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 III…What do they take away?

This is the third post in the series 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 and post two to see what we do!

“What things do kids take away?”

First, there’s the question of literal takeaways.  What do students physically carry out of the space and keep?  Currently, students can keep some of the items that they create, but not everything.  Because we are 1:1, a lot of artifacts that they create are either digital and housed on their individual devices (movies, etc.) or we turn them into digital artifacts by blogging to document their learning/experiences with images, videos, and text.  Due to cost, students can’t keep the kits and more expensive items, so that’s one of the reasons why we blog.  They always have at least a picture or a video to take away!  We do allow them take home/keep the consumable items like conductive thread, coin cell batteries, conductive tape, LEDs, and crafting materials (paper, cardboard, felt, etc.) because they have a lower price point.  I’ve even had a few students borrow goggles to work on reverse engineering at home. Now that our Makerbot and Cricut are all set up, they will begin to take home those artifacts and the prototypes that they have designed as well.

More importantly, I think that they’re taking away some bigger things like independence, perseverance, creativity, and critical thinking.  They are learning how to share their knowledge, collaborate in positive manner, and connect with others.  They are learning how to appropriately make their learning public.  They are learning that with a little effort, they can do some pretty extraordinary things! Now those are some incredible takeaways…and it’s only just the start!

Maker Impact GIF

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Getting a MAKEover: Part III…What do they take away? by Candace Marcotte is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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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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Chicago Southside Mini Maker Faire

Mini Maker Faire PosterIf you’ve never been to a Maker Faire or Mini Maker Faire,  I recommend jumping in and finding one near you to attend.  I’ve had the opportunity to attend 2 Maker Faires in Detroit and just attended my second Mini Maker Faire- the Chicago Southside Mini Maker Faire.  While attending a Maker or Mini Maker Faire, you will be exposed to creativity, genius, and connected learning galore!  As educators, there is also a lot to learn from the Maker mindset.  Check out this post from on how they believe it can transform education.  Hand in hand, the Maker culture also serves as a great connection to STEM and STEAM…and there are a plethora of resources you can scoop up for your classroom by attending one!  Click the Maker Faire poster on your left to see my favorite highlights from the Chicago Southside Mini Maker Faire.

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MaKey Makey, Squishy Circuits, and Bigshot Cameras

With my time in Michigan State’s Educational Technology program, the “Maker Movement” has really captured my attention.  Two  years ago, I went to my first Maker Faire in Detroit, Michigan.  Since then, I’ve been to three different Maker Faires.  This idea of creating, repurposing, and innovating blows my mind when I see examples of the way Makers view common items.  Makers seem to have the perspective of life as an ever-evolving masterpiece or they see the potential to turn standard items into a contraption that measures the wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum (just an example, but a true story!).  As the Maker Movement is getting more attention in the educational field, this Maker spirit was re-energized within me at a recent #PLAYDATE Chicago.  Using MSU and PLAYDATE as resources, I purchased the following resources to utilize with students.

To test out what a middle school student could accomplish within a certain time period, I rolled out these resources with the Tech Club after school.  I wanted to see how to gauge a timeline for pushing into a classroom and doing an activity with any of these resources, so this was a great way to collect some data!  The students had about 45 minutes to work and I introduced it by telling them that they were the pilot members and that our goal was to think of ways we could relate this to any subject area…this is always my challenge to them!  They’ve “think tanked” awesome educational repurposes for technology in the past, so they are now owning the responsibility of figuring out educational applications of tools that don’t necessarily seem educational.  Here’s where we started:

Maker CollageStudents were eager to get started! The directions that I gave them were to use the resources they have at hand (written directions that came with product and the Internet).  I told them that I’d only help if they got into an extreme bind.

Maker Collage 2Here are the results after 45 minutes!

Maker Collage 3Here are the interesting connections that students were making to content (some more obvious than others):

  • Science: Circuits and energy conversion.  They haven’t learned about the types of kinetic energy yet, so we were able to discuss it in terms of the Bigshot Camera because it starts with mechanical energy and is transformed into electricity.
  • Science:  Importance of observations and documenting your experiments.  Students began to tape the building process for later reflection.
  • Math:  Variables, measurement, order of operations
  • ELA:  I introduced how these could compare to the writing process and students elaborated on which parts were like a rubric/prompt, brainstorming, editing, peer review, etc.
  • Social Studies:  At one point, students were building a fan with pipe cleaners and a student commented on the colors that they selected to use (red and blue).  Immediately, a student working nearby shouted, “There’s Social Studies!  What do those colors mean?!)
  • Art: Squishy Circuit students began to mold their Play-Doh® into animals to follow the directions of making LED illuminated animals.
  • Music: Makey Makey students began to create keyboards to play songs.  This calls for knowledge of notes, pitches, and rhythm.
  • Collaboration:  We saw happy hands and lots of them involved!  There were no angry or greedy hands, but true teamwork and collaboration were emerging.

…More to come after we have our next go round after Spring Break!