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Session Notes: Back to Basics through Maker Spaces

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Shannon Conner
Shannon Connor

by Shannon Connor
Manager of Youth Service
Haverford Township Free Library

In recent years, Maker Spaces have become the newest trend in schools and libraries.  For many of us that work in these places, incorporating cutting edge technology can be a bit intimidating.  Fortunately, that’s where the 2nd Annual Maker Space Boot Camp put on by the School Library Media Specialists of Southeastern New York (SLMSSENY) in Poughkeepsie, NY is a huge help.

Sheri McNair and Shannon Mersand presented information on 36 different maker space products over the three day conference and most importantly, allowed the two dozen attendees precious time to explore each item.  McNair and Mersand are both school library media specialists and have been presenting on this topic together as well as how to procure funding for these materials since 2014.

With the exception of myself, everyone that attended the Boot Camp worked in a school setting, which allowed me to gain some fresh perspective on the idea of Maker Spaces.  It was clear that many of the teachers are frustrated with the lack of time in a school day for students to just explore and learn through playing.  Especially as students get older, the focus zeroes in on test-taking skills in the latter part of the school year, which ultimately results in burned out students and teachers.  Over the course of these three days, I had an epiphany that Maker Spaces have been the answer in a way to this testing cycle by taking students away from their desks, papers and pencils.

The idea of creating something from nothing or solving a problem is nothing new.  Maker Spaces are allowing schools and libraries to put the attention back on learning through discovery.  The best part is that the adults don’t have to be the experts on the materials being used either!  They merely have to provide the support through the learning process.  Even though Maker Spaces sounds like a new idea, it’s really just getting back to basics and helping to create individuals that can think critically to solve a variety of problems in innovative ways.

The conference was divided into six different playgrounds all revolving around one concept as well as six twenty-minute information sessions preceding each exploratory playground.  Below, there will be information about each product I was able to test out as well as my personal take on what would be useful for my public library from each playground.

Playground 1:  Circuitry

Circuit Maze
Made by:  ThinkFun
Website:  www.thinkfun.com
Cost:  $29.99
Audience:  Ages 8+

Squishy Circuits Deluxe Kit
Made by:  Squishy Circuits Store, LLC
Website:  https://squishycircuits.com/
Cost:  $60.00
Audience:  Ages 5+

Snap Circuits Extreme® Educational 750
Made by:  Elenco
Website: www.snapcircuits.com
Cost:  $199.99
Audience:  Ages 8-108

Sewn Circuits
Website:  http://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/sewn-circuits
Cost:  Varies
Audience:  Ages 6+

Discover Electronics Kit
Made by:  Sparkle Labs
Website:  http://www.sparklelabs.com/
Cost:  $14 and $55 (Educational Pricing available)
Audience:  Ages 6+

Paper Circuits
Website:  http://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/paper-circuits
Cost:  Varies
Audience:  Ages 4+

My favorites from the Circuitry playground included the Circuit Maze game and Squishy Circuits as they are a great introduction to circuits.  My library already owns several Snap Circuits, Jr., but I would be interested to expand our collection with additional kits. 

Playground 2:  Engineering

LEGO® Education Simple Machines
Made by:  LEGO® Education
Website:  www.legoeducation.com
Cost:  $72.95
Audience:  Ages 7+

Stick-lets Dodeka Fort Kit
Made by:  Stick-lets
Website:  https://stick-lets.com/
Cost:  $29.99
Audience:  Ages 6+

Marbleocity Mini Skate Park
Made by:  Tinkineer
Website:  https://tinkineer.com
Cost:  $29.95
Audience:  Ages 9+

Robokits Super Solar Recycler
Made by:  OWI Incorporated
Website:  www.owirobot.com
Cost:  $20.95
Audience:  Ages 8+

Zometool STEAM Kit
Made by:  Zometool, Inc.
Website:  http://www.zometool.com/
Cost:  $349.00
Audience:  Ages 6+

K’NEX Maker Sets
Made by:  K’NEX
Website:  www.knex.com
Cost:  $69.99 (Wheels) or $99.00 (Simple Machines)
Audience:  Ages 6+

While all the products had value, the Marbleocity Mini Skate Park and Robokits Super Solar Recycler did not lend themselves well to a group environment as the projects are more of a one-time only variety.  The LEGO and K’NEX Sets are always popular, explaining their longevity, while the Stick-lets would be an interesting, cost-effective addition to exploring engineering.  While I liked the Zometool STEAM Kit and how its pieces were uniquely designed, the steep price tag make it a harder sell.

Playground 3:  Fabrication with Tech

Bloxels
Made by:  Pixel Press Technology, LLC
Website:  http://bloxelsbuilder.com/
Cost:  $49.95
Audience:  Ages 5+

micro:bit
Made by:  Micro:bit Educational Foundation
Website:  http://www.microbit.org/
Cost:  $16.50
Audience:  Ages 7+

SAM Labs STEAM Kit
Made by:  SAM Labs
Website:  https://www.samlabs.com/education
Cost:  $599.00
Audience:  Ages 7+

ITTY BITTY CITY
Made by:  Microduino
Website:  https://www..microduinoinc.com
Cost:  $139.00
Audience:  Ages 8+

Lectrify Shake It and Light It
Made by:  Imagination Supply Co.
Website:  http://www.lectrify.it/
Cost:  $100 (15-pack); other kits available starting at $10
Audience:  Ages 5+

Dremel Idea Builder 3240 for EDU (3D Printer)
Made by:  Dremel
Website:  https://3dprinter.dremel.com/3d40-edu-printer-benefits
Cost:  $1599.00
Audience:  Ages 8+

Scribbler 3D Pen
Made by:  Scribbler
Website:  http://www.scribbler3dpen.com/
Cost:  $129.00
Audience:  Ages 8+ (with adult supervision)

I loved the Bloxels from this playground as they could work with a very young audience, but still easily show how the blocks can turn into a video game scene.  If I have money leftover at the end of the calendar year, I also plan to invest in at least one 3D pen as I think that’s a great first step into the world of 3D printing at a much more affordable cost. 

Playground 4:  Robots and Robotics

Robotikits 14 in 1 Educational Solar Robot
Made by:  OWI Incorporated
Website:  www.owirobot.com
Cost:  $39.95
Audience:  Ages 10+

VEX Motorized Robotic Arm
Made by:  HexBug
Website:  https://www.hexbug.com
Cost:  $79.99
Audience:  Ages 8+

Learning Station with BlueBot
Made by:  Terrapin
Website:  https://www.bee-bot.us/bluebot.html
Cost:  $169.95
Audience:  Ages 4+

Edison
Made by:  Microbric
Website:  https://meetedison.com/
Cost:  $49
Audience:  Ages 5+

Ozobot Bit
Made by:  Evollve, Inc.
Website:  http://ozobot.com/
Cost:  $59.99
Audience:  Ages 8+

Hummingbird Duo Premium Kit
Made by:  Bird Brain Technologies
Website:  http://www.hummingbirdkit.com/
Cost:  $269.00
Audience:  Ages 8+ (with adult supervision)

The Robotics Playground had items that ranged from super basic to very complex.  For a Library that will just be starting a Maker Space, I would be more inclined to start small with basic items and then add on as the need arose.  I particularly liked the BlueBot and Edison as I think they would work well for elementary school students without a lot of explanation. 

Playground 5:  Coding (Plugged)

Osmo Coding
Made by:  Tangible Play Inc.
Website:  https://playosmo.com/en/coding/
Cost:  Coding Kit $49, Game System $19
Audience:  Ages 5+

littleBits Code Kit
Made by:  littleBits
Website:  http://littlebits.cc/code-kit
Cost:  $299.95
Audience:  Ages 8+

Snap Circuits Snapino
Made by:  Elenco Snap Circuits
Cost:  $49.95
Audience:  Ages 12+

Let’s Start Coding
Made by:  Let’s Start Coding
Website:  www.letsstartcoding.com
Cost:  $40+ (various kits available)
Audience:  Ages 13+

Puzzlets
Made by:  Digital Dream Labs, LLC
Website:  https://www.digitaldreamlabs.com
Cost:  $99.99
Audience:  Ages 6+

Coding Websites
Scratch – https://scratch.mit.edu/
Hour of Code – https://hourofcode.com
Tynker – https://www.tynker.com/
MIT App Inventor – http://appinventor.mit.edu/explore/
Hopscotch – https://www.gethopscotch.com/
Made with Code – https://www.madewithcode.com/
Game Salad – http://www.gamesalad.com
I definitely gravitated more towards the basic coding materials such as Puzzlets and Osmo since I do not have as much experience with coding in general.  I did also like several of the coding websites that allowed for a basic understanding of how coding works before moving on to more complex materials. 

Playground 6:  Coding (Unplugged)

littlecodr
Made by:  littlecodr Games Inc.
Website:  http://littlecodr.com/
Cost:  $19.95
Audience:  Ages 4+

Clue Master Logical Deduction Game
Made by:  Thinkfun Inc.
Website:  http://www.thinkfun.com/products/clue-master
Cost:  $9.99
Audience:  Ages 8+ (1 player game)

Code Master Programming Logic Game
Made by:  Thinkfun Inc.
Website:  http://www.thinkfun.com/products/code-master/
Cost:  $19.99
Audience:  Ages 8+ (1 player game)

Lego Code-A-Maze
Website:  http://researchparent.com/coding-a-lego-maze/
Audience:  Ages 6+

Robot Turtles
Made by:  Thinkfun
Website:  http://www.thinkfun.com/robot-turtles/
Cost:  $22.76
Audience:  Ages 4+

Bits and Bytes
Made by:  Ironic Thought ltd
Website:  http://www.bitsandbytes.cards/
Cost:  does not currently ship to the US
Audience:  Ages 4+

I enjoyed every item in the Coding Unplugged playground!  For someone with zero coding experience, stripping coding back to the most basic functions makes it a whole lot easier to understand and to start thinking like a coder.  I particular liked the Clue Master games as they are single player and littlecodr, which can get a little silly.  This is also the most affordable playground.  I look forward to purchasing some of these items to use in a coding program in the fall! 

Over the three days, I definitely learned a lot about the varied products that exist out there for Maker Spaces, whether it be a dedicated room, mobile cart or something else entirely that someone makes.  It also reinforced the concept that making does not have to be high-tech and can start small.  If you’re at all interested in Maker Spaces, I would highly recommend attending the 3rd Annual Maker Space Boot Camp next year or at the very least, getting in touch with McNair and Mersand.  They are helping to create more forward-thinking people, one maker project at a time!

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