COVID Library Update Part 3: Our Makerspace in the Time of COVID

COVID Library Update Part 3: Our Makerspace in the time of COVID - How we continued to host afterschool Maker Days while keeping students safe.

This is a multiple post series.  Part 1 gave an overview of what my school has been doing during COVID and how my library’s physical space has adapted.  In Part 2, I shared about programs I’ve done to encourage reading, plus collaborations with teachers.  For this last post, I’ll share how we’ve adapted our makerspace activities to make them work in our current environment.

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I actually wrote this post up months ago, but I’ll blame pandemic brain on the fact that it’s taken me this long to publish it.  As I’m getting ready to gear up for restarting our Maker Days again this year, I felt this would be a good time to reflect back on last year.  And since all of our schools are in different places right now with masking and distancing and vaccinations, I’m hoping there are things we can all gain from sharing our experiences of how our libraries worked this past year.

Building cardboard ramps for Sphero
Building cardboard ramps for Sphero

Bringing Back Activities in our Makerspace, Slowly

During the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, I didn’t have any makerspace activities.  There was so much stress and anxiety and such a complicated schedule that I didn’t want to add one more thing, both to my own plate and to students.  However, I heard from many students that they missed having our afterschool maker sessions.  And gradually, we began to learn what was and was not safe with the virus, and we were finding ways to restart clubs and allow for limited afterschool activities.

Starting Maker Days

In the second semester, I reintroduced our afterschool makerspace time as Maker Days.  Several days a week after school, a small group of students came into the library (masked up and socially distanced) to work on projects and design challenges.  I focused on activities that made it easier to allow distance (Sphero, 3D design for 3D printing, supplies that I have enough of to batch into smaller amounts) and things that can be easily sanitized or are consumable.  I had great group of students coming regularly – I think we were all just eager to have some sort of social interaction again.  

I’ll admit that I had to remind them frequently about the 6ft rule, but I feel like it was worth it to be able to get students back into our library and makerspace again.  Now that we’re in the 2021-2022 school year continuing to requite masks and moderate social distancing, I feel confident that I can take what I learned last year and start up our maker activities earlier in the year.

A LEGO maze for Sphero
A LEGO maze for Sphero

Offer multiple opportunities

We originally had Maker Days on Mondays and Tuesdays to accommodate both groups of students, but eventually that expanded into every day after school because students were so eager to keep working on projects.  Having multiple days also made it easier to avoid having more students that we could manage in the space at once.

Spacing out at library tables
Using our library tables area to space out during Maker Days

Focus on activities that allow distance

To keep more distance during our Maker Day sessions, I would often spread out materials on the library tables and have students go in and out of the IDEAlab is they needed supplies in there.  The types of activities that worked the best for us were:

  • Things were we had enough supplies for students to spread out and have their own materials – LEGOs, K’nex, cardboard construction
  • Consumable-ish supplies where I didn’t need to worry about sanitizing – Cardboard, recyclables, Strawbees, paper circuits, magazine collages
  • Activities where students don’t have to be close to what they’re working on all the time – Sphero and other remote controlled robots, 3D design and printing

 

Students learning how to use Sphero
Students learning how to use Sphero

Individual activities and design challenges that students loved:

  • 3D printing and design – Students worked through TinkerCAD tutorials and then e-mailed me files to print.  One 7th grader worked diligently on a model of the planets for several iterations until he got it the way he wanted it.
  • Sphero ramp/obstacle course challenge – Students used cardboard, LEGOs and other materials to design ramps, mazes and obstacle courses for Sphero.  This was by far one of the most popular things we did.  Students kept returning day after day to challenge themselves – How tall can make a ramp where it still works?  How long?  What modifications can we make to help Sphero make it over?
  • Paper circuits – A classic, and students loved it.  One set of sisters came back after the session to make a paper circuit card for their father’s birthday.
  • Sphero and Dash chariots – Students designed chariots and other vehicles that would be power by Sphero or Dash.  Most used cardboard, recycled materials, and/or K’nex.

Low-tech activities

  • K’nex racer challenge – we build ramps out of cardboard and K’nex cars to race down them
  • LEGO free build – I had a lot of students tell me that they wanted an opportunity to free build with LEGOS.  We had houses, Porg-mobiles, weather stations, towers and all sorts of creations with this.
  • Cardboard Game Challenge – Students had to create a game that could be played using cardboard as their primary material.  We had a marble run, a skee ball game, a video game controller.  My personal favorite was a cardboard Quidditch stadium with toothpick brooms.
    • See my previous posts on Cardboard challenges in 2016 and 2015
  • Strawbees flying contraptions – We used Strawbees, paper, tape and other consumable materials to make things that fly, float and glide.  The library is on the 3rd floor and there’s a stair landing in front of it. We used this area to test our designs by dropping them the half floor distance. (Note: We have the older version of the STEAM School Kit, but smaller kits like the one linked to above should work fine for most groups.  The newer version looks great if you have the funds available)
  • Recycled book art – I keep a stash of weeded books, and students used them to create different projects, mostly along the lines of collage and decoupage.  A few students collaged onto glass jars.  This is a project idea I plan to reuse in the future because the results are really awesome.

Were you able to keep makerspace activities going in your library last year (virtually or in-person)?  What did they look like for your school?

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