When I first started up my makerspace at Stewart, I knew that getting students in there after school would be the ideal time to really dive deep into projects and develop a community of makers. During those first six months, my school didn’t have afterschool clubs but was piloting during school clubs with 6th graders, so we had a small but mighty K’nex Club where we had tons of fun. This gave me a chance to experiment with what running a club was like, and it gave me a lot of ideas for how an afterschool club could work. The next school year, my school started supporting afterschool clubs. We had a small program with about ten students. Being a magnet school, our students come from all over the county, and it can be difficult to get students to stay after-school.
This year, our STEM Booster Club supported starting several after-school STEAM clubs, including art, video game design, robotics, space and our Makers Club. Our principal was even able to get funding to pay the teachers for staying an extra hour and a half once a week. We’ve had WAY more students participating this year and we’ve been having tons of fun. As our program has grown, I’ve been learning what works and what doesn’t, and I’d love to share that with you here. I think that starting an afterschool Makers Club is a fantastic way to promote a culture of making at your school, especially if you’ve been getting pushback from teachers and administration who don’t want to lose class time.
Set routines, norms & procedures
Without some structure early on, an afterschool maker club can quickly turn into unorganized chaos. Through a lot of trial and error, I found ways to set routines, norms and procedures that helped us to have more structure
Where to put your stuff: My students all come in with backpacks. At first, they would just drop them wherever, and we were all constantly stepping over each other’s stuff. I quickly started a routine where everyone put their backpack in front of the checkout desk. It took some training, but evenutally they got it.
Clean-up: I haven’t perfected a clean-up routine with my students, but I’m working on it. I’m thinking about having a clean-up theme song (maybe Eye of the Tiger?) and setting a routine with students where they know that when that song comes on, they have to stop what they’re doing and start cleaning.
Setting norms with your students from the beginning is very important, as it will set the tone for everything that you do. Some of ours include:
- Don’t mess with other people’s projects
- Respect the ideas of others
- Hands/feet/objects to yourself
- Don’t throw stuff
- Don’t interrupt the speaker (during presentations)
- Ask permission before taking a photo
Students need to know some things from the beginning. Procedures you might want to develop for your group can answer such questions as:
- What materials are we allowed to use? How do we access these materials?
- Where are projects stored inbetween meetings?
- What if I want to use something that someone else has?
- What do I do if something breaks?
Balance guided projects with free days
If you want yours students to get creative, you need to find a way to balance design challenges with free days. I love using design challenges to help my students get focused by giving them a specific theme to work on (ie. build something that can hold your phone to make a video, build something that Sphero can pull around the library, create a building out of cardboard). Challenges help students to focus. Free days are fun in moderation, as they allow students to try out things that they are interested in and explore new tools. But too many free days can often be overwhelming – too many choices, students not being sure what to work on. If I have too many free days in a row, I see my students starting to gravitate towards playing games on their phones, being destructive, etc. I love free, open exploration, and I think it plays a huge role in allowing students to explore new ideas and pursue their interests in Makerspaces. But for clubs, I find that students really benefit from being given guidelines and then making something within those guidelines. Balanced with free days or blocks of free time so that they don’t feel too restricted. It’s like Austin Kleon says: “Limitations mean freedom.” I’ll be writing more in the coming weeks about how this works in our space.
Build in a reflection piece
This is something that I’m still working on, but I think it’s super-important and takes making beyond the “messing around” phase. Find a way to have students reflect on what they’ve created and document it. This will be different for different schools. If you have 1:1 iPads, students could take pictures and write up reflections in Evernote. You could set up student accounts in Edublogs and have students blog about their projects. Or you could go low-tech with composition books. I recently created a design process worksheet that I’ve started using with my students. They write a few brief sentences or draw some sketches for each step of the design process. I’m planning on having them keep these in folders, and maybe later they can use the worksheets to create deeper reflections.
Create opportunities to share out work
Letting students share about their work is an extremely important part of the process and really helps to motivate them. Designate a sharing day or time when everyone gets to talk with the group about their projects. Set up a Skype or Google Hangout with another school and have your students share their projects with them (hello joint design challenges!). Plan a school-wide Maker Fair where students can showcase projects they’ve created. Utilize social media outlets like Twitter, Vine and Instagram to get students’ projects out into the world.
Build a community
Help your students to feel like they’re a part of a community. Come up with a name for your club together. Design t-shirts. If your school uses something like Edmodo or Edsby, create a group for your students to share ideas. If you’re able, go on field trips to local makerspaces, or bring in local makers to talk to your students. Help them to see that they’re a part of the greater maker community.
Do you run an after-school Makers Club at your school? What are some best practices you’ve picked up along the way?
Makers Club Related Posts:
- The 2015 Cardboard Challenge
- The Stewart/Lamar Catapult Challenge
- Stewart MakerFair 2015
- Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015
- Logistics of a Makerspace: Scheduling
- K’nex Club and Digital Learning Day
- K’nex Club: Making Models of Real Places
- Stewart Cardboard Challenge Wrap-up (2014)
- Makerspaces in Schools: Creating STEAM Connections (Demco)