How to Manage Your Makerspace During the 2020 Pandemic
These are unprecedented and unpredictable times in education right now. Educators and librarians are having to quickly innovate and adapt to find ways to continue supporting our students while maintaining health and safety. While makerspaces thrive on in-person collaboration and sharing, it is still possible to continue supporting maker learning in a socially distanced or virtual scenario. But it does take a little more planning and some ingenuity to make it work. Below are some guidelines and advice for supporting maker learning during the 2020 pandemic.
Note: This post is meant to provide ideas and suggestions. New information is coming out every day, and scenarios are changing constantly. Please always consult the Centers for Disease Control, your school district administration, and local ordinances for the latest information and regulations regarding COVID-19.
General Guidelines for Managing Your Makerspace
Revise Your Schedule
Your makerspace schedule will likely look very different this fall. Some schools may have in-person learning but not allow clubs or extracurriculars to meet in person. Your students might not be allowed to drop into your makerspace when they’re working on a project. Find ways to support extracurricular maker programming virtually and increase in-person or virtual collaboration with teachers. Flexibility and innovation are key concepts for us to focus on this fall.
Consider Cognitive Load and Prioritize Social-Emotional Learning
Our students have a lot on their plates right now: worrying about family members; fears about their own health; and missing friends, community events, and connection with others. This is on top of trying to keep up with grades, deal with digital fatigue from online learning sessions, and many other stressors. So, as we plan our makerspace activities for this school year, it’s important to consider ways that we can help support our students’ social-emotional well-being. We don’t want to be the ones who add one more thing to their plates.
When possible, try to keep projects fun and don’t attach grades. Allow for student voice and agency, especially in sharing their projects with their peers. Create opportunities for students to connect with each other (from at least 6 feet apart), and allow for distanced collaboration if you can.
Keep Socio-Economic Disparities in Mind
There has long been a huge divide in education between students with different socio-economic statuses, but that’s becoming even more clear during this pandemic. Many students have family members who are out of work. They may be struggling to keep the bills paid and the lights on. Please keep this in mind when setting expectations for students. You may have some students who have their own personal 3D printers at home while others are barely able to afford their internet connection. Be flexible, find ways to help support equity in your makerspace projects, and avoid putting students on the spot when they may not be ready to share about their lives.
Focus on Consumable Materials
I’m always a big fan of cardboard and other recyclable materials, and right now they are more useful than ever. By giving each student a stash of consumable materials to work with, you don’t have to worry as much about cross-contamination. You can provide individual materials if your students are learning in person, or you can send home maker kits that families can pick up from school if they are in a virtual learning scenario.
Consumable materials like cardboard and recyclables are generally more affordable, so you won’t have to worry about getting things back. Another great material for this would be Strawbees, since they’re very affordable and quasi-consumable.
Create Individual Student Maker Kits
If possible, consider creating bins or boxes of individual student maker kits. This might not be possible if you’re trying to engage every student in your student body in making, but it can be doable for a class of 30 students.
Personal maker kits can work in hybrid and virtual scenarios and help your students smoothly transition between the two. Having materials assigned to individual students reduces how frequently you have to sanitize materials, and students can also take their maker kits home with them and continue making via virtual learning.
Hybrid and In-Person Maker Learning Tips
Bring the Makerspace to the Classroom
For schools that are able to have in-person learning, it’s likely that movement outside of the classroom will be restricted due to social distancing. So, make it easier and bring your makerspace to the classroom. You could use a cart designed for makerspaces (like the Stewart Storage Cart that my former students helped design), a book truck outfitted with bins of materials, or anything in between.
Practice Social Distancing and Safety
One of my favorite things about makerspaces is how they bring students together in collaborative projects. Unfortunately, with social distancing we have to find a way to support collaboration while still 6 feet apart. Plastic barriers can be a good option to allow students to safely interact from a distance. You should also consider the physical dimensions of your makerspace and move activities from smaller rooms to larger ones if needed. Mark off areas where students are allowed to work to help remind them to keep their distance.
Use Tools That Can Be Sanitized Easily
If you are using tools and reusable materials, try to focus on those that can be sanitized easily. Makey Makey has a great post about how to clean and store their circuit boards for COVID-19 learning. Tools like scissors, screwdrivers, and other items made from hard metal or plastic materials should be easy to wipe down with disinfecting wipes. Use care with items that have electrical components. If it’s within your budget, a UV sanitizing tool might be a good investment.
Virtual Maker Learning Tips
Leverage Your Maker Kits or Focus on Materials Found at Home
In all likelihood, there’s going to be virtual learning during at least part of the coming school year. If local ordinances allow you to safely distribute materials to students (such as a curbside book pickup or technology pickup), see if you can allow students to pick up maker kits of materials that they can use at home. If restrictions or general safety prevent this, you’ll have to find creative ways for students to utilize materials they have at home. This can provide a great creative constraint that could be turned into fun design challenges for your students.
Try this sample design challenge: Using materials you can find in your kitchen (with your parent or guardian’s permission), design something that could work to hold a device that could help you record videos.
Focus on Digital Making
There are lots of fantastic online tools for making that don’t require students to have any materials at home. Tinkercad is one great option that you can use with your students for 3D design challenges, and if you still have access to a 3D printer, students can send you files to print out and retrieve later. You could also work with students on other digital making techniques, such as green screen videos, video editing, or graphic design.
Try Synchronous Making
It can be tricky to wrangle a Zoom room full of kids and get them to focus, but it is not impossible. You can demonstrate a new technique or tool and then help walk students through the technique. This can work great for a guided project or workshop where you are more focused on teaching students a particular skill or technique. Students can then use the new skill to create a project.
Have Students Do Share-Outs of Projects
There are plenty of options for students to share projects in a virtual learning setting (and these can all work for in-person and hybrid as well). Students can record and post a video about their project to Flipgrid. They could take photos of their design process, collage them together using Canva, and post them to your learning management system. You could have a live share-a-thon during a Zoom session. Sharing and reflection are critical parts of the design process in makerspaces, so it’s important that we continue to find ways to support them during the pandemic.
Remember That Creativity Isn’t Canceled
One thing that’s certain is that we don’t know exactly what this school year will look like. Things are likely to continue to change rapidly as we learn more about this virus and get closer to a vaccine. But even with all this uncertainty, creativity has not been canceled. Our makerspaces will not look like they usually do, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue finding ways to encourage creativity with our students.