The IDEAlab & Makerspace is my school’s space for creative exploration in our library. But not too long ago, the room was the librarian’s office and a storage space (it’s still my office too). Before I was hired in the summer of 2017, plans were in place to transform the room into a virtual reality laboratory. Cabinets were removed, desks were installed and computers with VR headsets were setup, as well as a 3D printer. A whiteboard and interactive projector were mounted on the wall, allowing airplay from Apple devices (the school is 1:1 iPad) or projection of students individual computer screens, making it easier for more students to observe VR. The name IDEAlab (Innovate Design Explore Apply) was chosen. So on my first day, the IDEAlab already existed. But the makerspace was yet to come.
My experience with VR consisted of owning a Virtual Boy as a kid (I wish I’d held onto that thing) and trying out headsets at conferences. To be honest, I get motion sickness pretty easily and can’t stay in VR for very long. But now that I was in charge of a virtual reality lab, I had to get acquainted. So I tried out different apps. I read articles about ways to incorporate VR into the curriculum. An Upper School VR Development Club started up and I asked the students lots and lots of questions about the projects they were working on. And I gradually got the hang of things.
I certainly don’t consider myself a VR expert now. But I feel familiar and comfortable enough with it now to help students navigate it and help teachers find ways to tie it in with their curriculum. Which is another example of how sometimes in makerspaces, we have to learn new things that we may not feel super-comfortable with from the get-go, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it.
Expanding with Maker Mondays
My first semester (Fall 2017) was about getting to know the school, acclimating to the culture and setting intentions for the changes I wanted to see. The librarian before me had been there over twenty years, so it’s not like you can change things overnight. My second semester (Spring 2018) I started up our afterschool Maker Mondays program. Every week afterschool, from 3:30-4:30, I would announce a different theme. Recycled Book Art one week. Paper circuits the next. I offer two regular sessions at least twice a semester – Intro to 3D printing and Intro to VR. These sessions act as orientations that allow students to use the equipment in the IDEAlab during their study halls or other times throughout the day.
Year 2 (2018-2019): Picking Up the Pace
By the beginning of Year 2, I started feeling more comfortable in my new space. I was able to start making some significant changes that were shifting the culture of the library and the student perception of the space – such as getting detention out of the library and creating conversation zones for study hall. Year 2 also brought a new crop of 9th graders who hadn’t been at our school for middle school, so they didn’t have the preconceived notions of what the library was like before.
Maker Mondays continue to have a small core group, but this year more uses of the space have naturally evolved. I have several students who like to use the space to work on coding projects during their study hall. I have a core group of students who are obsessed with 3D printing and design and hang out in the IDEAlab whenever they can to talk about plans for their next project and see what’s printing. We also got a donation of $10,000 to help improve the IDEAlab, allowing the purchase of more supplies, physical improvements to the space and the purchase of more books for the library on maker topics.
The IDEAlab and Makerspace continue to evolve and be shaped by the students. My goals for the future include:
- Increasing middle school involvement in the space by collaborating with middle school teachers more.
- Proposing a design thinking elective for middle school (and maybe upper school as well) that I would teach in the space
- Possibly securing a larger space and/or creating additional design spaces in the library during renovations in a few years.
And of course, throughout this process, I’m getting feedback from my students. I’m asking questions and listening carefully for their answers. Our makerspace has already evolved in ways I didn’t predict because of what my students wanted to see in the space. I’m looking forward to seeing what dreams we come up with next.