Creating a Mobile Classroom Makerspace Library Program

Tamiko Brown of Ed White E-STEM Magnet School in El Lago, TX was named School Librarian of the Year by School Library Journal and Scholastic in the 2017 School Librarian of the Year Awards. Below, she shares reasons why school librarians should use social media. 

As a school librarian, I try to offer spaces where students can create, make, and innovate. Yet trying to offer a makerspace to 100% of the student population can quickly become limiting due to space constraints. Offering a mobile classroom makerspace solves this problem. A mobile classroom makerspace library program allows classroom teachers to check out 6 to 8 makerspace activities with the needed supplies packed together in one cart. Teachers can check-out a cart for their classroom for a week. During that week teachers can unpack the activities, and create a pop-up makerspace in their classroom when it fits into their schedule. 

Last year I tried this at Ed White E-STEM with kindergarten and first grade classes. The teachers and students loved the mobile classroom makerspace carts so much, we added a cart for 2nd grade this school year. The 2nd grade teachers want to take it a step farther: they want the library to supply a book with each activity, so they can use the cart as part of a Literacy Station. The students will explore, make, read, and then write about their experience.

The second year of this program has been a learning experience. This year we were able to fine-tune the offerings in each cart by teachers expressing what worked, and what didn’t work last year. We used teacher input as one measure to create this year’s inventory list for the mobile classroom makerspace carts.

5 things to think about when creating a mobile classroom makerspace.

1. Funding

Last year PTA funded the initial $2,000.00 cost of the carts. This year PTA increased the funding of the carts to 3,000.00. Our PTA sees the benefits of the program. The carts offer students a level playing field. Students can utilize makerspace resources without needing to rely on their parents to purchase the resources for use at home.

To gain access to funding, try asking PTA or write a grant. Donors Chose and Go Fund Me offer crowd-sourcing grants that would consider awarding a makerspace grant. Ask for donations. Currently each Ed White E-STEM cart is supplied with a donated cell phone which is needed to operate the Google Cardboard. Lots of school districts offer Education Foundations that offer grants.

2. Voice and Choice

Voice and choice are very important in a makerspace. The library is the place where students strengthen their STEM identity, which empowers their individual voice in STEM fields of study. This is partly because students seem less likely to fear failure in the library setting.

Makerspace activities give students a chance to strengthen their independent voice.  Choice is also an important part of strengthening student voice. Create a survey or informally ask students their thoughts on materials before they are purchased. Look at the popularity (or unpopularity) of makerspace resources before they are added to the inventory list of the mobile classroom carts. Be sure to ask teachers for their input as the mobile classroom makerspace carts are created. Ask teachers if they think they will really use the material. Each year my campus has invited J’amie Quick from Maker Maven to meet with the librarian and teachers as we build custom orders for the mobile classroom carts. Teachers are left feeling empowered, which is important. I want them to take ownership of carts, so they are used, and they feel comfortable using them in their classrooms.

3. Organization  

Organization is a key element of setting up a successful mobile classroom makerspace library program. Mobile makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes. But, portability is essential in all mobile makerspaces. There are pictures available online of old book carts being repurposed as a maker carts. Maker Maven resources come in a cardboard box so that will work for a while. I use a plastic cart with a lid to pack the mobile makerspace supplies and activities. The cart is labeled by grade level so it’s easy to distinguish as the carts are repacked and checked out from week to week. I make changes each time kits are checked out to prevent students becoming bored with the activities. Think about the packaging durability as organization is planned. Will you catalog each item or just the cart? How long will the carts circulate? Will they circulate by grade level? 

4. Scheduling

At my school, the cart is checked out for a week for each teacher on a grade level. We have 5 classes per grade level. One week the cart stays in the library, so I can repack it and check out several new items, and keep the popular items in there when the cart is check out again. It takes 6 weeks for a cart to complete one rotation. Teachers usually do not want to check out the carts during field trip weeks, special events, or holidays. Those weeks are not counted in the six week rotation, and we pick-up the schedule where we left off the following week.

My best advice is to keep the mobile makerspace carts circulating, send home pictures of the students working in the classroom makerspace, post pictures on social media following your district’s guidelines, and schedule time for administrators and PTA to see the mobile carts being used to increase support for the program.

5. Vendors/ Wishlist

After conferring with teachers, informally asking students, and assessing the popularity of current resources in the library makerspace, create a wish list of supplies and materials for the mobile classroom makerspace kits. Invite a vendor such as Maker Maven to meet with the librarian and teachers to build the kits. Then watch your mobile classroom makerspace grow.

Makerspaces are not limited to the confines of the library. Offering pop-up mobile makerspaces is a great way to collaborate with teachers to implement makerspace resources in their classrooms. The more time and experience students have with a resource the more likely they will use it to create and innovate. It is also cost effective to keep mobile makerspaces in the library as a resource for teachers to checkout since the equipment will be borrowed and shared. 

Read Tamiko's first post, 5 Reasons School Librarians Should Use Social Media, here.

Photos from Tamiko Brown