Stephanie West-Puckett

writing, teaching, studying new media and digital rhetorics


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Pop Up and Make: Student-Designed and Facilitated Makerspaces

Let’s set the scene with a school snapshot:

  • Number of Students: 1,439
  • Per Pupil Expenditure: $9,500
  • White: 36%
  • African American: 55%
  • Hispanic: 6%
  • Free and Reduced Lunch: 50%
  • Makerspace Funding Sources to Date:
    • LRNG Challenge: $20,000 ($6,000 for materials and supplies + $12,000 for teacher PD stipends)
    • Academic Booster Grants ($5,000 for materials and supplies)
    • Lowe’s School Grants ($5,000 materials and supplies)

Makerspaces: Low- and High-Tech

Now let’s ask: What might school look like with no bells, no walls, and no limits on learning? The Educator Innovator collaborative posed this question to educators across the country in 2014, spurring the design of interest-driven and production-centered learning opportunities to deepen students’ passions.

In response, teachers and students from the above-mentioned school, J.H. Rose (JHR) High
 School in Greenville, North Carolina, in conjunction with the Tar
 River Writing Project at East Carolina University, received
 funds to design and implement pop-up makerspaces during 
the 2015-16 school year. These makerspaces include the 3D 
Fabrication Lab, Upcycling Shop, Music and Beat-Making Studio, Robotics and Hacking Space, Digital
 Storytelling Workshop, and Clothing and Fashion
 Design Closet. Each makerspace “pops up” in either a
 classroom, computer lab, commons area, or the cafeteria 
during the school’s Smart Block, an open period for eating lunch, attending academic sessions, practicing sports and music — and now for making things. With high- and low-tech materials, with digital and analogue tools, each space offers leveling-up curriculum pathways that are meant to scaffold tinkering, playing, experimenting, making, and learning.

In the Remake Lab, students and teachers upcycle furniture, old tires, and other discarded materials, transforming old dresser drawers into pet beds and selling them to raise more funds for supplies. A student works on a lamp project, combining an old basket with a donated light assembly to make a place for studying in her living room. Another student tears sheets from a wallpaper sample book and glues them to a barstool, contributing to a decoupage project that multiple students have worked on all semester — a low-barrier project that almost any student could “Pop Up and Make.” “In here,” the student says, “it’s mandatory to make something. It doesn’t matter what, but you have to get jiggy.”

In the RoboHacker Lab, students mix and match littleBits circuits, troubleshooting with teachers and Maker Mentors when lights don’t light up or fans don’t spin. Howls of laughter echo in the hallway as students race neon-colored Spheros, ribbing losers while helping them optimize for closer races. A student is learning to code in Python to make formulas for his math homework while his friend, a Maker Mentor, builds a car from Lego Robotics.

In the 3D Lab, students browse light saber designs in Thingiverse, set up new portable Micro 3D printers, draw with 3D pens, and fold Cubecraftcartoon figures. Maker Mentors and teachers help students reload spools of filament, scale digital objects on the computer, reinforce X-acto knife safety rules, and greet new students at the door. “When the makerspace first started,” reports one student, “I became well acquainted with the 3D pen, coming every Monday and Friday to work on an Eiffel Tower — I love its architecture and design. Eventually, I started working with the 3D printers. There’s always something new and interesting to make and learn.”

Participatory Design

The popularity of this Pop Up and Make educational model is due, in part, to its participatory design. To begin, faculty surveyed the students about their interests, asking, “What do we make together that will make school responsive to your needs?” After reviewing survey results, faculty read and discussed case studies of maker-centered learning, thinking through local affordances and constraints. In summer, they convened at East Carolina University’s campus, making together in a pop-up fabric hacker lab and planning their makerspaces. Here they developed open curriculum materials, budgeted for tools and supplies, and recruited student leaders. Fifteen students joined the event to make, co-develop, plan, and become Maker Mentors. School leadership also attended, offering support such as reassigned time, access to space, and other assets. During the back-to-school orientation, Maker Mentors staffed the spaces, demonstrated making, distributed information and created a buzz of excitement for the new year.

Space to Learn, Play, Make, and Grow

After a year, it’s clear that makerspaces are making things happen at JHR. Students like Austin in the video above are developing their passions and technical
 capacities –taking pride in exciting
 others through their roles as Maker Mentors. Students who haven’t yet
 discovered their objects of excitement 
are forming new nodes — people,
 places, tools, practices — on their 
learning networks. One student reports,
 “I first came here to help my friend 
print some vinyl for a sign. I met kids 
who were drawing on tablets and 
printing phone cases. I had never seen that before, so I came back. Teachers 
helped me, and I want to take their
 classes to learn more.” Finally, makerspaces are providing safe spaces for positive peer-to-peer social interaction. A student in the Remake Lab quipped, “Really, we just started coming down here to talk and eat lunch together without anybody bothering us, but then we saw we could eat, talk, and make new things with old stuff — stuff that makes us happy.”

Follow #RampantsMake on Twitter and Instagram, and check out the school’s website Rampants Make. And in the comments below, please share your own experiences in building a maker culture at your school.

Content cross-posted from SWP Edutopia guest blog.


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Making in the Media Center

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading a workshop at North Pitt High School on making and MakerEd with 40 or so media coordinators from Pitt County Schools.  The district media coordinator has provided real leadership and inspiration for transitioning the county’s media centers from quiet, solitary, read-only spaces to learning commons where students are making, sharing, collaborating, connecting, and contributing using a variety of digital and tactile tools and materials.  North Pitt media coordinator Laura Mangum is also leading the charge locally, integrating small-scale spaces for 3D printing and video production, demonstrating how school media centers can refashion themselves for making despite limited space and funding.libraries are for making

During the morning session, media coordinators shared their own interests and maker know-how, leading pop-up maker space activities like crocheting, snap circuitry, and stop motion animation.  After lunch, the media coordinators were still making, figuring out parallel and simple circuits, asking for another demo on how to drop a stitch, and playing with timing and frame speed in their animations.  If my work with making has taught me one thing, it’s that once you get folks started, it’s nearly impossible to get them to stop. That’s engagement, and that’s where the conversation about school reform should focus.

As folks continued to stitch, I moved us into a conversation about making, why making is receiving so much attention these days, and how making builds both personal and communal agency.  We watched Dale Doughtery’s TED talk about making as an American ideal, we enacted a call-and-response reading of Mark Hatch’s Maker Manifesto, and we looked at how and where making is happening in classrooms and in extracurricular or third spaces in schools.  I was excited to share some of the great tactile and digital projects my colleagues Danielle Lewis at Centennial Campus Middle School and Jennifer Smyth at Hertford County Early College have been working on with their students and share the ways making and a writing-as-making approach to college-level writing informs my work in first-year composition.knowledge building process

We talked about Jenkins’ notions of participatory culture and the literacies necessary to participate in maker spaces. Then I had coordinators reflect on the literacies that they activated to participate, make, learn, and share in the morning maker-spaces.  We made connections to Common Core State standards, AASL Learning Standards, Mozilla Web literacy maps, and various disciplinary literacies.  We discussed Kalantz and Cope’s Knowledge Building Processes and talked about how making can be paired with more traditional schooling practices to build knowledge through recursively doing, analyzing, conceptualizing, and applying.

Next, we talked maker space design, and I introduced the group to the Connected Learning (CL) framework, using the learning and design principles as guides for thinking through locally-responsive model building. The design principles of production-centered, openly networked, and academically-oriented prompt us to consider the ways we use networks, both local and digital, to support student making and create learning pathways that port powerful learning from informal to academic spaces.  We discussed the importance of productive peer culture, having young people take ownership of maker spaces, and I cited both the You Media Project in the Chicago Public Library and the Artlab+ at the Hirshorn in Washington DC as exemplar programs in this respect, both of which I’ve had the opportunity to visit and learn from over the last couple of years.  And we thought through ways to engage youth and adult partners from local communities to support cross-generational learning that enables young people to level-up with more experienced mentors.Frobel's gifts

Finally, we read and discussed Mitch Resnick’s piece on the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten, sketching out visions of serious play and interrogating the restrictive notions of “college and career-readiness” that are often touted in schools but bear little resemblance to our most innovative academic, professional, and civic institutions.  We took the idea of Frobel’s gifts as a starting point for thinking about the tools, materials, and resources that can feed our youth makers, and I implored folks to work first from their own interests and passions.  As I reminded them, we have to bring our own unique maker moxies to school with us and flaunt them unabashedly, demonstrating what it means to be “hot” in places that have conditioned us to “be cool.”

MakerEd ResourcesThe media coordinators’ response to the workshop was enthusiastic, and I am looking forward to ways Tar River Writing Project can continue to work with the district to support their plunge into MakerEd.  Several of the coordinators expressed interest in attending the TRWP MakerSpace Design Institute we’re hosting this summer, and I’ve already received several emails asking for more information about the maker projects and resources I shared.  We are all finding the MakerEd Resource Library extremely valuable in this work, and I’m continually humbled by the power of making to create community and remake the world around us into a more equitable and humane place– one stitch, one frame, one educator, one connection at a time.