Monday, April 11, 2016

Labels For All That STUFF!

Donations are an amazing boon to a MakerSpace!  Without a working budget (all our finances have come from grants thus far), we wouldn't survive without the "stuff" given to us by families and community members.  Excitingly, this is elementary school, and children figure out a way to use just about every recycled item that enters our doors, making it worth the work to sort it all.  It is worth finding a way to organize all of these donations that makes them easily available for makers between the ages of 5-8, but we're swiftly finding that this is MUCH easier said than done!

A huge part of fostering a "growth mindset" in children (a MAJOR goal for an elementary makerspace) is empowering student decision making.  Therefore, supplies need to be organized in a way that puts responsibility in the students' court.   Students should be making decisions about what supplies they'll need for a given project.   It should then follow that if THEY got the stuff out for themselves, then THEY understand the need to put it back and should make decisions about where the stuff should be go.  This is vital if we want students to take ownership in keeping the space neat and clean.  HOWEVER, and herein lies the rub- if we expect students to put items away, then the items must be organized in a way that makes sense, and often in a way that doesn't depend on excessive amounts of text on labels and signs to tell students where things should go.  So, we're working our way through the process of organizing and labeling our supplies to facilitate these processes.

(There it is again!  Can you hear how starting a MakerSpace IS a MakerSpace project?  There are quite a few places where we need to stop and reflect, or "think really hard about how to make it better," as the new Class Dojo video series explains for us.)

When we started our Take-Apart Tech Station, it was clear that we would need to label the technology that was OKAY to take apart.  Our working iPads and Chromebooks need to stay in one piece.

In much the same way, we need to label bins in a way that shows what items are okay to use and take home, and what items need to remain in the space.  For example, random wooden beads and blocks are consumable, but the bin of Matchbox cars is not- they need to stay and be available for testing ramps and such.

Some items are easy to label.  The word "consumable" clearly says that an item can be used up, so we use that on our labels of stuff kids CAN use up and take home.  Consumable items have labels that look the same- they say "Consumable Supplies" in green, which students are coming to recognize even if they can't read very well.  So far, so good.

Now we need to decide how to clearly mark the items that need to REMAIN in the space and NOT be used up.  We're wrestling with what words, or colors, or symbols should carry the meaning of being a permanent fixture in the space.  The decisions don't stop there.  Other labeling may also be needed, which we're discovering as issues arise:

  • Should we put clear directions on the bin of glue guns that state that cords must be rewound?  
  • Do we need to label pencils as NOT being consumable?  (We thought they would obviously be a TOOL that stays, but alas, half of our pencils have already ended up glued into projects.)   
  • Our tables, which are fantastically large and on rollers BUT are unfinished wood, are getting marked and painted up.  Should we put labels or signs in the middle of our tables that remind people to put a work mat down when using markers, glue, etc?
  • What items need to at least be labeled with our name, "Creation Station," so that they don't wander away into other classrooms?  Teachers are busy and have pockets, so often will mindlessly snag something like scissors and never realize they swiped it.
  • How should cleaning supplies be labeled so that people use them, and use them appropriately?  For that matter, how do we post visual reminders to clean up?

All of these issues would we easier if our space was staffed by the same person who could reiterate the expectations to class after class, but we don't have that luxury.

So we plod on, excitedly mind you, since we wouldn't have these issues if we didn't have this new MakerSpace.  If we want the space to be sustainable, the development of clear labeling and signage should be a focus.  Well HEY- we have a growth mindset!  We just haven't figured these issues out YET!