Inspiration Station Logistics
Kids are allowed to enter the building at 8:20 am. From 8:20 am until 8:35 am, students are in their homeroom unpacking, eating breakfast and getting ready for their day. Just like the students can get a pass to come to the library to check out books in the morning during homeroom, they can come to the Inspiration Station. It is my morning duty. I quickly realized, however, that by the time the students went to their classroom, got the pass, and came to the library, they did not have enough time to explore the Inspiration Station before being sent back to class at 8:35 am. What good is a Maker Space if there are no makers in it? Since my planning is first period from 8:35- 9:20am, I chose to split it. I send out a survey with possible 15 minute time slots and asked the homeroom teachers to select their preference. The teachers that responded to my survey were split, half wanted from 8:30-8:45 am and the other half wanted later 8:45-9:00 am. As a compromise, and because our librarian is not present on Thursdays and Fridays so I help with book check out during homeroom, I chose to have the following schedule:
Monday- Wednesday the Inspiration Station is available from 8:30-8:45 am
Thursday & Friday the Inspiration Station is available from 8:45-9:00 am
That means I take my planning starting at 8:20 am, and resume after duty until 9:20 am. At first, it was difficult for teachers to remember two different times but it was the best way to compromise. The Inspiration Station pass is a laminated 1/4 piece of paper that I have color coded by grade level. I have written in permanent marker on the back which homeroom it belongs to, in case it is lost. Next year, I plan on including the schedule on the back to help teachers and students remember. Currently only 3rd through 5th graders have passes. And because there are roughly 25 homerooms within those three grade levels alone, I only gave each class ONE pass. Therefore, there would not be more than 25 students at a time. It is up to the individual teacher to decide who gets to come each morning. Unfortunately, I think the teachers forget to assign the pass because on my busiest day I've only had about 15 kids. I have the students sign in when they come, on a clipboard, writing their first name, last name, and homeroom. Since I feel the Inspiration Station is not being fully utilized I plan on sending out a virtual flyer to remind the teachers to send kids down, including pictures to show what they've been missing out on. If that does not increase attendance, then I plan on awarding classrooms who do send kids down a second pass.
I also have no classes between 11:40am and 12:55 pm. Therefore, I have chosen to take my lunch from 12-12:30pm. Opening the Inspiration Station from 11:40 am- 12 pm would allow Fourth grade classes to send a student down during their lunch time. The idea would be for the chosen students to get their lunch first in line, eat, and then come down to the library to tinker. Open from 12:30- 12:50 pm would allow teachers to send Third and Fifth graders during their recess time. The ultimate goal is to allow as many students as possible an opportunity to come explore, as often as possible!
Maker Space Stations
One of the more exciting stations is Stop Motion Animation. The software allows students to take a series of pictures, moving the objects a little bit at a time, and play back as a video in motion. I teamed up with our art teacher, Mr. Wells, and asked him to create a few interchangeable backdrops that students could use for their video. My hope is that students will use the craft station to help create scenes for their animations- which is why the craft station is staying and why I have these two next to each other. I bought the OgoSport's BILD + AnimateIt! Stop Motion Animation Essentials kit online. In retrospect, the software is the most important part, made by AnimateIt! The camera quality from the kit is medicore. You can use any external camera or webcam to take the pictures so I'd rather use my Ipevo document camera instead for much higher quality. Besides saving money by not buying the full kit with camera and pieces, it would force my students to create their own characters. I also heard an anecdote from a fellow teacher who had this software at home say that her son spent hours creating a video using his Lego pieces and moving the characters one step at a time, so another thought is to use Legos instead. The art teacher has students making clay creations in his class so he and I talked about bringing the software to him so that students could take their clay projects a step further into "claymation".
Another student favorite is the Marble Run station. It is simple yet highly addicting, even for me! I bought the Imaginarium Marble Race from ToysRUs. There are many brands and versions out there. One thing to keep in mind is that different brands are not compatible. The pieces are different sizes so if you plan on expanding later on, stick with the same brand. The only downside to this station is that the plastic marbles have slowly disappeared. I learned that they were slightly smaller than a regular marble so when we tried to send a regular marble down the path, it was too big to go through some of the spinney parts. Unfortunately, I looked online and could not find replacement plastic marbles by Imaginarium but I did find a set of smaller marbles at a ToysRUs store that work. The marbles I found as a replacement are glass ones so I have to remind students to be safe with them. Luckily our library is carpeted so they should not break from bouncing on the floor.
Origami is another station available in the Inspiration Station. It is hit or miss, depending on the kids' interests. I found out that the book that came with the kit from Michaels was hard to follow for elementary aged students (and even myself sometimes). So instead, I compiled a bunch of kid-friendly YouTube videos on my website: http://steminspired.weebly.com/origami.html When a student wants to create Origami, we borrow a laptop from either the Coding or MakeyMakey station and they follow along with the video. It works well because they can pause and rewind as needed.
On my trip to China this past summer, I saw a unique set of building blocks called Playstix by Popular Playthings. I found the Deluxe Set on Amazon and added it as a station. Students can stack the sticks and assemble them in a specific way to snap together to make a variety of models. Despite the name, it is not our most popular station but it does provide a great alternative to Legos and K'nex. I would recommend it for its uniqueness, durable quality, and ability to be re-used.
On the other side of the Inspiration Station, I have grouped stations related to computers and circuits. At first I had one station dedicated to LittleBits circuits and one for MakeyMakey circuits, each with its own laptop. I figured students could check out projects online for both, and MakeyMakey is meant to control the computer using everyday things. In retrospect, I have found that neither have been as successful as I had hoped in our Maker Space. Again, I think lack of prompts and step-by-step instructions could be the reason.
I don't know much about either one so I was hoping the kids would figure it out and show me. I had one fifth grade student who made progress on the MakeyMakey. She used inspiration from the instructions to make a guitar out of cardboard, pennies, and tin foil. She hooked up wires from the pennies to the MakeyMakey circuit board and was able to successfully play a guitar-hero type game on the computer by touching the pennies. Other students have enjoyed the fruits of her labor by playing the game in the weeks after, but no one else has really tinkered with the wires to create their own project. I think MakeyMakey is worth getting because of the amount of possibilities available... we just need more time to figure it out. The craft station is necessary to make parts for the circuit, such as the cardboard, tape, and markers needed to make our guitar.
I have found that the LittleBits are a tad too complex for elementary students. Again, I don't really know anything about them or have much experience with circuits myself (other than knowing conductor vs. insulator and series vs. parallel). We know the bits snap together using magnets and they are color coded based on their purpose in the circuit. The most common circuit the kids have made include a dimmer switch and a buzzer (aka they slide the dimmer back and forth to turn the buzzer sound up and down). There is potential for some really cool projects, using materials such as cardboard and other crafts (another reason why having a craft station is important) but we have not had any students willing to figure it out yet. LittleBits company recently came out with "Gizmos & Gadgets" kits that include accessories and materials for 12 inventions. If I were starting again, I would probably go that route, rather than getting the Deluxe Kit, or get a different circuit building kit altogether. I would not recommend LittleBits for younger students because the pieces are small and fragile.
Similar to a virtual marble run, Contraption Maker is a Rube-Goldberg-style game that allows students to design their own contraption. They can also solve puzzles with existing contraptions. The interface is pretty complex for elementary aged students so I would recommend it more for middle and high school. It doesn't hurt to have it available though for your higher ability students. The contact person for the company is very helpful and nice. The company gives away free licenses to educational institutions; all you have to do is email them! To learn more, check out their website.
I taught the basics of Coding during STEM class MP 2 so now coding is a station in the Maker Space for students who want to continue on with it. Code.org has a fantastic curriculum comprised of both online activities and face to face "unplugged" lessons; and the best part is that it is FREE! The curriculum was designed for K-5 but can be used in any grade level. I would recommend Course 1 for grades K-2 and Course 2 for Grades 3+. I consider Course 2 to be a prerequisite to Courses 3 & 4 so definitely start there for any grade level 3 and above. Code.org also offers "Hour of Code" activities, which are of high interest and can be considered a "crash course". In other words, the Hour of Code activities, such as Minecraft, Star Wars, Flappy Bird, Frozen, Inifinity Play Lab, etc. expose students to a bunch of concepts in 20 puzzles or less, whereas the Courses are more extensive, dive deeper, go at a more gradual pace, and include the unplugged activities. Code.org is not the only website out there that teaches coding basics. Many other organizations have also created games to teach kids such as Tynker and Google's Made with Code. A variety of sites and apps for varying abilities can be found here.
Another FREE and totally awesome site is Build with Chrome, a partnership between Google and Legos that allow students to build virtually. The kids really enjoy building with Legos online and they are able to share their creations globally. One downside that we learned the hard way, is that there is no way to save their creation as a draft. You can "publish" which will give you a 360 degree snapshot of your build, but you cannot edit after. If you do not publish, then you lose what you were working on. The kids get really into building complex designs and are frustrated that they have to chose between losing their work or publish an unfinished product. For now we have to keep our fingers crossed that they make a save option in the future.
As I change out these stations for new ones, I will continue posting about them and share what I've learned. Before you go, please check out the pictures below from our Inspiration Station in action!