By Rebecca Hoskins

We are recruiting new Maker VISTAs for the 2017-2018 term, and I’m excited to write a plug for the Maker Ed VISTA position in the Ravenswood Makerspace Collaborative.

 

 Americorps volunteers commit to serving for one year, and a VISTA’s role is primarily indirect service. This means that instead of working directly with clients, community members or students, we focus on building the capacity of the nonprofit to which we are assigned. Building capacity in our case means we do lots of administrative and project-based work to increase the number of students the makerspaces serve and to improve the quality of that service. Things like preparing donated computers for makerspace use, recruiting and coordinating makerspace volunteers, planning professional development activities and events, and writing curricula are just a few examples of the many capacity-building projects Jennifer Torres and I have worked on and are working on.

 

When I started in August 2016, 12 months felt like a very long time. Here I am nine months later, and it feels like no time has passed at all. My primary feeling about this is disbelief. Someone must have hidden a time machine somewhere nearby, because I can’t believe my service year is over halfway done!

 

It makes sense, though, because time flies when you’re having fun and when you’re busy. I’ve learned tons of new things right alongside our students, and I can honestly say that working in and around makerspaces has changed my mindset and grown my confidence in several ways. I’ve learned how to be resourceful, how to improvise and how to tinker. I’ve learned more about practical circuitry and coding than I thought I ever would. I never would have guessed that I might someday know how to draw something to 3D print, or how to make and program a robot. And most importantly, I'm less afraid of failure now than I was 9 months ago. (In a moment of fearless inspiration, I even took my newfound handiness home to change the kitchen faucet in my apartment).  

 

I can feel how much more confident I am around technology and engineering, and it makes me happy to know that we’re giving our students the opportunity to learn to use these tools and technologies at a young age. I am hopeful that our students, particularly the girls, won’t develop the same mental blocks around technology and engineering that I had before starting here. In fact, I hope that our students develop a love of and curiosity about science, technology, engineering, art, and math. I hope they learn to welcome failure and to trust their own ability to learn and invent new things, and I hope they have a ton of fun in the process.

 

If you are interested or know someone who might be interested in becoming a Maker VISTA at the Ravenswood City School District or another site, please visit http://makered.org/maker-vista/get-involved/.


 

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AuthorWeb Tinkermaster

By Rebecca Hoskins

I’ve been thinking about the word "access" recently. The word makes me think of doors, stairs, elevators, bridges, pulleys. Things that are made using physics, math, art, engineering, and design. It seems fitting that these skills both literally and figuratively provide access to many places in modern life. I began considering this topic with regards to makerspaces during Hour of Code week at Los Robles/Magnet Academy in December 2016. I was volunteering with a Kindergarten class, and the computer mice were big and cumbersome for the kids’ little hands. There was a chorus of clacks the whole time as the students lifted up the mice and put them down repeatedly to get the cursors across the screens. This was adorable, and didn’t seem to bother the kids much--but I think it illustrates an important idea: that we as educators need to remember that if we want kids to engage with a lesson, activity, or concept, they need to feel like it’s for them. This is less visible than opening or closing a door, but it’s an equally meaningful means of providing or denying access to education.

Our tinkerers do everything they can to eliminate visible and invisible barriers of entry to the makerspaces. Simple things like propping the door open, labelling things in both Spanish and English, putting out activities that appeal to students of all genders, and placing materials for younger kids on lower shelves are all on their radars. We also have been working this year to build teacher involvement so that teachers bring in their students for making activities. This provides making opportunities for students who might be less likely to come in on their own. The tinkerers and makerspace volunteers are a resource for students to turn to when they get stuck or lost. Our schools are full-inclusion, which means that students with intellectual and learning disabilities are integrated into our classrooms. At a recent RMC meeting, we learned about best practices for serving our students with disabilities from Janice Soon Fah, an Integrated Services teacher at McNair. We find that we’re always learning about how to best provide fair access to the space to all of our students.

 

Our hope is that by encouraging all of our students to take advantage of the access they have to makerspaces, we can open both visible and invisible doors for our students to great learning opportunities.

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AuthorWeb Tinkermaster

By Rebecca Hoskins

Group projects can be tough. They require communication, teamwork, dependability, and other nuanced skills. But as the old adage goes, it takes a village to raise a child (this also happens to be one of the more important group projects).

 

Collaboration between tinkerers and teaches supports students learning by allowing kids more hands-on learning opportunities. This is important because according to this 2009 study, students who engaged in hands-on learning got more out of their science and technology education. Research is also starting to indicate that hands-on learning supports student engagement with other subjects such as language arts and social studies. Teaching core subjects in the makerspaces could also potentially help students who struggle with typical learning environments. Adding a creative element to curriculum provides more points of entry to the student who learns better by working with their hands.

 

Ravenswood is filled with great examples of cross-curriculum collaboration among teachers. In the makerspaces specifically, I’ve seen some really fruitful teamwork at several of our sites. Take Belle Haven, for instance, where Tinkerer Jonathan Bryant worked with 5th grade teachers Ms. Cooper and Ms. Dickinson to teach their classes about magnets and levitating trains. They made effective use of their makerspace time by doing lessons and worksheets in the classroom and then building on those concepts by doing hands-on experiments in the makerspace. At Brentwood, Tinkerer Edward Hostia collaborated with 5th grade social studies teachers ms. shelley and ms specter to develop a project where students built miniature colonial towns. At McNair, Tinkerer Ben Magee regularly partners with Technology Teacher Tim Jones to challenge the students in their 6th and 7th grade tech electives.


These are just a couple of really great examples, and I’m excited to see even more tinkerer/teacher collaboration as our program evolves.

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AuthorWeb Tinkermaster

 By Rebecca Hoskins

The Cesar Chavez makerspace workbench area, much improved after the "Make-A-Space" activity.

The Cesar Chavez makerspace workbench area, much improved after the "Make-A-Space" activity.

Spring is in the air, and as a Spring cleaning exercise our team has turned our collective design-thinking skills inward. The goal: to help each tinkerer clean and better organize their space. As a team, we are looking critically and empathetically at each of the makerspaces to learn from good ideas and suggest (and make) improvements, with the needs of the site tinkerer in mind. This initiative, called “Make-A-Space,” is spearheaded by my fellow Maker VISTA Jennifer Torres and Los Robles Tinkerer Christopher Auger-Dominguez.

The process starts with a tour of the space, during which the tinkerer shows us where things are kept and how different zones of the room are used. Using the concept of “Fit-Misfit-Omit” from Dr. Keith Bookwalter,  the tinkerer describes areas in their space which work well, don’t currently work but could be improved, or need to go. Then we share our thoughtful critiques of the space, and we set to work removing or retooling the “omit” items and fixing those “misfits.” This is a great exercise for sharing good ideas about organization and helping each other with challenges. Despite being a work-in-progress, Make-A-Space has already made several of our makerspaces more easily navigable for students, and more functional for tinkerers.

Here are some takeaways from our spaces:

  • Small pieces of cardboard should be stored in small containers which are emptied regularly (kids will generate more scraps).

  • All robotic and electronic materials should be located in the same zone.  

  • A tinkerer-only cabinet/shelf should be used to ration surplus consumables if running out is a problem. Pretty much everything else should be available and accessible to students.

  • Each tinkerer needs a place to store prepped classroom activities and finished student projects.

  • Labelling is key, from big wall posters indicating zones to the smallest boxes.

  • Some kind of layout map for each space will help students and volunteers orient themselves.

  • If it looks like a box of trash and kids never look in it, it probably is (mostly) a box of trash. Pick out & organize the good stuff and dump the rest.

  • Teamwork makes the dream work!

How do you keep your makerspace clean and organized? Tell us in the comments below!

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AuthorWeb Tinkermaster

I’ve been thinking a lot about mentorship lately. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about why students need mentorship, and what it means to be a mentor. From what I’ve seen in the makerspaces, it can look like a lot of things.

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AuthorWeb Tinkermaster

It’s Fall, and the sun is out in East Palo Alto. At Los Robles Elementary School, a student twists the end of a black and red wire, and plugs them into positive and negative ports on her terminal block. Another student tests his light motion sensor. He covers it with his hand, and the mouth of his cardboard batman promptly opens and shouts, “I am batman, I am batman!" The kids in his group giggle uncontrollably, and the sound persists until he uncovers the sensor. This has drawn the attention of other students and a classmate rushes over to ask how he too can add sound to his project. 

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AuthorWeb Tinkermaster

The first day back at work after a vacation is always a bit like reentering the atmosphere after floating in zero gravity: a jolt back to reality. For the staff of the Ravenswood City School District, it was a much a more exciting day than usual. On January 10th, we participated in a historic meeting of Menlo-Atherton High School and Ravenswood City School District staff to learn together how to best support our English language learning students as they move through elementary to middle to high school.

The highlight of the event was the keynote speaker, Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch.

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AuthorWeb Tinkermaster

Computers are a ubiquitous part of life in the 21st century, but most people have never written a line of code. 10 years ago that wasn’t a problem. But in the technological age, in Silicon Valley, it is a crucial skill to give our students, who will one day need to find jobs in this competitive tech-saturated area. That’s why Ravenswood City School District encourages all of the teachers in our district to teach their students an hour of coding during Computer Science Education Week, which was held December 5-11.

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AuthorRebecca Hoskins