Evolving Our Makerspace: The Conclusion

For those of you who haven’t been following along with my last few posts, our fifth and sixth grade student-run business, FH Gizmos, landed a manufacturing contract with Slack. Slack tasked us with making 50 desk toys for employees to use in their new education center. To read an indepth account of our experience check out this awesome article from a local paper, Red Bank Green.

For those of you that have been following along, we did it! This past week, the last week of school, we received the first of fifty S-shaped fidget spinners!

The year ended with a bang. We were featured in a host of local papers for our work with Slack, which caught the attention of the regional buyer of Barnes & Noble who said she was interested in working with us. We also finished the year working with Mrs. Daverso, Phlebotomy Supervisor for Riverview Hospital. She taught students about the phlebotomy process as we tried to make the blood drawing experience better for children. Barnes & Noble and Mrs. Daverso will be back in in September to continue our work together. The future’s looking bright!

Finished S-shaped fidget spinner for Slack (plugs not included, yet)

Further, as we end the year on these high notes, I have a much clearer idea on the final evolution of our makerspace. After a lot of networking, calling in favors, and support from my board and Superintendent, we’ll be turning our makerspace into an amazing new program called Fair Haven Innovates.

Fair Haven InnovatesFair Haven Innovates is Fair Haven school district’s 21st century life, careers, and technology program. We use social entrepreneurship to help students learn the skills they’ll need to be successful when they grow up. Students sell products and solve problems as they run real businesses turning real profits. Students use a percentage of the profits to give back to their community through their student-run charity FH Gives. Below are our programs.

The Innovation Lab (4th and 5th grade): The Innovation Lab is where 4th and 5th graders learn the skills they’ll need to be successful in the world of tomorrow. Students are introduced to design thinking, engineering, computer science, and the digital arts as they learn to reframe failure as iteration and become the architects of their future. The Innovation Lab is the farm league for the rest of Fair Haven Innovates.

Mrs. Daverso walking students through the phlebotomy process.

FH Gizmos (6th Grade): will be a student-run startup that focuses on solving people’s tame problems and selling the solutions. We will start the year selling the custom fidget spinners we created. Since we were successful designing for Slack, we think we can pitch other big companies to work with us. In all, FH Gizmos made close to $3,000 this year. We hope to 10x that next year!

FH Grows (7th Grade): is where students learn to be stewards of the environment as they use innovative gardening techniques and the Internet of Things to grow and monitor (with Cayenne) vegetables as well as sell dried herbs and spices. Key partnerships will allow for the constant support of the students and program through the Rutgers Master Gardeners, an executive chef to cook with students through the school year, and the ability to have student-run Farmers Markets at both of our schools because after talking with our awesome elementary school principal, Mrs. Cuddihy, we see a lot of potential for my 7th graders to work with her 3rd graders in a project we’re calling FH Cares. Further, FH Grows will embrace NJ’s Farm to School initiative with the help of the Dept. of Agriculture. There is also the possibility of introducing students to incubation (businesses, not chickens) and the opportunity to learn about venture capitalism thanks to our partnership with Real World Scholars, but this part is in the early planning stage.

The picture team taking shots for future marketing campaigns.

FH Leads (8th grade): FH Leads is a consulting firm where students team up with local businesses to solve their real world business challenges. We currently have 25 businesses on board as well as Riverview hospital. Students will be able to do site visits, surveys, interviews, and conduct experiments to help business owners solve their challenges while also learning about potential careers.   

FH Gives25% of all profits from FH Gizmos, FH Grows, and FH Leads will be donated to our student-run charity FH Gives. FH Gives is currently set to run a pet adoption with the Monmouth County SPCA in November. The idea that students will be running a charity instead of giving to charity is an important part of this program that I will talk more about soon.

Thank you for taking this ride with me as I try to find new ways to introduce my students to the things that matter and evolve my makerspace into a district wide program with the hopes of inspiring other educators and changing the world.

Until Next Time,

GLHF and see you at ISTE

 

Cultivating Accountability and Motivation in the Makerspace

cropped-slide2-1.pngIn the Innovation Lab, our fifth and sixth grade blended learning makerspace, we see students once a week for the entire school year. During the school year we “grade” students based on their use of our design thinking process rather than grading students solely on their final products. Because we’ve blended the Innovation Lab and focus more on the process than the product, students can take as long as they like to finish a project; they can work on something, fail forward, until they are happy with the results. While we think its the best way to run the Innovation Lab, at least until we move away from the weekly format, these factors can make holding students accountable and motivating them to complete a project difficult. With lessons learned from last year, we’ve developed a few tricks to get the most out of our students. Here is how we hold students accountable and motivate them in the Innovation Lab.

Lanyards. Our Innovators physically wear lanyards during Innovation Lab. The lanyards have proven to be the best method for holding kids accountable that we’ve ever come up with. Part 1: when students enter the Lab, they grab their lanyard and an index card. On the front of the index card, students write their challenge statement. The challenge statement, part of the (re)define stage of our design thinking process, is a one sentence declaration of what students are designing, for who, and why. For example, “I’m designing a grocery reminder app for my mom because she always forgets something at the store,” would be an example of a good challenge statement. Once they’ve written their challenge statement on the index card at the beginning of class, they put their lanyard on and get to work.

This is great for students because they have a constant reminder hanging around their neck of what they should be designing. If they decide to change their project, which they have the freedom to do, they must let us know and rewrite a new challenge statement. Writing the challenge statement on the lanyard is great for us because we can review them before students come in. We like to spend a few minutes talking to each student about their project each class and thanks to the lanyards we don’t have to waste time asking students what they are working on, we already know. Instead, we can start the conversation by discussing what phase of our design thinking process they’re on. This saves a precious few seconds per student that adds up by the end of the day.

Part 2: during the last five minutes of class, students take the index card out of their lanyard. On the back, students are expected to write their goal for next week and one thing they learned during Innovation Lab. When students come in the next week, we have them start by reading the goal they wrote last week and (re)defining their challenge statement again. This cycle continues each week. The lanyards help everyone stay focused, organized, and encourages students to work through our design thinking process. This lanyard system is the back bone of accountability in the Innovation Lab.

Digital Portfolios and Digital Evidence. Our students are expected to write an entry in their digital portfolios every three weeks. In each entry, students give a big picture overview, complete with digital evidence, on what they have been doing and learning in the Innovation Lab. The digital evidence piece is important because it requires kids to take pictures and videos of their design thinking process, which makes them more mindful of how they spend their time in class. For example, while a student might want to play Survival rather than design in Minecraft, if they know that screenshots that capture the process of their build are expected in their portfolio soon, they are less likely to lose focus. Digital evidence helps students stay present and focused as they work through a design. The portfolio entries are then used as a jumping-off point for a more focused, interview-style conversation the following week. During the interview, students are asked to make direct connections to the design thinking process as they walk us through their portfolios. All of this adds a layer of urgency to what they are doing.

Time, Date, and Preparedness Limitations. We have a recording studio in the Innovation Lab. As you can imagine, it is a popular destination for many students. To keep things orderly, and to help students move forward in a design, we use limitations on when, where, and how students can use the recording studio. Whether making a podcast or a video, students can’t enter the recording studio without having a script or storyboard. Once they talk us through what they are recording, they have up to twenty minutes in the studio, then the next group goes in. Additionally, whatever they are recording can’t be longer than five minutes. If they have previous recordings that haven’t been edited into a final product, they can’t use the studio. Finally, students can signup for the studio a week in advance. By limiting how long a product can be, how long they can use the studio for, and asking them to have a plan before they can use the Studio, we have been able to get a much better workflow and more finished products than we had last year. By requiring students to have any previous recordings finished before making a new one, and allowing students to sign up a week in advance for the studio, we have added an additional layer of incentives for students to be prepared to make. We use these tactics in places other than the recording studio.

Competition. We were lucky to have Hot Wheels send us a Speedometry Kit and bunch of great video game companies like Paradox Interactive and Mohawk Games gift us some great learning AAA games. Ms. Smith and I make posters to hang on the wall that track some of the design challenges students can tackle in the Lab. Challenges like highest population, happiest population, lowest pollution, longest jump, most loops made, allow competition between classes which have many of our kids running to class to see if they still hold the record. I love gamification, so I try to use these types of game mechanics where I can to motivate students to keep them moving forward.

Entrepreneurship and Narratives. More motivating than competition, narratives are great to insert into the Makerspace. Our narrative invokes pride in ownership and all the lessons and learning that comes with running a business because we’ve brought entrepreneurship to the Innovation Lab. In the Innovation Lab, students can sell their creations on FH Gizmos, our student-run school store. I made the store not only to expose students to entrepreneurship, but to also motivate them to finish more designs. When we talk about FH Gizmos with students, we talk about it as if we are part of a startup. Students who open a store on FH Gizmos are given a stock certificate which entitles them to vote at the share holders meeting; the meeting where we decide how we get to spend the profit we’ve made. Students also earn “commission” on what they sell. They can use the commission to buy things from FH Gizmos. By trying to make the experience of running their FH Gizmos store as authentic as possible, we’ve wrapped the experience in a narrative where students feel like they are part of a real business. Anytime you can add a story, or even better, an authentic narrative to the works students are doing, they’ll be more motivated to participate.

Pushing to a Larger Audience. Pushing student work to a larger audience was something I started doing as an English teacher. My students hated writing essays, but when we started blogging instead, they loved it. Part of the appeal was being able to count likes and views. Students will never work harder than if they know the whole world might see their creations. This is why social media is great in the classroom. I love social media as a tool to build relationships with students. We use social media in the Lab to capture the great things students are making. Students are generally excited to see their efforts pop-up on the Instagram feed. We also push student work to a larger audience through our digital galleries. We show off student work on the Innovation Stations, where anyone can see and hear the great things our kids have made. Students love to know how many views they have, and often start to design, create, and speak to their audience. When I told one of our podcast teams that their podcast had 500+ views, they actually started to talk to their listeners during the podcast and thank them. They even started to call their listeners Squiggly Monsters, taking a page from many celebrities who nickname their fan base. A larger audience through social media and digital galleries have been great for increasing motivation.

Hopefully you found something here you can start using in your class tomorrow!

Until Next Time,

GLHF

 

 

Year in Review: Lessons from the Innovation Lab

techedupteacherI came up with the Innovation Lab, our take on the makerspace, when I first got to Fair Haven eighteen months ago. The goal was to make an engaging technology “special” to replace our more traditional computer class which we pushed down toward the elementary school. I spent the bulk of this year’s afternoons working in the Innovation Lab with Ms. Smith and her 5th and 6th grade students. In the Innovation Lab, students learned about Design & Engineering, Computer Science, the Digital Arts, and, for a few months, Entrepreneurship. After our first full year in the Lab, I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson Learned: Blended Learning is best, but not without a learning curve. I blended my high school English class for the last five years I was there. My sophomores received little direct instruction. Instead when they came into class, student work and the resources they needed to be successful were already online in our Learning Management System waiting for them. This worked incredibly well for my Sophomores, so I decided to bring blending to the Innovation Lab.

 

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