Confessions of a maker – Maker Studio class year 1

2016-2017 Reflections:

April Reflection:

With one month left of school, we have begun recruiting for next year. We created a recruitment video to show all 8th grade students and upper school science students. Since we didn’t get a chance to recruit last year, we hope this effort drums up more excitement!

More information later as we continue our re-design of our maker course. Making in action!

February Reflection:

Though our numbers are down, we’ve continued one. Today, we used our reflections on the course as well as notes from fellow instructors on how to improve:

  • Structure the class as an ongoing project – students will submit a project proposal, budget proposal, and design proposal. Students will present projects at the end to incoming students. Students will also document their projects through an online portfolio.
  • Begin the year with approximately 6 weeks of mini-units to build students’ “toolboxes.” For instance, spend three-four classes on 3D design, two weeks on coding with Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, three classes on circuits and motors, etc. The goal is to front load all information for students to begin working. Before front-loading information, show students example projects to dream big.
  • After front-loading information, students will move through the design thinking process to propose, design, build, and re-build their projects. Students will work with a $100 budget (per student). Students will submit design proposals that will list out their budgets.
  • We intend for students to dream big and to continue working on these projects outside of class.
  • To recruit students, we will make a 2 minute promotional video to showcase to incoming 8th grade students, all science classes, and to send via email to all current students. We will also link the video on course selection forms.

More information later as we continue our re-design of our maker course. Making in action!

October Reflection:

We have finished another month of our inaugural maker studio course. And, I just wrapped up teaching the first of five sections for the course.

Two months after we began this roller coaster of a journey, I’ve come to the following revelations:

  • Be sure your course description gives a clear outline of what you will do in the course. Even though you should leave room for change, you need to make sure you outline any large requirements. For instance, journaling is a large portion of our maker studio course. Though it was mentioned in our course description, it was not given a large focus. In retrospect, we would have made clear that the course centered around an ongoing portfolio.
  • Our course is pass/fail and meets for half credit. It is also a multi-grade level course. The social dynamics and the pass/fail hit us early on. In hindsight, we would have spent a week making a small project. And, then, we would have introduced the course. Since we gave out the syllabus day 1, several students became intimidated by the workload for a pass/fail course. This also played into the social dynamics: “If my friend drops, I’m dropping because I don’t want to be alone.” We will continue to offer it multi-grade level and as a pass/fail course. However, we will adjust how we introduce the course.
  • Note that this year was only a small sample. If we had another sample of students, the content recommendations may have been entirely different. Wait at least two years before making significant changes to content in order to get a larger data sample.
  • If you read below, you will learn that we had to adjust to order of our sections right before class started. As a result, we lost our hook. In the future, we will begin with a week of exploratory making before we introduce the course. And then, we will begin with our “hook.” We will see what order the other sections will follow as we get to them.
  • Take deep breaths. Losing so many students early was a blow to our creative juices and egos. I had to remind myself that criticism is good. It’s what makes making. Remember you are like the students in your making of the course. Be patient. Be open.
  • That said, don’t take too much stock in any small group of ideas. Remember that they are a small sample. If you make changes based upon the small sample, you may alienate the rest. There is not always a winning scenario. Sometimes, you have to let a few go in order to define the course for the rest. This has been the hardest to learn – especially the first year. Our version of maker and some students’ versions are different. And, as a result, it led to frustration on both of our parts. It took letting a few drop for the class to regain a momentum and define itself. With the course moving now, I’ll be able to make the necessary revisions to avoid alienating others next year.

See below for more resources included an updated Maker Journey presentation.

September Reflection:

We are in our fourth week of school and it already feels like it should be the last week. September is hard. It’s especially difficult when you are starting something new.

After starting the beginnings of a maker program last year with a maker faire night and monthly maker parties, five teachers (including myself) took on the task of teaching a course on maker.

Last spring, we got the approval of our curriculum committee to offer a Maker Studio course, aimed at students in 9-12 grades. In proposing this class, we gathered ideas from universities like MIT, UT, and Indiana to develop a sound proposal. For our course, we wanted the students to use the design process so, we have taken our course design through the design thinking process as well.

Our design proposal: Maker Studio offers the opportunity to develop skills in ideation, design, creativity, prototyping, and collaboration.  These skills allow students to fully participate in shaping the world around them through deeper understanding of the possibilities and problems of new physical and information technologies.  This course focuses on key design elements of the Maker movement, along with how Making supports science learning by providing opportunities to deepen engagement, intentionality, innovation, collaboration, and understanding.

Maker skills provide a powerful way to inspire students’ interest, engagement, and   understanding in science.  The course is taught through cross-disciplinary hands-on projects where students will use a variety of maker tools including, but not limited to, 3D printing, Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, and Makey Makeys.  There will be a different instructor for each rotation, allowing the class to be taught by a panel of experts, where each instructor teaches a discrete unit.  Students will reflect on each project, writing a concise summary of what they did, including their design process, issues encountered, and future applications of the skill.  A digital portfolio will be kept throughout the class, and there will be periodic presentations of their projects.  The course will culminate with an individual project that incorporates several of the skills learned throughout the course.

Currently, I am the section teacher of this course so my thoughts will change as a I become a spectator teacher of the course.

Empathize: “To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.” After we took the course for approval to the curriculum committee, we spent time deciding our desired audience. At the time, we knew data suggested more middle school students attended the maker events than upper school students. However, due to scheduling restraints at the middle school, we decided to bring the course to the high school. With that, we attempted to narrow down grade levels – 9, 10, 11, 12 or all. We decided to open it to all as to not exclude anyone in year one. However, after four weeks, we have observed the social dynamics play a critical part in students staying in the course. Due to the wide spectrum of grade levels and “friend groups” in the course, some withdrew after the first day due to more of a social reason.

Defining the course: After getting approval for the course and selecting our target audience, we worked on a course design. We decided upon several main factors that would be consistent in the course. This is an area we have had to come back to many times. We got approval for the course in February. However, that left us the spring and summer and figure out the course. In a standard course, this time would not be as essential. However, in this course, it proved most important. We tried to work remotely over the summer, but in the end, we found schedules conflicted and time ran out. As a result, our definition of the course was rather weak. That affected us dramatically in the first week. We set out offer five distinct sections in the course – each taught by a different teacher. And, we decided that journals, portfolios, and projects would be our three grading elements. However, the specifics of those elements were not defined as well. As a result, we have had to spend a lot of time redefining journals, portfolios, and project design.

Ideate: “It’s not about coming up with the ‘right’ idea, it’s about generating the broadest range of possibilities.” For the purpose of course design, we are generating a broad range of possibilities as we go through the course. During the early summer, I found an alumnus who worked in renewable energy – our first topic – and after several discussions, she agreed to come talk to our students. This fueled further ideas of section field trips or speakers. The course is divided into five sections so each has its own set of ideas. Since I am teaching first, I am generating more ideas for future section teachers.

Prototype: “Build to think and test to learn.” Our prototype and testing are more or less the same. Since, we never had an audience to test on. This year will serve as our prototyping year. Next year, will be further testing. For now, I’ve included our thoughts in the testing section.

Testing: “Testing is an opportunity to learn about your solution and your user.” 

We are currently in this stage. This has been the most arduous and grueling in many ways. The design was nothing compared to the revisions that we have made along the way.

Our school has a very unique schedule so this course is running as a 1/2 credit, Pass/Fail course currently. With that, we meet 3 days of every rotation (rotation is 8 days). 2 days are 45 minutes each and 1 day  is 60 minutes.

Day 1 – all five section teachers met to introduce ourselves and the course. With a 45 minute class period, this did not leave much time for anything else. At the end of day 1, 5 of our 12 total students dropped the course. They were all freshmen and I attribute it to social reasons.

Day 2 – I began my section. Originally, we decided my section would go second. However, due to summer scheduling changes, the teacher set to go first, was no longer able to, so I went. Unfortunately, my section was not designed to be the hook. Day 2 began with an introduction into sustainability as my section is about creating a sustainable solution with recyclable and renewable resources. It was evident the class was not wanting to discuss.

Day 3 – We continued discussion of the recycling process in order to empathize. It was evident the class did not read and did not want to discuss. Students were threatening to leave.

Back to the drawing board.

Day 4 – We spent the class allowing students to give voice about the class – what do they want. After this class, we deferred to the students.

Days 5 & 6 – We allowed the students to create without giving background on sustainability (due to students saying they preferred to read on their own). Instead, students went right into building. I do not support this model, but found it was necessary to get back momentum.

Day 7 – We regained the course. As teachers, we met again to reiterate our common goals for the course – journaling, design thinking, and portfolios. After this, we got our footing back and students were thrust into prototyping.

Since beginning the course, we have set up weekly meetings among the section teachers in order to adapt the course as we go. This is crucial. I have also found that a balance between teacher voice and student voice is necessary. No voice should outweigh the other.

After day 9, we will begin the last project in my section – creating renewable resources. With the course now moving in a forward motion, I hope to reiterate the design thinking process.

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Creative inspiration

Today, I attended the LLI conference in Arlington. For today’s sessions, we split half of the 90 minutes with students. Yes, this means that the first 45 minutes we got to observe  and participate in a class. The next 45 minutes were spent debriefing with the teacher/presenter. I loved this unique format and I felt much more engaged. To finish off day one, I listened to students apply for maker grants from us. Though this student didn’t present, I loved their creative guitar, and I’m thinking of making  my own!

Maker Fashion Show

Today, I held our first maker fashion show. Though I didn’t get the volunteer turnout or the participant turnout I had hoped for, all created and all made. And, that was the goal and should always be the goal. I kept it open, minus a few ideas, for creation. The result: many  masterpieces I never dreamed of.

Learning & conversing

Today, I spent the day making and learning by making. Though I’ve been a longtime believer in learning by making, I enjoyed spending time doing what I believe. Takeaways: Why do we teach the Haiku and not question it, but we question teaching programming in schools? If you teach English, be writers, don’t just learn about writing. If you teach science, be scientists. Be rather than do.

Comic Book Making

Today, I hosted our first of two October monthly maker parties. The focus: custom shoes and duct tape costumes/accessories. Today was the middle school students’ turn so I was welcomed with plenty of enthusiasm to go around. With the excitement and creativity, my enthusiasm runneth over.



Photo transfer

This weekend, I tried a new technique on shoes to use for my makerspace with students. And, though I’ll always prefer painting my own, I was pleased with the end product and I’m excited to share it with students and teachers!

The Maker Journey

This year, I started a makerspace initiative at my new school (a private school for the first time in my career). Over the year, I decided to document it for others to use who are interested in bringing maker to their school, classroom, or district.

Check out The Maker Journey and for all things maker!

Jump start your makerspace with light sabers!

I originally posted this blog in my chasing life’s lilies blog series.

This year is our first year of having makerspaces on campus, so it’s a year of recruitment and a year to get others interested. With that in mind, I spent the first few months of the year securing spaces and resources. By December, I was ready to bring in students so I started with a maker party – code your own ugly sweater or upcycle an old book into a purse, tool box, or other accessory.

Though only a few students attended our December maker party, they started to make use of the space in their own ways. They asked if they could return to finish. They asked if they could create more. They asked when there would be more. They wanted to keep using the space. In my idealistic vision, I imagined the space as a revolving door – a place for students and faculty to come in and innovate – with hours similar to that of a library.

As more students and faculty use the space, I’ll have to solidify a few basic rules and offer some training courses on the tools. But, for now – for this first year – it’s about engagement and recruitment.

So, I decided to finish off 2016 with monthly maker parties open to all students and staff during open lunches (a time when students are not required to eat in the dining hall and teachers do not have duties). For January, I hosted a Makey Makey challenge and a light saber creation event. I split up middle school and high school students for more personalized events and better crowd control.

Today, the middle school students entered – 15 of them (we only have 200 middle school students) ready and armed to make. I assumed all were in for the light saber creation, but was pleasantly surprised when several girls asked to explore the Makey Makeys. Some even asked if they could complete some of the projects from last month.

This is the completed version

We began with an introduction of the space and how to use it most effectively. This was an important step in this makerspace since the space is rather small and has not been fully defined for maker.

After a brief introduction to the space, we were ready to create. I found this great Instructables tutorial previously (which I still recommend consulting), which I used to guide the maker event. Before sharing this with students, though, I made one myself. ALWAYS make one yourself first.

First, gather the supplies. I sectioned mine off into various corners of the makerspace for better traffic flow.


  • Clear tube guards for fluorescent bulbs (here are the ones he used). Get the T8 size. These make the blade portion of the lightsabers.
  • Small 9-LED flashlight from Walmart. The kind needed are typically found on aisle-end displays and cost $1. Here’s a link.
  • A cardboard tube that fits both the flashlight and the plastic tube guard.We used wrapping paper tubes
  • Duct tape (Any color)
  • Electrical tape
  • Peel-and-stick craft foam
  • Cutting mat
  • Hobby knife or scissors – we used scissors


  • Place items around the makerspace by step. For instance, the tube cards and the wrapping paper rolls were on the same table. 
  • Determine what is best for your office.
Tube guards and wrapping paper rolls went on same table

Example in center. Idea (plastic) mats in center with each step at a different corner of table in counter clockwise order

Next, it’s time to get to work! To make best use of the tubes, we cut ours in half. However, in the original example, he only cut off about 12 inches. It’s up to you.

We used scissors to cut the rolls and the students (12-14 year olds) did great

Then, cut the wrapping paper rolls. We measured from the base of our hand/top of wrist to the tip of our middle finger and cut. This will be the shaft. 

Now, it’s time to insert the flashlight into the wrapping paper shaft. Most wrapping paper rolls are too wide for the flashlight so we placed duct tape around the flashlight (leaving the battery end & seal open) until the flashlight could be inserted, but would not fall out if we held up the wrapping paper roll.

Duct tape of any color to top of flashlight

After, students inserted the clear tube into the wrapping paper shaft (with flashlight). Again, the wrapping paper rolls are typically to wide so we added duct tape to the base of the clear tube until it would insert into the wrapping paper shaft without sliding out easily.

Then, we removed the black plastic covering at the end of the tube. In it’s place, we placed a piece of duct tape (sticky side up) on top of the hole (leave a little on the sides so that it hangs out – you’ll clean this up later). Then, we put the plastic covering back on, securing the duct tape. To make sure the light does not escape, you may need to wrap electrical tape around the top and sides of the plastic covering. I had to do this for mine and so did the students.

Now begins the aesthetic stage. I put duct tape over my wrapping paper shaft for cosmetic effect. It was not necessary. I also put electrical tape at the end and top of the shaft to secure it and make it look more polished. In this step, you can cut out the peel and stick foam to add grips to your shaft. Be creative and have fun.

In the final step, we colored the tubes with permanent marker. And, then, we used a low grade sand paper to sand down and diffuse the color. This helped diffuse the light.

Now, your students are ready to wage light saber war. And…hopefully, this will help jump start your makerspace. The key is finding topics that catch your students’ attention. Here is a list of our maker parties for reference.

Happy making!

Seeking Wonder Junkies: Year one of a makerspace

Since I first published this post, I’ve held two monthly maker parties, including a January party for creating your own light sabers. Click here to read about our Light Sabers journey. 

In February, we made paper circuit Valentines and, in March, we made cardboard obstacle courses for our Sphero. We also made a Virtual reality tour of it in the Google Cardboard Camera app. 

Next month, we have an Earth Day-themed Maker Party with upcycling coffee bags and turning soda bottles into solar panels. We’ll finish the year by turning laundry detergent bottles into ukuleles and coding our own music with Arduinos. You can check out our full list of maker parties here

Though we had an initial goal of creating four mini makerspaces this year, we only have one going. That said, I’ve found that makerspaces grow up. As there becomes an interest and a need, they sprout. And though, I’d love a large innovation studio, the grassroots mini makerspaces fill a need. 

This week, our middle school Spanish classes are completing a variety of maker projects. Then, they are filming Spanish tutorials of how to create the maker projects. These will go up on their YouTube channel or a private Google Drive folder from now. 

Since the end goal is to bring maker into the classroom, I see this as an major step. Regardless of whether there is a designated spaces, there should be maker thought moving into the classroom.

In April, we are hosting a family coding night. And, in May, we are wrapping up the year of the maker with a Superhero maker night. Stay tuned for updates and details!


I originally shared this post in my Chasing Lilies blog.

“Would like me to make you a birthday cake,” my three year-old niece, Emma, screamed as she climbed onto the kitchen stool. 

“Of course! What will you make me?” I asked as she looked through the kitchen drawer for supplies.

“Ummmm…how about a dragon cake!” she squealed louder. “Dragons are soooo cute! The cake can roar and the dragon can jump out of it,” she exclaimed, getting more animated as the ideas came. 

At three, Emma’s a wonder junkie. 

Emma reached for every color of food coloring and dumped them in the icing. “No!” someone yelled from the corner. “You don’t want all of those colors in there. Pick three.”

At three, Emma’s told how something is supposed to appear. 

Emma grabbed the plastic spatula of a thousand colors and dumped it on the cake, crumbling beneath her. What remained was a crater of color. 

She beamed. “Happy birthday, Christy! It’s a dragon! Rawrrrrr! Do you like it?” 

What’s not to like? 

(Dragons are fictional, right?)

We assign preconceived ideas of how something should be to tasks that are meant to be holistic. We assign random numbers to learning development. We say that a seven year-old must be doing a set of tasks and, if they are not, they are failing. We assign right and wrong values to art. We decide how a fictional character like a dragon should appear. 

In our efforts to standardize education, we’ve stopped behaving as wonder junkies. Somewhere along the journey, we have started behaving like correctional officers. Wonder does not need to be corrected. It needs to be cultivated and then, shared. 

I challenge you to bring back the wonder. Even in restrictive environments, there is room for wonder. There is room for making. We are all makers. But, only some of us recognize it. 

Recently, I took the wonder junkie challenge to my staff. Not only is it my first year at a private school, it’s my first year at this private school, and it’s the first year for my position at this school. It’s a year of firsts. So, it seemed perfect to introduce the idea of the makerspace. 

To get the climate ready for the idea, though, involves patience and willingness to explore for a year. During that first year: 

  1. Organize a focus group of students and staff who are excited about the idea of making (start with the passionate folks in order to generate momentum).
  2. Meet monthly with the focus group to establish the direction of the makerspace. For instance, will you have a classroom-based makerspace, a library makerspace, an after school makerspace, or several makerspaces around the school. We opted for several smaller makerspaces that each focus on a topic of interest (coding, wearables, recycling, etc.)
  3. Host monthly maker parties. I made this list for our school year. These should be both high tech and low tech activities to bring in a diverse crowd. Keep each party limited to two activities for easy management. I kept the parties to 45 minutes. However, I found that students came throughout the next few days to the space to finish; thereby encouraging the use of a makerspace
  4. Hold a kickoff party. We did this in the form of a Maker Night or a Maker Faire. We staged nearly ten booths plus a photo booth and invited all staff, students, and families. 
Create a space for wonder. Once you create that space and cultivate the climate, allow for it to shape itself. 

The kickoff party started with 8 booths:
  • 3D Printing
  • Google Cardboard
  • Cardboard Arcade Challenge
  • Upcycling
  • Raspberry Pi Tinkering
  • Makey Makey Challenge
  • Short Circuit Robots
  • 6 Word Memoir Stop Motion Animation
However, it evolved into so much more

Students found duct tape, LEDs, cardboard, C-Cell batteries, and cell phones to make talking robots

Students wrote their life in 6 words, drew it, and then animated it with stop motion

Students disassembled old electronics and created new inventions

They turned computer parts into jewelry

They used SketchUp to construct their own structures and then, 3D printed them

They made their own virtual reality tours with Cardboard Camera

They turned cardboard into fortune telling machines

They made messes – lots of them. And, it was okay.

They created without instruction – only ideas

They explored

They turned bananas into music

They set up stands made from recycled materials

They turned books into art kits
They had snacks (for extra encouragement)

Most importantly, they had fun

 It evolved into engagement and excitement. There were no rules of what something was supposed to be or not be. It was holistic. 

We are born to be makers. We are born to tinker and explore. However, we have been trained to follow a formula.  

Break the formula and get started. We are 9 months into our maker journey. We do not know where it will go or how long it will take and we’re okay with that. 

Check out the Spartan Maker page for a detailed account of our Maker Year. Need some more inspiration? Check out making over your library (presentation) and for all things maker.