Re-Making the High School’s MakerSpace

Photo: MakerSpace-3DPrinter

A year ago, librarian Kirsten Fournier opened up a makerspace as part of an ongoing effort to transition the high school library from a traditional setting into a more modern learning commons. As part of her wider vision to transform the library into a flexible and modern learning space, Fournier hoped to capitalize on the do-it-yourself movement that has been surging through public libraries, as well as libraries in elementary and middle schools. The makerspace provides the high school with an informal, loosely structured opportunity for students to create and embrace the maker movement ethos without the external pressures of a class.

In the makerspace, a multitude of materials are visible and available for students to explore and innovate on their own terms. Having the makerspace as part of the evolving learning commons expands the library’s reach beyond being merely a place where books are housed. It is becoming a full-service learning, research, and project space.

Photo: MakerSpace-Kirsten Fournier01“[The makerspace] gives people a different perception of the library,” said librarian Kirsten Fournier. “Having this space helps people realize that the library can be a center for pretty much everything. It doesn’t have to just be about checking out a book or getting information.”

There are a variety of entry points and opportunities for students to engage in conceiving, designing, and realizing tangible creations that embrace multiple disciplines in the process. The makerspace focuses on learning as doing in the spirit of turning students from simple consumers into producers of learning.

Building real things and exercising thinking that emphasizes design and construction fuels the activity in the makerspace that now inhabits a section of the main floor in the library learning commons. The designated area includes sewing machines, craft tools, a 3D printer, and a complement of raw materials and kits. It is a far more freeform approach than a class and open to all students who visit.

In its first year, the makerspace benefited from sheer novelty. The library is a high traffic area at Hopkinton High School, so it was easy to capture student attention. “People immediately became curious,” said Fournier. “The student response was great. They really started to get into it.”

The novelty may have worn off a bit in year two, so Fournier has made some programmatic changes to keep the students engaged.

Photo: MakerSpace-Kirsten Fournier02“Varying the workshops and activities offered helps a lot,” Fournier explained. “I tend to purchase a lot of kits in an effort to attract the attention of those students who may not be feeling the inspiration to create something new, completely on their own. Kits offer a defined set of instructions that students can complete from beginning to end. Plus, the mere act of engaging with the kit will sometimes spark that innovative spirit we are hoping to cultivate in students. A kit will often serve as a launching point for students to branch out on their own path of discovery.”

This year, workshops are offered during lunch periods and after school. Since students are so busy, this has been a successful strategy. One of the more popular workshops this fall involved making a mobile phone charger from an Altoids Mints tin and a small circuit board. Fournier credits the fact that the project was limited in scope with a very clear beginning and end as part of its popularity.

“Being able to finish a project and walk away with something tangible helps form those real world connections. Makerspace activities then become something much more, than just a “crafty idea.”

Recently science teacher Denise Linder presented a workshop on using the sewing machine to make quilt blocks, a basic component of quilt making. Those in attendance learned both hand and machine-sewing techniques.

Next week, the workshop, Tuesday, December 6, will introduce Scratch,a project from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. Scratch is an interactive media programming environment where anyone can learn to code their own interactive stories, animations, games, and more.

Another development this year has been increased interest from faculty, not only in leading workshops but also incorporating elements into their classrooms.

“More teachers have expressed an interest to incorporate the makerspace into their curriculum. There are a number of things in the pipeline that we are hoping to realize,” Fournier said. “For example, the junior English classes have a sustained reading assignment, which culminates in students presenting to their teacher and classmates, what they have learned from their chosen novel, to help inspire students to think outside of the box in preparing their presentations.”

Art history teacher Sara Williams is currently investigating ways to incorporate the makerspace’s 3D printer into her classes, where students might make scale models of great works, as well as create inspired works of their own.  “Also, Christine Enos and I hope to combine makerspace and fab lab forces as the year continues. There is a ton of potential there,” Fournier noted. Student work from Enos’ fall lab course can be seen on display around the library.

Photo: MakerSpace-New Location“The library now offers students access to that DIY movement in an informal way. There are no grades here, no project parameters students are required to work within, no deadlines to meet,” said Fournier. “Students can really dictate the projects they want to work on, and as a result, achieve true ownership of their learning.”

Being in the library learning commons has other benefits as well. “I find the makerspace to be fantastic for redirecting students with an abundance of energy, while they are in the library,” Fournier explained. ”Harnessing their energy into something more productive keeps the library a friendly environment for all, and students learn something in the process.”

Also, students have been genuinely positive about the opportunities offered in the makerspace. There is no question that the available technology is part of the appeal for many students. The novelty of things like the 3D printers, which are available in the course and learning commons, certainly has sparked considerable interest. While the shiny new tools may serve as a hook, students have found the variety of challenges and materials interesting once they become involved.

Senior Maria Jara Baca was drawn more to low-tech options and freedom the makerspace offered. “There were all kinds of fun crafts to do for free and I had a time in my schedule so I kept doing things there. The textiles and sewing machine opened up opportunities to create things I wouldn’t have outside of school,” Baca said. “There is practically everything there. We go new kits and new tools. It is a nice study break from the classes. Plus, it is convenient because it is in the library and you can just pop over and do something.”

The makerspace greatly benefited from grant funding from the Hopkinton Education Foundation. A grant supplied seed money to start the maker-inspired endeavor. Fournier received initial funding for equipment and consumable materials in 2015. This enterprise could have started without the generous funding to kickstart their efforts.

Still, sustaining the momentum created and continuing to build a critical threshold of interest with students is key to the makerspace’s sustainability. While it has been incorporated into the overall library budget, it also relies heavily on donations, as well as found materials.

Photo: MakerSpace-Fabric

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