The Stewart Makerspace Journey

The Stewart Makerspace Journey | The story of the first two years of creating a makerspace in a middle school.

The Stewart Middle Magnet School Library Makerspace Journey

I first started my makerspace journey at Stewart Middle Magnet School in January 2014 with a few bins of K’nex spread out on some library tables.  It then grew and expanded into a thriving program and a vital part of the library and school.  Take a look back at our journey and see what we learned along the way.

The Makerspace changed, grew and evolved since it was first conceived and started in January 2014.  Follow along with the first two years of the story here.  Hopefully, it will inspire you to start your own Maker journey 🙂

(Note: I left Stewart in May 2017, but the makerspace there continues to grow.  Check out their Twitter feed to see how they’re doing)

Quick Background on Stewart

Our school was originally Blake High School, a segregated high school that opened in the 1950s.  The school has gone through many transformations since then.  We have been a STEM magnet school since 2000 and have students attending from all over Hillsborough County, which is the 8th largest school district in the United States.  Our school is 70% free or reduced lunch, and our student body is about 65% boys, 35% girls, with our racial breakdown at approximately 35% African American, 30% Hispanic, 30% white.

Our school has a focus on engineering, robotics, aerospace and video game design.  We are a NASA Explorer School and visit Kennedy Space Center on field trips several times a year.

January 2014:

I first began to learn about Makerspaces and the Maker Education Movement.  Since I began at Stewart, I had always wanted to find a way to incorporate STEM concepts into our library, and I was intrigued by the idea of STEM focused centers.  I started incorporating more creativity into our programs with a Rainbow Loom bracelet fundraiser.   To learn more, I began reading everything I could find about Makerspaces, including books like Invent To Learn and Design, Make, Play.  I followed the work of Laura Fleming, who was one of the only school librarians I knew of at the time with a makerspace.

At this point, I began sharing my vision of starting a library makerspace with pretty much anyone who would listen.  I learned from our lead science teacher that the science department had several bins of K’nex and LEGOs gathering dust in storage.  With a little coaxing from the Twitter community, I took the first steps towards our Makerspace by leaving them out on a table and inviting students to play with them.  On January 29, 2014, our Makerspace was born and our makerspace journey began.

Our Makerspace on Day 1
Our Makerspace on Day 1

February 2014

My school began piloting 6th grade clubs, so I created a K’nex club.  We met every other week for an hour.  I first piloted design challenges with this group of students, and we had tons of fun building projects together.  It was a great way to start building a Maker Culture in our school.

We made videos and Skyped with a local elementary school for Digital Learning Day.  I started adding the Maker Movement into our regular programs by bringing in duct tape crafts and K’nex at our quarterly reading incentive party.  Towards the end of this month, we held our first Maker DonorsChoose project to get Snap Circuits and a K’nex Solar Energy kit, and it was funded in two weeks!  DonorsChoose went on to become one of the main sources of funding for our makerspace.

Adding Snap Circuits to our space
Adding Snap Circuits to our space

March/April 2014

Our K’nex club continued, building models of London monuments for our Spring Bookfair.  Lots of parents visiting the bookfair comment on them.   We participated in Teen Tech Week with Perler bead stations, Snap Circuits, and a K’nex rocket design contest (and it was written up by School Library Journal).  The Perler beads were so popular, that we left them out long after Teen Tech Week was over.  They went on to become a core part of our makerspace.

I visited the local Gulf Coast MakerCon and started making connections with local Makerspaces. Continuing my research, I was also knee-deep in reading more MakerEd publications.

Our K'nex club working on a design challenge
Our K'nex club working on a design challenge

May 2014

I recruited a team of students who were interested in helping plan our Makerspace.  They gave me some great ideas to work towards, and they helped plan and run our first ever Mini MakerFaire.  Tampa Hackerspace visited with their 3D printers, we had MaKeyMaKey games, Perler art, Snap Circuits, and DIY playdoh and slime demos.  It was a HUGE hit with parents and students and a great way to introduce what we were doing to our community.  We wrote a Lowes Toolbox for Education grant, which funded creating a flexible instruction space (adjacent to our Makerspace)  We also got DonorsChoose projects for 10 MaKeyMaKey kits and Hokki stools funded.  I spent some time reflecting on the past several months of Making and start creating plans for the next year.  We also received a grant to purchase books relating to Making (I just didn’t post it until July)

We made DIY slime at our first Mini Makerfaire
We made DIY slime at our first Mini Makerfaire

June/July 2014

After attending ISTE 2014, I came back with tons of new ideas for our Makerspace.   Using funds from our Lowes grant, I gathered a crew of volunteers to help repaint the library.  As we were repainting and rearranging everything, I started to put together some concrete plans about what our future Maker Corner will look like.  I pitched the idea of an after-school STEAM Maker club to my administration and they supported the idea, paving the way to our on-going after school program.  Two days later, I found out that our school has won a littleBits Pro Library!

Planning out the Maker Corner
Planning out the Maker Corner

 August-November 2014

Our Epic Library LEGO Wall project finally came together (Part1, Part2), becoming a centerpiece and focal point of our makerspace.

We start our after-school club out working in conjunction with the after-school care program.  We also start up during-school STEAM clubs that meet once a month with each grade level for about an hour.  This is a part of a during-school club program that our school has started.

With the after-school group, we focused on the Cardboard challenge, and created all sorts of cool arcade games with cardboard, including The Best Game Ever.  The during school STEAM clubs focused on arts and crafts projects, LEGOs, K’nex and Coding.  My students have loved having this opportunity to bring some creativity into their day.  The arts and crafts projects were so popular, we raised funds through DonorsChoose to get more supplies.  This also raised money for us to create our Whiteboard wall.

Our Epic LEGO Wall
Our Epic LEGO Wall

December 2014

Our afterschool STEAM club began collaborating with Colleen Graves’ students at Lamar Middle School in Texas.  Our first challenge was the Catapult Challenge, where we built catapult projects and shared them through Google Hangouts.  This challenge gradually evolved into the “make something that flings something” challenge.  We participated in the Hour of Code, bringing several classes into the library to work with  We built an awesome littleBits RC car that got lots of attention on social media.

Our after-school club in a Google Hangout
Our after-school club in a Google Hangout

Spring 2015

Our Makerspace celebrated its first birthday 🙂  It was amazing to take a look back and see how much had happened in those first 365 days.  It was around this time that I started doing more to share what we were doing at our school and offer advice to others on starting makerspaces.  I had already presented once at FAME; in January I got to share at FETC and the FETC Executive Summit about how we started our space.  It was exciting to watch other educators discovering the Maker Movement for the first time.

I began to spend more time bringing our makerspace into my collaborations with teachers.  We started a project to learn about aquaponics and build an aquaponics system in our library.  We also made models of coral reefs out of LEGOs and K’nex.

It was also around this time that I received the criticism that our makerspace was not a “real makerspace” because we didn’t have power tools, which led me to reflect on how we define makerspaces.

We held our 2nd Annual Maker Fair, which was even more awesome than the first one.  I also took several students and parents to Gulf Coast Maker Con, a local maker event, continuing to add outreach and sharing into our program.

Summer 2015

I didn’t spend as much time in our makerspace this summer because I was on the road sharing about what we were doing.  In July I went to ISTE in Philadelphia where I shared about our makerspace in a poster session and in two panels.  I also spent some time taking the Tinkering MOOC with the Exploratorium, where I reflected on how we could add more tinkering experiences into our space.

Our Makerspace at one year old
Our Makerspace at one year old
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Fall 2015

This fall saw the launch of our full-on afterschool STEAM club program.  In 2014-2015, I had run a small club in conjunction with our aftercare program.  In 2015-2016, we began piloting an afterschool STEAM program sponsored by our STEM Booster Club.  It consists of five separate clubs, including gaming, art, space, robotics and my Stewart Makers Club.  We charged a fee of $25 a semester to help pay for supplies and teachers were paid with extended learning funds.

We also continued the during school clubs we had before and starting adding to that program with DonorsChoose projects for art supplies, Dash and Dot, Spheros and more.

All of our students now only know of a library that has a makerspace in it; it’s become the norm for them.  We have groups of students tinkering in our space throughout the day; teachers have started using it as an incentive for students.  I’ve also started bringing our makerspace into even more collaborations with teachers.

Fall 2015 lead to lots of opportunities to share about our space and inspire others.  I was honored to have our library featured in School Library Journal when I won the Build Something Bold Award.  I shared about how we started our space at AASL to a packed room.  I held my first makerspace workshop and playground at FAME.

The library looks very different now than it did before 2014.  There’s always a buzz of activity and joy in the space.  I left Stewart in 2017, but the makerspace goes on 🙂

Cardboard robot made at Stewart Makers
Cardboard robot made at Stewart Makers
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Our makerspace in action during lunch
Our makerspace in action during lunch

18 thoughts on “The Stewart Makerspace Journey”

  1. HI. I love the idea of the Lego Wall. Are you able to elaborate on how it is effectively being used in schools – elementary and middle school? Is it just for after school Lego club?

    • Hi Margo,

      Our LEGO wall is in the main area of our library and is accessible to all of our students during library hours. Many come on free-time passes that their teachers write them as incentives for finishing their work on time. We also have passes for students to come to the library during lunch, and many use it then. We have during and after-school STEAM clubs, and both of those groups also use the LEGO wall. We are a middle school, so our students are grades 6-8.

  2. I love the Lego Wall. I am creating a Makerspace area in the library in an elementary school. What kind of material is the wall made out of? Did you purchase it? Thanks

  3. Inspiring! I am brainstorming my classroom makerspace now and thinking through ground rules. I foresee situations surrounding students wanting to save their unfinished work for later and/or not wanting to take apart a wonderful creation they made etc. Any thoughts or insight would be much appreciated! 🙂

    • I have some shelves called the “in-progress” shelves where students can store projects to continue working on them. I have a disclaimer up there that we will periodically have to take things apart and clear off the shelves to make room for new creations.

  4. I am starting a K’nex club at our school – our first meeting is tomorrow and I’m a bit nervous! Did you make up a list of rules for your makerspace? Do you mind sharing them if you did? Thanks 🙂

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