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Makerspaces Make Sense

Interview with Elaine Cameron 

*This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Kids & Books.*

Kids & Books editor Kathy Stewart visited Duke School in Durham, N.C. and chatted with Middle School Media Specialist Elaine Cameron about creating a makerspace.

Q: How did you get the idea for a makerspace?

A: The idea of starting a makerspace grew over a period of time with conversations initiated by Katie Christo, our instructional tech specialist: "Wouldn't it be nice to have a 3D printer?" "Where would we put it?" and "Wouldn't a makerspace make sense in a learner-centered school?" We both were also hearing things when we talked to our counterparts in other schools, attended conferences, and read professional journals, listservs, feeds, etc. 

At the beginning of this school year, Katie decided to talk to administrators and make it happen. She came up with a plan and approached administrators. She also set up an opportunity for us to visit Splatspace, a local hackerspace in downtown Durham. Katie and I ran a Maker Exploration (one week opportunity to take an hour long elective for 2 days) in the fall. It helped us gauge who was interested. We currently do not have a dedicated space. Katie is running it in a teaching space after school. Our goal is to eventually have a space, hopefully somewhere in or close to the library since we would both like to be involved. Craig Varley (my University of North Carolina library school intern) works with her and the kids one afternoon a week.

Q: Talk about your technology colleague, and the input she provided?

A: You can see from the above that it was not a matter of approaching her. We constantly run ideas past each other and work together collaboratively supporting the kids in the library and with technology. We are specialists in our own areas but also recognize how much our roles overlap. She has definitely been the lead in making this happen.

Q: Fortuitous that you had an intern; what was his role?

A: Craig immediately wanted to jump in and help. He asked to be included to help run the makerspace with Katie. Fairly quickly we realized that kids needed resources. It was Craig's idea to order the books and set up the maker display in the library. His suggestions for locating books:

We have a small but growing list of maker books covering electronics, coding, paper crafts, and carpentry. Some were already in the collection and are old but useful books. Most are new. Make Magazine is a publisher as well, and several of these books come from them. The magazine reviews relevant books also, sometimes by kids. We are focusing on middle school coding books, so far just Python and the easy-to-use Scratch. Common maker technologies such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi have tutorial books we have, or will purchase. A good way to find such titles is by becoming moderately familiar with some of the basic technologies and practices. I found some titles by using these technologies/practices as keywords in a quick Amazon search. There are a growing number of books available. We try to focus on a broad range of possible making practices and hopefully the collection will reflect this. The ones we included in our display are all nonfiction. Some of the fiction we wanted to include, like Cory Doctorow's Makers was not appropriate for our kids. 

Craig suggested starting up a coding group that meets in the library once a month at lunch/recess. We are also talking about running some maker shares in the library at lunchtime where kids could share what they have made.

Q: Talk about the response from the students -- how many took part? Girls and guys?

A: We wanted to start small so we began with two grade levels -- fifth and sixth.  Anyone could join.  We have both boys and girls.  Currently, we have five boys and four girls.

Q: What are future plans for this project?

A: We want to add seventh and eighth grade.  Work on getting a more permanent location hopefully close to the library.  Add more resources.  We still want that 3-D printer!

Q: What suggestions do you have for librarians who'd like to replicate this program?

A: Have conversations among interested faculty and administrators to get ideas and identify people to make it happen.  Run something small like our exploration to get your feet wet. Visit a makerspace somewhere.

Want more books for your middle grade makers? Download this bookmark of 9 nonfiction picks for books full of DIY spirit, selected by Autumn Winters, Juvenile Content Specialist at NoveList. 

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Elaine Cameron is a teacher-librarian at Duke School, a project-based school in Durham, North Carolina.