in the Makerspace synthesize background knowledge and apply their skills to learn and create.

As we iterate to GCAA Makerspace 3.0, I’ve been reflecting upon the ways in which students learn.  Here, I propose three models for Makerspace Learning: Tool-Centered Learning, Learning by Tinkering, and Design Thinking.  Lately I’ve been hooked on these 6-word Manifestos, so I offer one for each learning model below.

Tool-Centered Learning

6-Word Manifesto for Tool-Centered Learning

A not too friendly 6-Word Manifesto for Tool-Centered Learning

Many folks are initially drawn into the Makerspace by the whiz, buzz, and beeps of our 3D printer . . . and rightfully so!  Those noises are a byproduct of students rapidly prototyping their ideas!  However, learning makerspace tools is simply scratching the surface.

Think back to your schooling – did you ever have lesson about how to set up a dot-matrix, inkjet, or laser printer?  Most likely “no.” If you needed to set up a printer today, you would apply your problem solving skills (and if things don’t go well) technical reading, research, and troubleshooting skills.  You may even build a bit of grit along the way.

The tools associated with the new industrial revolution are super cool.  As such, educators have a natural tendency to want resort to teaching these tools.  Upon starting a makerspace, many educators believe that these tools are at the paramount of the design.  3D printing, laser cutting, and CNC routing and can each empower students to make their ideas a reality, BUT does it benefit students to teach via direct instruction the nitty gritty of specific tools that may be outdated within a few years?  As an analogy, should students learn Arabic, Mandarin, AND Russian, or take classes in the language that is most relevant and interesting to them?

Yes, it is true that students don’t know what they don’t know, and learning about tools is a necessary component of learning in a makerspace.  However, learning that is rooted in tools is not as valuable as teaching the skills to understand, utilize, and even make new tools that don’t exist yet.

6-Word Manifesto for Learning by Tinkering

6-Word Manifesto for Learning by Tinkering

Learning by Tinkering

In Learning by Tinkering, students explore concepts via curiosity-driven hands-on investigations. This model of learning has been documented extensively by folks working out of The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, CA.  Educators (and others) can even take an online Tinkering Fundamentals course to learn more.

In the GCAA Makerspace, Art Bots has been our most successful learning-by-tinkering project.  Students are provided with a motor and are tasked with designing something that automatically creates art.  They struggle with and overcome challenges to learn fundamentals of circuitry.  It’s based off of The Tinkering Studio’s Scribbling Machines project, with the added open-endedness for students to create “art” in domains other than drawing.

6-Word Manifesto for Design Thinking

6-Word Manifesto for Design Thinking

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to problem solving that is (and always has been) at the heart of our makerspace.  Using the framework of design thinking, students empathize with a user to identify a challenge, brainstorm solutions, build a prototype, test it, and solicit feedback to iterate.  Here’s an example:

Project:  Hall Pass Redesign

Empathize:  Students interview other students, teachers, administrators and research hall pass systems at other schools.

Define:  Based on their research, students propose a “How might we . . . “question.  Example: “How might we design a hall pass that is quickly issued, standard throughout the school, and minimizes germ transfer?”

Ideate:  Students participate in a divergent ideation activity to come up with as many ideas as possible, and then narrow down based on interest and other constraints (cost, ability, time).  Examples: Hall pass app, tracker bracelets, restaurant buzzer system with timer, etc. . .

Prototype:  Students make a physical model or representation of the idea.  Note – not all ideas are products, many are processes.  A prototype could be a role play of the proposed system, how a student requests a pass, how the teacher issues it, and the timeline/consequences associated with it.

Test:  Students deploy the prorotype and solicit feedback from key stakeholders (students, teachers, administrators).

Iterate:  Based on the feedback students build more empathy, redefine the problem, brainstorm additional solutions, or tweak their prototypes.

A majority of Makerspace projects are rooted in design thinking.  The ten most successful makerspace projects from this year can be accessed here.

A Checklist for Designing Makerspace Experiences


Students use a checklist to get our sewing machine started.

How might we better design student Makerspace experiences?

It’s exciting to think that 7th graders who first accessed our pilot Makerspace in 2012-2013 will be 10th graders this year.  In that time we’ve learned a lot about how students best learn in a Makerspace – but collecting, consolidating, and applying that learning can be tricky.

In The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right Atul Gawande proposes (and validates) that a simple checklist can help externalize the explicit tasks associated with complex activities. He explores the history of checklists, development of the World Health Organization Surgical Safety checklist, and even offers a Checklist for Checklists.  Gawande acknowledges that craftspeople often shy away from checklists due to the perception that they diminish one’s expertise and creativity, but provides evidence that they help to enhance one’s quality of work.  Upon piloting in eight hospitals globally, the Surgical Safety Checklist reduced patient deaths and complications by 1/3rd!

I finished reading Gawande’s book yesterday, and thought that given the unique nature of Makerspace learning, it would be helpful to design a Checklist for Designing Makerspace Experiences.  Gawande writes that the best checklists offer opportunity for tweaking, and so I plan to test/iterate when students return this fall.

A .docx version of the checklist can be accessed here.

An Ethic of Excellence – Five Takeaways

Student critique sessions can help establish an ethic of excellence.

Student critique sessions can help establish an ethic of excellence.

This spring I had the pleasure of attending the Maker Educator Convening & Maker Faire Bay Area.  I plan to reflect on my experience at both, but my learning started on the flight there as I read Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship. It was the perfect appetizer to the Maker festivities that week, and I highly recommend it for any parent, teacher, or administrator. It is particularly relevant to the field of MakerEd.

In the book, Berger merges his passion for carpentry with his role as an educator. Centered upon the idea of fostering a “culture of craftsmanship,” Berger explains his mindset, vision, and approach for guiding students to work that they are proud of – and that is worthy of pride.

Here were my five main takeaways, and how they’ll be applied to the Makerspace classes this year:

1) All projects will have a user or audience of more than just me. The idea here is that a having a public audience gives students a “reason to do well.”  At the end of each semester, this will culminate in an Makerspace Exhibition night.

This drone battle at Maker Faire had a large audience!

Designers of the drones in this battle at Maker Faire had a large public audience!

2) Students will document & reflect upon their projects in web-based portfolios. I’ve starting prototyping an exemplar portfolio. The focus will be showing the multiple iterations of a project and the “story of getting it right.”  Our focus is not creating innovators more so than innovations.

3) Each new project will begin with a “taste of excellence” or exemplar. As often as possible this will be something that has been created by a student. As Makerspace teacher, my role will be to “archive excellence.”

4) Project critique will be guided by three expectations: “Be kind, be specific, and be helpful.” Often times this critique will be completed gallery style and anonymously.

5) One last line from Berger that will guide Makerspace classes this year: “It is through their own work that their self-esteem will grow.”

Makerspace Class Procedures

As we ramp up into the school year, I thought it’d be a good idea to iterate & #document the procedures associated with Makerspace. It is common consensus among educators that effectively implemented classroom procedures help maximize learning time. For students to follow procedures, teachers must have them clearly spelled out.

While some of the procedures listed below are specific for Makerspace and the unique experiences associated with it, others are tied to school policy or learning that occurs in the briefing room.

Josh from Pixel Press teaches students in the Makerspace Briefing Room.

Josh from Pixel Press teaches students in the Makerspace Briefing Room.

Briefing Room Entrance Procedure

Students arrive to the briefing room, find their Catalyst Sheets on the desk at the front, and then have five minutes to answer the question that is posted on the board. There is a timer next to the question to signal time remaining.  Questions are aligned to our goal of building creative confidence. For an excellent source of creative questions, check out WriteAbout.

When the timer goes off table captains collect the sheets at their table and stack them along the aisle.

The main purpose for this procedure is to allow me time to take attendance.  As a bonus, this gets students writing about something creative every single day. Reading this writing helps with building relationships.

Next iteration: How might I transition this procedure to laptops without the time it takes to unplug & start-up?  This way student writing & feedback could be archived throughout the year.

Makerspace Entrance Procedure

Class starts each day in the briefing room, with transitions to the Makerspace typically happening after 5-10 minutes of instruction.  To prevent a traffic bottleneck, this transition is accomplished with an entrance ticket.  The entrance ticket is a half-sheet of paper with a few questions that either assesses the content of the instructional time or preview the work that will be happening in the Makerspace.  I check over answers as students enter the Makerspace to make sure we are on the same page with project progress.

Examples of prompts on an entrance tickets include:
“Explain your project in two sentences.”
“How might you validate that potential customers are actually interested in your product?” and
“Write a Pixar Pitch explaining the problem and solution your product addresses.”

Next iteration: Could these entrance tickets be collected in a journal?

Clean-Up Procedure

The process of designing an effective Makerspace clean-up procedure could probably be its own blog post. Though our process has been iterated dozens of times, the current form is definitely still in beta.

Sometimes the clean-up procedure isn't the most effective.

Sometimes our clean-up procedure isn’t the most effective.

It works like this:

With 5 minutes remaining in class, an iPad alarm signals students that we are now in cleanup mode. Each student cleans up her area, completes an assigned job that rotates each quarter, and then re-enters the briefing room.

Jobs include tucking in chairs, unplugging the glue gun, organizing our cardboard corral, vacuum duty, tucking in the boxes on our supply wall, managing the supply closet, and even serving as “Briefing Room Bouncer” to make sure jobs have been completed.  We track how much time clean-up takes and work to maximize efficiency throughout the year.

Next iteration: The 5 minute signal requires “immediate clean up.”  Could there be a 10 minute warning signal to prompt students that cleanup is on the way?

Project Storage Procedure

It’s crazy to think that in Year 1 students would simply stash projects on various shelves throughout the Makerspace and hope that everything would be there next time.

Now in Year 3 we have a designated storage closet that is managed by a student as part of the clean-up process. Students tag their projects with name, date, and current status (in progress or complete). Upon arrival to the storage area, the managing student places the project on a shelf by class period.

Next iteration: The supply closet manager has the huge task of storing all student projects.  How might we reduce that workload while storing projects effectively?