The FabLab Story: Making a Makerspace
Last year I created a makerspace in my room. I called it the FabLab because, obviously, we would be making fabulous things. It was open two mornings a week, two lunches a week, and during our enrichment period. I started collecting a lot of recyclables and tools and craft supplies. Got a few soldering irons, a 3D printer, and a power drill. I was ready to go. Ready for kids to come in and make stuff and take stuff apart and be inspired and excited. So, that didn't really happen. They just didn't get it. They would come in and want me to give them a project to work on and then wait for me to find them something else to do. I would try to throw it back to them and then they wouldn't come back because that was too much work. I had a few kids that got it. There was the one group that made a dress out of playing cards and poker chips and then made a dress form out of duct tape so they had someplace to display it. I got some kids hooked on felting and of course everyone loves to take electronics apart. There were the kids who loved to solder and gave jewelry a shot. But there were also lots of coloring and paper flowers and empty FabLab open hours.
If you are a teacher reading this and thinking you can't do this because you could never afford it, I need you to know that I run my makerspace totally on donations. The is one of the things that makes me the most proud (and stressed out). I use donor's choose, I got a grant, and I ask for money from the principal (very rarely, less than $100 total since I opened last September). I put in announcements and get things like recyclables, old craft supplies, and dead electronics. I hit up the local grocery store for cardboard boxes. My goal is to never ask a child for money to do something in the FabLab. Depending on what they chose to do, they may have to bring in some supplies but I have plenty of stock for them to use for complete projects as well. This year I have kids who have put a FabLab fundraiser on their genius hour idea list. It would make my life easier to have some money stashed away but we are making it without that right now.
This year, I made a plan to start year two. Two mornings a week, two lunches a week, and enrichment time like last year but this year I would offer workshops: cardboard creation for the local tinkerfest and paper mache 3D letters. I would also offer FabLab Free Time once a week. Week one came around. 3D letters were a big hit. The next day was FabLab Free Time, I had some plans just in case. The kids came in and I told them some things I had to they could use. It was crazy!!! Within 5 minutes I had different activities going at each of the tables in my room and none of them were my idea. There was a group on the floor planning to upcycle a dress that was left here from a genuis hour project someone started last year. There was a group digging through our limited amount of jewelry supplies planning what they needed so they could learn to solder the next day. There was a table of kids on laptops helping each other use tinkercad to design some stuff for the 3D printer. There were the take apart kids actually harvesting parts to reuse for real things like their remote control cars or broken computer at home. I was amazed, I thought I might cry. I couldn't believe it. It was like a feeding frenzy of creativity. Who were these kids and where did they come from? I have been busy ever since. I had to give the workshop concept to other teachers because we needed more time for free time. Very rarely do I have a lonely lunch time. I have one self contained class who comes in to socialize and crat during lunch. I have regulars who never miss an open time. There is excitement about a possible fashion show later this year. I am soon going to be out of wire and really need more beads and jewelry finding (Hello Donor's Choose!!), It has been amazing and I hope it continues.
I am so proud of what I have created. It has been a lot of research looking for the ideas, getting donations and grants, and hustling for everything we needed. It wouldn't have happened without help though. There has been so much support from my administrators and fellow teachers. Lots of donated toilet paper rolls and plastic bag and whatever odd things they find they think we can use. There have been numerous shared links and tweet and some loans from the principals fund. I am pretty sure we are the reason that several of them finally got rid of that old laptop or broken vaccuum or old coffee maker. There has also been support from my friends at the Amazeum. They've been my sounding board when other people have no idea what I am talking about. They've helped me get supplies and given us inspiration to try new things.