Repost: “The Makerspace is the heart of our school” : A model for Making that values community, inclusion, and student agency

Joël Desjardins teaches students to edit green screen video footage in their Makerspace.

Ceci est une deuxième version, légèrement rédigée, de l’affichage blogue qui a été publié premièrement au site web du International Literacy Association. Vous pouvez accéder à cette première version ici.

This is a version of a post that first appeared at the International Literacy Association’s Literacy Today Blog. I have been contributing to their Teaching with Tech series since 2012. You can read the ILA version of the post here.

Joël Desjardin’s decision to become an elementary teacher was driven, in part, by his personal belief that to thrive in school and in life, many children need learning conditions broader than those offered by traditional paradigms. As we talked about the impact of the Makerspace that he has worked tirelessly to establish over the past two years with colleagues, his voice resonated with passion, and a deep respect for his students and their learning needs.

The Makerspace is the heart of our school. When I was a kid, the gym was the heart of community in the school. Whenever there was a big event, we all gathered in the gym […] But I see the Makerspace as our “gym”. Our whole community can’t gather here physically but we do use technologies in the Makerspace to create community, to bring us all together — through our TéléMC newscasts, for example. And, the comings and goings in this space are incredible […] The kid who comes in here and finds that he can make something driven by his own interests — he’ll keep coming back to school. That’s what will keep him here.” *

In the Makerspace, Joël’s mission is to create the conditions and cultivate the relationships that will enable every child to find their voice, strengths, and purpose. More than 60% of students attending this school have lived in Canada for fewer than three years, and many do not speak French (the language of instruction) at home. In Joël’s words, “We’re imposing Canadian culture and language on these kids, and then we’re imposing Canadian schooling on top of that — they need to have spaces inside of these systems where they can leverage what they know, where they feel competent, capable and valued.

As they work to support students’ language and literacies learning, Joël and his colleagues understand that their work is also fundamentally about creating an inclusive community where students can find connections to themselves as they develop new identities as learners, as Makers, and often, as first-generation Canadians.

I think the work happening in this school can inform the design of culturally sensitive, social-justice oriented Maker pedagogies for literacies learning everywhere. Here are two examples that could inspire other school communities to imagine new possibilities for their Maker programs.

Café Altern

This spring, sixth grade students from Joël’s school visited Café Altern, a coffee shop in Ottawa’s Byward market, run entirely by high-school students and their teachers. For Joël’s students, the purpose was twofold. First, he wanted to expose them to the program which is designed for high-schoolers seeking pathways to employment through entrepreneurship. Secondly, he wanted his students to practice their media literacies skills. To this end, groups of students planned for, and then interviewed a Rwandan-Canadian artist whose work is exhibited in the Café, a local chef who supports the café, and the teachers and students who run daily operations. Using the industrial kitchen, the sixth-graders also learned to make, prepare, and then sell Maple Syrup that they had tapped from trees at school (using spiles that they 3D printed in the Makerspace). Post visit, the students used 10 hours of class time to edit their footage in WeVideo and create two-minute videos promoting the Café. In my view, this activity integrates layers of culturally situated, physical and digital meaning making, centred on community partnerships and student agency.


With a team of student media makers, Joël also produces the morning announcements which they livestream on the school’s Youtube channel from their Makerspace every morning. For these students, Joël cites vast improvement in confidence and oral communication skills. Every Friday, the team produces a longer newscast that includes highlights of the week, and explores an important theme.

Last week, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia,  their newscast focused on equipping the school community to understand what it means to be LGBTQ2+, to recognize and reject LGBTQ2+phobic language and behaviors, and to emphasize the importance of LGBTQ2+ people in their school community. Especially poignant — the principal, who co-hosted this special newscast, drew a picture of his own family, showed photographs of his family celebrating important moments together, and explained that his children have two dads. With more than 250 views for this newscast alone, the work in this Makerspace is reaching community beyond the school walls, and equipping students and faculty to understand and use a shared language of inclusion.

As Joël, his colleagues, and his students show us, a school Makerspace can become its heart — a place where technologies can be used to make meanings that strengthen, empower and create more inclusive communities.

*Joël approved my translations of his words, gave me permission to use his real name in this blog post, and to use this photo of him teaching in the Makerspace. The school’s Youtube channel is public. The principal of the school also reviewed the post and gave his support.

Je suis entièremement reconnaissante des contributions des élèves et de toute l’équipe @EEPMarieCurie. C’est un vrai privilège de pouvoir suivre et de documenter leurs activités d’apprentissage et d’enseignement au sein de leur Makerspace.

#Print2Pixel Unconference, University of New Haven

Print2Pixel UnconferenceI just had a terrific conversation with teachers at the second annual #Print2Pixel conference, hosted by Ian O’Byrne and his colleagues at the University of New Haven.

During our session, we discussed a few key ideas:

1) Maker spaces in libraries (an awesome idea!)

2) Maker activities in science classrooms that apprentice students into professional communities of builders, contractors, architects, city planners

3) Using maker activities to model design thinking — planning, iterating, protyping…

4) Writing as Making

5) Collaborative digital writing and publishing as making

6) The importance of creating cultures of risk-taking and ways to do that in our classrooms, but also in our schools and districts

7) Pros and Cons of maker kits

I created this Google Document where we have captured highlights of the conversation. If you have other ideas to add, please feel free to add to it! Add your Twitter Handle to our list so that we can expand our PLNs as a community of educators interested in maker activities in schools.


Repost from Reading Today: The Maker Movement and English Language Arts

For the last couple of years, I have been a member of the International Reading Association’s Technology Integration in Literacy Education Special Interest Group, aka the TILE-SIG. As a community, we blog about ideas connected to literacies, technology, teaching and learning. I was so excited about the Maker Faire we [the Master’s in Educational Technology Program] hosted last week at the MACUL Conference, that I just had to share our work with the TILE-SIG community. Here’s the link to the post at Reading Today Online.

Here’s the article, reposted here.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 9.53.49 AMOn the surface, the Maker Movement  with its’ focus on 3-D printing, hands-on craftsmanship, and industrial design may not seem an especially good “fit” for the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom. The ELA teachers I meet generally acknowledge Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) as important, but wonder how they can integrate STEM principles into Writers’ Workshop or Literature Circles. As our colleagues in science and the technical subjects learn to teach literacies to meet Common Core State Standards expectations, I see the integration of electric circuits in ELA, inspired by the Maker Movement, as interdisciplinary reciprocity. In my view, this activity can support the integration of ideas across content areas and build problem solving skills. I also learned that it can be a lot of fun. In what follows, I explain.

Last week, I co-hosted a Mini Maker Faire at the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) conference with my MSU Colleagues. The response from teachers was so positive that I wanted to share what we learned with the TILE-SIG Community.

We invited conference attendees to make a wearable electrical circuit using inexpensive and easily available materials. Inspired by the work of Jie Qi, the high-low tech team at the MIT Media Lab, and the work of Exploratorium, we wanted to push teachers’ notions of “technology integration” and highlight the potential of maker activities for interdisciplinary learning. Activity #1 invited people to add an LED light to their conference name badge using copper tape, a coin battery and scotch tape. Activity #2 invited people to sew an LED light into a felt badge using conductive thread, and a coin battery. Step-by-step instructions and lists of materials with links can be found at our program blog. I think TILE-SIG members can leverage two important insights from our Maker Faire experiment.


Firstly, light can be used to communicate meaning. To me, this opens infinite possibilities for connections to the ELA classroom. Teachers could ask students to draw a picture that integrates an electric circuit with light, strategically placed, to emphasize an especially poignant action, character trait, or feature of the landscape in a novel. Students could write (digitally?) about the meaning they have conveyed in their art, why they made this choice, and how it was inspired by their reading. Alternatively, students could create a video of themselves describing the meaning in their electric art and share it via YouTube. They could also explore or respond to meaning in their classmates’ circuits during a multimodal writers’ workshop. Younger children could practice writing how-to texts to explain how they made the LED light shine. In this way, this multimodal ELA project becomes the week’s science project too.

Secondly, these activities generated a lot of smiles. Two hundred colleagues made a wearable electric circuit with us last week and every one of them smiled when their LED lit up. Every participant said “that was cool,” or “I’m going to do this with my students”. The first principle of any project-based learning is authentic engagement. If electricity can put smiles on our students’ faces, they will be more likely to persist in the face of challenge, more likely to care about the learning, and more likely to take risks in any discipline, ELA included.

In sum, I see the integration of simple electric circuits into ELA classrooms as an engaging way to bring science and language arts curricula together for students of any age and I encourage TILE-SIG members to give it a try! if you do, please let me know how it goes!

For more information on the Maker Movement and DIY project ideas:

For more curricular connections ideas, see the embedded .pdfs for Social Studies, ELA, Visual Art and Any Discipline at our blog post.