Makerspace Movement in Ottumwa

Joni Nicholson, Elementary Teacher-Librarian for Ottumwa Community School District

maker magnetThe Makerspace movement has created a buzz in the library-media community.  Many public libraries have embraced this opportunity to add more hands-on activities to appeal to their patrons.  But in the school setting, teacher-librarians often express many concerns about how to incorporate a Makerspace into their program with so many obstacles.  These obstacles—time, space, and budget—are not new to any of us in school libraries, but they don’t have to be roadblocks that keep you from creating a great “Makerspace” of your own.

Stacy Moran and I, both elementary librarians for the Ottumwa Community School District, teamed together to do  just that.  We were both wanting to implement some form of Makerspace in our libraries, but we were both faced with those same pesky obstacles.  With classroom teachers’ schedules already being very tight, we knew it would be a challenge to find time to add another event into the school day.  In some of the older school buildings where libraries are often confined to a classroom or a converted auditorium stage, space was another issue.  And of course, adding another item to an already meager budget seemed impossible too.  These are not concerns unique to the Ottumwa Community School District.  Most other schools face these same constraints.

maker space makeyDetermined to move ahead with our Makerspace plans despite these challenges, we knew  it would mean “thinking outside of the box.”  We tackled the first issue, time, by asking ourselves:  “What if we don’t have it as part of the normal school hours?”  “Could we find time before or after school?”  “During lunch?”  It was at this point, that we decided that Saturdays would offer the largest chunk of time for students to come and explore Makerspace activities without also running into bussing issues. And, by having it on Saturday, space also became less of an issue.

The final obstacle, which is sometimes the most daunting, was the budget.  Like most librarians, we try to use our budget resources wisely—often supplementing with our own personal funds. We are also willing to do some creative fundraising (hosting concession stands and recycled ink cartridges to earn extra cash). Grants and business partners can also be a valuable source of additional funds.  In Ottumwa, the elementary Makerspace benefited from a partnership with John Deere who supplied knowledgeable volunteers as well as funds to purchase some items from a “wish list.”

We invited fourth and fifth grade students throughout the district to sign up for our first Makerspace event in November.  We were hopeful that we would get 25-30 students interested, but we were dumbfounded when we ended up with 88 individuals on our list in a span of just three days!  We ended up holding two sessions to accommodate the number of participants.  The feedback from students who came to make catapults, electrical circuits, and Makey Makey projects was extremely positive.  Comments like “when is the next Makerspace?” are the buzz in our schools right now.

In our next step ahead, we are already thinking of some new activities to attract a variety of students to our Makerspace events.  More opportunities are in the making including additional Saturday events as well as some after school and lunch time “mini-Makerspace” moments.

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