Candace Robertson

One educator, determined to create an engaging and dynamic experience for learners of all ages.

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Getting a MAKEover: Part II…What do we do?

This is the second of three posts about the development of our middle school makerspace in our library.  Thanks @jrosenberg6432 for asking some great questions, which were used as the basis for the three posts.  Check out post one to see where we started!

“What things do you do and make?”

I first need to state that the level that this has reached this year wouldn’t be possible without collaboration.  Take a look at our collaboration story below to see how we connected with members of our personal learning networks (PLNs) to bring maker magic to our students.  There are definitely more elements missing from this story.  For example,  attendance at events like Maker Faire allowed us to connect with other makers or including some of our other favorite hashtags for gaining ideas and knowledge like #STEM.

Maker Collaboration StoryWith all of this collaboration occurring, other teachers began to stop by.  The music teacher has come up to help students learn about how speakers work and in turn, students have repaired speakers and an old record player that teachers found in their classrooms.  The music teacher is going to come back and help students build dulcimers!  Another teacher dropped in to teach students proper stitches when we started sewn circuits.  The makerspace has allowed for teachers from all content areas/grade levels to come together and share their own maker skills!

Ok, so back to the question…what do we do and make?  Our vision for the space is to allow students to explore what they are interested in and to create independence in them so that they can figure out their issues and seek the solutions.  Being so student-centered can be somewhat chaotic, but it is so incredibly exciting!  When we first started the year, I heard a lot of, “Ms. Marcotte…?, Ms. Marcotte…?”  I’d say that over the last month is when students started to shift and turn the “Ms. Marcotte?” into “Ms. Marcotte!”  Yes, they still ask for assistance occasionally, but much more often they are asking for more materials, digging deeper with bigger questions, or just want to share the excitement of what they have discovered or created.  Here’s some of what our students have done this year:

What we MakeA little explanation about some of the items above:

  • Reverse Engineering (introduced to get students to think about how things work and looking past the surface):  Became so popular that teachers now drop off all of their “junk” in my office!  Students have also brought their family’s “junk” in with permission.  They have been enamored with this for the duration of the year.  We have been creating labeled display boards to place on exhibit.  A parent also came in to share in this experience, which was really fun!
  • Maker Show (student-named):  Students bring in projects or items from home that they are either working on or are curious about.  We now start every Wednesday makerspace with a student sharing.
  • Each member has a personal maker blog that they reflect on using Kidblog.  Not fully public yet because we have to get a bit better at it first 🙂
  • We JUST launched a shared, public blog with the other middle school’s makerspace and appointed social media managers from each group to share our stories.
  • We created a twitter handle, @WildcatMakers, a few weeks ago as well to allow us to connect with field experts and “real-life” makers as the students like to say.

We just started our first design challenge to build their innovation muscles.  Other than this, we haven’t done any formalized group activities besides the first meeting where we created LED nametags (shout-out to MAET at MACUL 2014 for the idea!).  This allowed us to talk about circuitry which is really important for them moving forward and provided an opportunity for a discussion around good hacks vs. bad hacks.

Paper Circuit NametagsLooking forward:

  • Division of specialized teams: We have something called “Maker Modes” right now which students have identified as their greatest interest areas.  We want to have these groups work together on things like the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, film production, crafting, wearable electronics, robotics, etc.  and stick with them to really become experts in the technologies or skill sets.
  • We are looking to hold some video chats with different makers (hobby or professional makers). We just held our first chat last week and are working on getting connections to more makers!
  • Robot battle
  • Mini design challenges to help build student exploration and innovation muscles
  • knitting, crocheting, jewelry making

There’s really no limit to where the remainder of the year will take us because we really let student-interest guide us.  And, we are willing to beg for materials/resources from anyone!

Creative Commons LicenseGetting a MAKEover: Part II…What do we do? by Candace Marcotte is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Getting a MAKEover: Part I…Taking the First Steps!

Recently, a member of my PLN, @jrosenberg6432 asked me a few simple questions about the development of our middle school makerspace.  I’ve been trying to wrap our progress into a neat little bundle, but I came to the conclusion that it’s big and messy!  There’s SO much that encompasses how our learning environment is getting a MAKEover, from the physical space to the mindset.  The culture itself is getting a MAKEover.  So, I decided to break the responses to @jrosenberg6432‘s great questions into a few separate posts…maybe one step towards neater little bundles (let’s at least pretend!)?


“How did you setup and start the space?”


The Initial Rollout
The development of our makerspace has been a work in progress since around last February when we purchased some initial kits and introduced them to our after school Tech Club (check out my original post).  We decided to start with Tech Club so that we could determine how long it would take students to complete projects and to observe things like perseverance and innovation.  This also allowed us to get feedback on what activities sparked middle school interest the most and how they handled challenges.  At the beginning of this year, we actually started to use the term “makerspace” in our school.  Instead of Tech Club, we introduced it as “Tech Club in the Wildcat Makerspace.” I’m hoping we will be able to change the name totally next year and just call the group the “Wildcat Makers or Wildcat Makerspace.”  With the introduction of this new terminology, we still continued to focus on the after school club because I was the sponsor and could roll things out at a faster rate and it was still about the education piece of helping people understand what the Maker Movement is all about (check out Dale Dougherty’s TED Talk: “We are Makers”).  Also, it allowed us to push out to all grade levels at once.  We had about 50 students show up at our first meeting of the year with this new terminology!  Last year, I had about 20 students at the first meeting so this was a decent jump.  I have to immediately acknowledge my colleagues @oconnorscience and @ajsullivan77 who joined me as co-sponsors to make some magical maker things happen for our students!


The Materials
With the energy that was created in our first few after school meetings this year, I worked with the technology facilitator at the other middle school in the district to submit a grant to a local community organization.  Prior to this, we received a small grant from our PTA which allowed us to buy additional kits and consumable materials, but we were ready to take a big jump!  Our initial grant that we submitted to our local community organization focused on beefing up STEM opportunities for our students with a Makerbot and Cricut.  Our vision from the beginning has been to infuse this maker culture into all classrooms by integrating these technologies into all content areas.  Therefore, we connected with a variety of content area teachers in each of our buildings and they joined in on the grant.  The organization was so excited about our plan to integrate these technologies, that they asked us to submit a wishlist of our dream materials…how often does that happen?!  The fine folks of #MakerEd helped A TON in finalizing our wishlist materials.  When the decision was final, we actually ended up receiving $30,000 in grant funding.  It’s important to understand a bit more of our context- we have about 900 students in each of our buildings and we planned for the materials in our grant to last a minimum of  two years.  We did discuss submitting a Phase 2 of the grant which will focus on the design of the space as well as additional tools (sewing machine, video setup including boom mic, etc.).  We are incredibly lucky to have this support and funding and we do not miss a beat in counting our blessings.


The Space
My office is in our library.  I never really felt that the space was mine at all until getting our librarian (a colleague who I work closely with) on board for the whole makerspace initiative.  We discussed it, she went to a librarian’s conference and heard about the impact it had on circulation and she was ready to go!  This allowed us to start making changes in the physical layout of the library.  I don’t have a very good image of what it looked like when we started, but I’ve included a semi-decent one below.  Imagine that to the right of this image are these large wooden study carrels.  Think of our library as a silent and isolated space.
Our library before the makerspace.
Slowly, we began to alter the physical space after getting administrator approval.   This came with the knowledge that the space would become collaborative…and if there was ONLY one thing we accomplished this year, it would be to get rid of those study carrels!  They represented the antithesis of the culture shift that we were trying to make.


We first started by moving some book shelves around to create a little nook-like space.  The librarian and I joke that everything in terms of furniture in the makerspace came from the garbage- and it’s partially true.  We didn’t have any funding for furniture itself (the grant did include $ for storage, but phase two will focus on design), so we had to get thrifty!  Just by taking walks around the building and looking in some spaces that stuff seems to pile up in, we were able to accumulate a coat rack for lab coats and safety gloves, half-circle tables, a curved table, two monitors, and other odds and ends.  We also began collecting items like lamination scraps, broken tools/tech, cardboard, Styrofoam, and bubble wrap. The pics below show where we’re at today.

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Our makerspace now takes up almost half of our library!  We wanted to make the space interactive to stimulate curiosity, play, and creativity.  We took paper and covered the tables, set up a MaKey MaKey tinfoil piano on the back of a bookshelf, and used lamination scraps to create a “Doodle Wall.” Because of the buy-in from our librarian, she was able to clear out some books and dedicate shelves for materials.  I can’t tell you how amazing this has been as a storage solution!  The excellent part is that everything is accessible and easy to grab and go- which is exactly what we want.  I keep the tools and needles locked in my office so that we know where those are at all times.  Safety first!  I still look at it as being in the start up phase.  We are always thinking of ways to improve the space…someone walked in a few weeks ago and said, “I swear this place is always changing.”  We took it as a compliment over confusion because what was once a stagnant space is now dynamic and flexible.


Our end goal is to have every day be a maker day – not just after school one day a week.  For example, we want to carry out our vision of integrating materials into daily lessons in all content areas (see our grant examples here) and  @oconnorscience created a makerspace corner in her classroom with legos, puzzles, and random items after seeing what was going on in the library.  We want to infect the building with this spirit and energy 🙂  We are in the process of transitioning from the Tech Club mainly using the items, to publicizing that everyone has access now that we have more materials in from our grant orders.  Students have been coming to create on random days, in addition to our Tech Club meeting.  We are going to label the material boxes with QR codes that attach to a Google Form sign out sheet so that students know that they are able to check out the materials in the space and create at any time, while still being held accountable (can’t take home for now, just use in the space or in the classroom).  We don’t want to make it too formal because we want to encourage random tinkering, but we do want students to know that the expectation is for every piece to come back so that others can play later.


If I had to pick 2 words to represent the initial phase of implementation, they would be VISION and COMMUNITY.  Without both, it would have been a challenge to get this maker party started!
Creative Commons License Getting a MAKEover: Part I…Taking the First Steps! by Candace Marcotte is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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Running an Edcamp Style PD!

Teachers in our district have the option of attending a district Institute Day (PD Day) over the summer or during the school year.  I was asked to lead a session with my fellow Technology Facilitator and our middle school Instructional Coach. We wanted to spice things up and provide an authentic learning environment for our teachers, so we decided to implement an Edcamp style PD.  We utilized the first half of the day for our Edcamp and during the second half of the day, teachers worked with in their PLCs to put their new knowledge into action and develop plans and assessments for the year.  We had about 70 middle school teachers participate in our day of learning and all content areas were included.

If you don’t know about the Edcamp craze, check it out here.  We started the day with a bit of a keynote that the three of us prepared, which reviewed TPACK and SAMR.  After a brief discussion, we prompted our staff to participate in a Quickfire Challenge to demonstrate their understanding of the framework and model.  Quickfire Challenges are a concept which can be attributed to Dr. Leigh Graves Wolf of Michigan State University (see her post here about them).  Having been a student in the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program at MSU, I have lived through so many Quickfires and love how they sparked my interest and brought energy to learning (I even used them with students when I was a classroom teacher!).  Below you’ll see the guidelines for our Quickfire and if you click on the image, it will take you to the Thinglink with live links.Quickfire Challenge

Teachers then had to share their creation on a Schoology discussion board.  Note that they were only given 10 minutes to complete this task.  Here are three examples of what they created and shared.  When you take a step back to think about it, it’s actually pretty cool.  We gave them NO instruction on how to do any of this, from the technology they picked to uploading to a Schoology discussion board.  They had to play with it and they were immersed in creation with a looming deadline.  Was it stressful?  Yes.  Was it meaningful? Yes.  Did they enjoy it?  After it was done :).  We had everything from videos to Haikus.  They also got to see how allowing for choice with a choice board was simple and meaningful to the learner, because they experienced it as their students would.


SAMR Popplet


After this recap, we then discussed how Edcamps work and how you “vote with your feet”.  We then asked the teachers what they wanted to learn that day.  Now, we did do some pre-planning when it came to this and planted some seeds because we weren’t sure what teachers would do in the face of being given total choice.  We knew we wanted to have at least 6 sessions going at one time.  We thought of 3 sessions which we knew teachers would be looking for and created a “Playlist” of resources that they could explore as a part of their breakout discussion for a bit of scaffolding into the open world of Edcamps.  We also planted some seeds in terms of talking to a few teachers ahead of time and asking them to share their learning interests if the crowd got quiet- luckily we did that because teachers were at a loss initially when posed with the challenge of getting to voice what they wanted to learn.  Once a few of our seeds spoke up, it got the ball rolling and we were able to find teacher facilitators for each session.  We purposefully did not facilitate any sessions. While breakouts were occurring, we rotated through rooms to offer conversation or answer any questions of difficulty.  We made sure to have an “App Playground” during all breakout sessions to assist teachers who simply needed to focus the day on growing their technological knowledge in terms of the functions of the iPads and apps.

Session 2 Session 1

When we returned from the breakout sessions, we had a “Show what you know SLAM”, which is a derivative of an App Slam or Demo Slam that you see at Edcamps.  We asked teachers to share something that they learned in a breakout session, which prompted lots of “Ooohhs and Ahhhhs” from the audience.  Of course, each teacher only had 1 minute to share what they learned, so it was a rapid fire race to talk about their big takeaways.

Show What you Know SLAM

Overall, we had a lot of great feedback about the day.  What would we change?  We would notify all staff to come with ideas for conversation topics that they were interested in.  I believe that if we do this again, now that all of our teachers will have 1:1 experience under their belts, the conversations will spark more readily and their comfort with guiding their own learning will also increase now that they have exposure to this style of PD.

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iPad Distribution Day

iPad Distribution Set UpThis year, we are transitioning from a pilot year of 300 student devices to our inaugural year of full implementation with about 900 student devices.  With feedback from teachers stating that they were ready to go and wanted to be able to use the device asap with students, we decided to attempt an iPad distribution day before the school year started.  So, we started to put plans into place!

Some things you should know about our distribution are that we had summer employees tag, scan, and assign iPads to students.  They also had the fun job of removing them from their boxes, labeling the iPad for the student, and placing the iPad in our new cases.  We are using Apple’s new Mobile Device Management program this year and parents were asked throughout the summer to create an Educational Apple ID for their student(s) under 13 years old.  We pair Apple’s MDM with Cisco’s Meraki MDM. Now that we have all of the technical specs out of the way, let’s take a look at the actual event details.

We scheduled one day, a week before school started, from 1pm-7pm for students to pick up their devices.  Students had to have their iPad Handbook signed and hopefully had created an Apple ID before coming to the event.  We decided to not split them into certain time frames by alphabetical order or ask them to schedule a time for pick up since we were doing distribution for just one day.  We had 26 teachers in our building volunteer to help (our teachers rock!), in addition to about six student Tech Squad members.  The helpers were arranged in shifts from 1pm-4pm and 4pm-7pm for the most part.  Let me tell you, I can’t imagine doing this with any less number of helpers!

We set up the event in stations so that the tasks were separated.  At each of the six stations we had a poster with the steps of the station so that individuals could start the station steps on their own while they waited in line.  We also had handouts on each table with the same steps.  We tried to have at least 2 helpers at each station.  For some of the more challenging stations, we had three helpers.

Breakdown of Stations (You can find our complete station guides here.):

  • Station 1:   We initially separated individuals as they entered into two lines: 1.  Have an Edu Apple ID, 2.  Don’t have an Edu Apple ID yet.  Then, when they had taken care of business at Station 1 with either just signing in or creating an Apple ID, they received a ticket so that they could proceed to Station 2 and pick up their iPad.
  • Station 2: The red ticket was used so that Station 2 knew that the student had checked in and had turned in their signed iPad Handbook.  This worked really well.  Students told the helper their last name and as the helper searched for the iPad, the student found their name on a sheet of labels.  Students then immediately labeled their chargers.  After getting their iPad, they proceeded to Station 3.
  • Station 3:  Students went through the startup configuration of the iPad, until they got to the “Get Started” message and home screen.
  • Station 4:  Students renamed their iPads so that we could manage them by building and grade level.  They also turned on items in the app store so that they could receive apps.
  • Station 5:  Students set up their student email and found their Meraki email so that their device could receive apps.
  • Station 6:  Students checked to make sure they had the Meraki profile on their device and then completed an expectation checklist so that they were aware of the big iPad rules before leaving the building.
Issues Successes  Lessons Learned
  • Network flooded when trying to create Apple IDs and wouldn’t allow us to access site for ID creation.  It seemed to be a two-part issue (our side & Apple’s side) because parents couldn’t access the site from their phones which were not on our WiFi.
  • “Missing iPads”- Since devices were labeled, etc. at another building, we were actually missing a few boxes that we were not aware of until the event started.  We also did not plan on new students (like registered a few days prior) arriving to pick up devices.  So, we had some students who came and their devices weren’t even in our boxes of missing iPads that arrived.
  • Dead iPads
  • Stations and the number of helpers running each station.
  • Clear directions posted large and having handouts on table.
  • We pulled people when the line got too long and we created stations in the lobby near our gym so that they did not have to wait in line forever.  This kept people happy.
  • Multiple WiFi access points.
  • Having power strips on hand.
  • Having printed copies of student usernames and passwords on hand at the first station and email station.
  • Possibly label the iPads then and there, which will cut down on time it took to try to locate the iPad and would also solve issues of devices not being able to be located.
  • You can never have enough WiFi access points!
  • Having parents come in over the summer to create their Apple IDs if they need assistance.

Overall, we had more success than issues and after the first two hours of a non-stop line of people, we were easily able to get people in and out in under 20 minutes.  The biggest hang up which caused for some people to be there longer was due to our issues accessing Apple’s website through parent email.  When parents were clicking the “Consent” button, the webpage was redirecting them to the wrong page and was not allowing them to create an actual Educational Apple ID for their student.  We ended up just forming a line where we took the parent’s information so that we could help them create an Apple ID at a later time.  Being flexible and creating a plan on the go really helped!  We had about 700/853 students come through to pick up their devices that evening and it was truly an awesome showing of our learning community with the number of staff, students, and parents involved!

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ISTE Presentations 2014

Remix, Repurpose, and Redesign: Promoting Student Ownership and Engagement:  My colleagues and I presented on strategies for remixing content and repurposing technologies, which allows educators to redesign their pedagogical strategies.  Through low-tech and high-tech repurposing, students can engage in deep play, allowing them to get lost in the content…in a good way!  These strategies include redesigns of every day classroom routines, like Bell Ringers, classroom rules, Exit Slips, etc.   Click the image below to be taken to session resources.

Pinterest Board from Presentation


iPadeology: Staff and Student Resources for iPad Deployment:  My colleague and I presented on the key characteristics of the mindset that we developed to guide decision making during our first year in our district’s 1:1 pilot.  We share the steps we believe made us successful, how we managed to keep the focus on instruction and not the device, student development resources, staff development resources, and parental resources for deployment.  Click the image below to be taken to session resources.