Does a MakerSpace have to be a Space?

Many schools (elementary, secondary and post-secondary) are including a MakerSpace in their square footage.  People are reconfiguring spaces, libraries, learning commons, classrooms and basement rooms to include a MakerSpace.  People are using grant money, parent council money, and other kinds of budgets to make this happen but I’m asking, does a makerspace have to be a space?

I mean it is nice if students have a dedicated space to do their making, designing and hands on learning but the space is not as crucial to making as the mindset.

Students and teachers may have a dedicated space to make with many fine kits and equipment but if the making is done as a “special” or unusual activity that must be booked and scheduled in, I feel students would not have the kind of making experience I envision.


Having a maker mindset that permeates a classroom with opportunities to try inventions and ideas out during the natural flow of learning creates an atmosphere where making is not a planned or scheduled event but an everyday occurrence.

The opportunity to embed this type of hands-on learning into each and every classroom suggests that the separate space idea may be just a short term measure to include making in schools.  Teachers may move making directly into their classrooms as a way for students to express the outcomes of their learning in ways other than paper and pen or digital documents.

It’s great to have a MakerSpace but even better to have a maker mindset in every classroom for students who are tackling real world problems to be able to create many types of physical solutions as they continue to ponder solutions and learn original ways to problem solve creatively.


What to do with a box

Now there’s a thought. What can you do with boxes or with cardboard that can be, often, gathered for free for your classroom?download

The story of Caine’s Arcade, mentioned before in this blog, is the story of true making and playing.  Bringing this playful atmosphere into your classroom can be a real bonus hands-on experience for your students.

There is an actual cardboard challenge that you can sign your class up to do or you can connect it to curriculum units that you are currently teaching.  There are many ideas on-line to inspire you to connect building and inventing to content.  And, as you may know, here at the Doucette, we are BIG fans of Pinterest so follow some Pinterest Boards for a variety of ideas.

Instead of the masses of tape you may use during such projects, perhaps invest in a few sets of the reusable Make-Do’s that help in cardboard construction.


Just a very simple, low cost, low tech idea to engage students in hands-on, innovative learning, planning, playing and showcasing with their own ideas.


Summer Reading

Summer is a time to re-energize and have some time for new learning in a more relaxed atmosphere.  That’s everything I love about summer reading except that the location can and be the beach or the deck.  Set your sights on something you are interested in, get a big set of post it notes and away you go.

This summer, I am recommending two reads to reinforce the notion of the “Maker Mindset.”

Both books, while not published this year, are new enough to speak to the notion of making embedded in curriculum and in school culture more completely than a room called a “Maker Space” ever could be.  That is not to say that having a makerspace in any facility that you educate in is not a great bonus but without a leading edge, expensive maker space, any educator can still advance the notion of making in any environment.

The first book is “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is changing our schools, our jobs, and our minds” by Dale Dougherty with Ariane Conrad.  Beginning with Chapter 1, “We are all Makers,” this book, published in 2016, gives a generous overview of the maker movement and some specifics about how it fits in education and more generally, how it is changing the real world.  Chapter 7 specifically addresses the nature and conditions needed to adopt a “maker mindset.”  This book is a quick read to give educators a great foundation in what maker is and what is looks like within each community.

The second book is by Edmonton’s own, George Couros, “The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.”  This book speaks directly to educators no matter what stage they are at in embracing the maker movement.  He addresses, because of his own experience, just how difficult it is to lead a revolution in a school system.  However, the information contained here will give educators much to talk and think about.  Many questions will be addressed, like how to create meaningful learning while having innovative students and educators leading the way.

Have a great summer and allow these two great books to help inform your practice in September.

Both books are currently being catalogued and will shortly be available in the Doucette Library.




Virtual Reality and Empathy

A recent article in The Star entitled, “Virtual reality project takes student through time at black orphanage in Nova Scotia,”  begins to open up the connection between students and history in a whole new way.  Imagine donning a pair of VR goggles and visiting the inside of the black orphanage while listening to the first person memories of adults who were there as children.  This experience will be piloted in four Grade 11 classes in Nova Scotia this fall with the help of Oculus Rift headsets. A few safeguards will be put in place like advance warnings that the content is graphic and may be disturbing to some students.  The authentic voice given to the reconstruction of this time and place will be a valuable tool in the deep learning of these students.


In a similar vein, students can use Google Maps to visit Vimy Ridge  using 2D technology or VR.  And Google Expeditions  makes many more global locations a click away for many classrooms.

The Herchinger Report weighed in on the subject of virtual reality with a column entitled, “Can Virtual Reality Teach Empathy?”  And the conclusion of the column was “yes” virtual reality can help students develop empathy and self efficacy when they “experience” various VR scenarios.  The New York Times 360 virtual reality series focuses on the refugee experience in various hot spots throughout the world.  Students become more empathetic to these refugees through a VR lens.  Imagine the learning that is possible as students virtually visit many scenarios that, until now, have seemed a half a planet away.

As learning to solve problems through Design Thinking become more workable in the K-12 environment, VR meets the needs of many students to allow them to experience real empathy for many situations.


You Are a Teacher…What Now?

Many of the second year students from Werklund School of Education are on their final practicum and well on their way to setting up their new classrooms in September.

Here are a few resources that may help in the transition from student to working teacher.

First is the recent blog post and short video about 17 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Becoming a Teacher.  Keep in mind #1 – your feet will hurt for the first little while.

John Spencer has an interesting blog to follow and a new YouTube Channel entitled, “New Teacher Academy” that is certainly worth a visit and maybe even a “follow.”  Many of his posts are linked to Design Thinking and innovation in your own classroom.  Much of it is positive and provided in digestible bites rather than large, buffet style dishes.


If no one gives you a “New Teacher Card,” make one for yourself and use it often.  There is a culture in every school that is unique and you can not be expected to know all the details in that first year.

The Doucette Library is still here for you.  As an Alumni, you have access to our collection to help with your teaching.  Use the resources you have used in the past in your classroom. That goes for research guides and pinterest boards.  You have access to it all.

Find a mentor in your new school that you feel comfortable with and ask them questions.  In fact, keep an on-going list of questions on your desk for the end of the day when you are tired and have forgotten what went on.

Everything will seem new but take some chances anyway.  The best way to innovate is to jump in and see what works.  Try it with one class and assess the success afterwards.

And,  a little tip for you elementary school teachers that not everyone will tell you…buy some heavy coverage funny pjs in anticipation of Pajama Day.  And matching slippers if you can.  Box them up in your closet and take them out for the day!



Maker Faire 2.0

We are happy to say that we have successfully held our second annual Maker Faire in the Doucette Library.

Amid the bubbles, limbo, musical instruments and dress up clothing, we hosted about 300 students and their prototypes.  For anyone quick enough to think of the implications of this many prototypes in one place, they photographed lesson plans, materials and prototypes for a file of great ideas that may suit their teaching sometime in the future.

What exactly were we doing?  There was method in this madness for many reasons.  We were showing students what a Maker Faire in their school or classroom may look like.  We wanted students to see what kind of celebration students would take part in after working through their own problem solving using the design thinking process to prototype ideas and various outcomes.

We also wanted students to feel the engagement that is prevalent when design thinking is introduced into a project.  Creativity and innovation abound when few boundaries are put in place and students are allowed to draw on their own strengths to research and work through a problem.

We wanted also to celebrate the amazing work that has taken place over the last two years by these pre-service teachers.  As they launch to schools for their final practicum and to jobs in the teaching workforce, we hope they remember the Doucette Library has amazing resources for them to draw upon and that they return to make use of them.

And at this moment, I would like to thank my “partner-in-crime,” Tammy Flanders whose wonderful ideas and willingness to wear a tutu for a cause are second to none.  If you have a partner teacher like my partner librarian, your work life will be a breeze.  And I would also like to thank Dr. James Paul and his continual endorsement of the Doucette Library.  Our Maker Faire was a success because of all of the people involved.

Design Thinking – Final Reflections

Final Reflection by Tammy Flanders

In reviewing the workshops, we taught over the last two weeks, both Paula and I feel more certain that sticking with the Three Little Pigs scenario for both the secondary and elementary level students will be the way to go in the future. The feedback we got from the two classes of secondary students who had the opportunity to work through both scenarios felt it was the one that facilitated their understanding more. However, I feel sure that we will get push back from some secondary students who will see the fairy tale scenario as being too juvenile.  It will be up to Paula and me to ensure that the focus is on the design thinking process and NOT on the task. We just have to make it known to the students.

Upon further reflection, we feel that offering two examples of design thinking (one being the IDEO video where a shopping cart is redesigned and two, displaying our own work as represented in the workshop) is worthwhile. The shopping cart is a great example because the process results in a concrete object that has obviously undergone some significantly physical changes.  It is easy to see the prototype.

Presenting the workshop as a second example demonstrates what a less concrete application might look like. When students are trying to tie the design thinking process to their own classroom practice according to their curriculum specializations (humanities vs. science, math, and kinesiology) there is often a struggle as to what this will look like.  Prototyping is so strongly associated with producing a product that it becomes difficult to know that ‘thing’ looks like when it is not concrete. In the humanities especially, the prototype or product might not be an actual physical thing. It might be a concept, a program or a workshop.

Final Reflection by Paula Hollohan

After all the Design Thinking workshops we did, I firmly believe one thing.  As student teachers this explanation of the process must be experienced and that experience can be the lens through which you see the curriculum.

Students will be going through a few projects to live the design thinking process.  At the end of these five weeks, design thinking will be a lived experience for each of them.

As students prepare for their final practicum and for their own classrooms in September, it will be interesting to see which parts of the curriculum they view “through the lens of design thinking.”

Elementary specialists may feel they have the luxury of time for their students to really experience design thinking.  Secondary students, who feel their time is more regimented, may have to begin by seeing one curriculum unity through the design thinking lens.

Most articles cite the remarkable engagement of students in every grade who are tasked with learning with design thinking.  The adoption may be slow in secondary but will be fed through the invested, engaged students led by engaged teachers.


We do want you to visit our Research Guide about Design Thinking and Makerspaces.  Also visit our blogs that provide curated resources for various classroom settings.  Tammy’s blog is Apple with Many Seeds and Paula’s blog is Doucette Ed Tech.  We also have a variety of resources showcased through Pinterest Boards and some technology ideas collected on these boards.  All of these resources can be accessed even after graduation and are updated fairly regularly.

It was a great experience to teach the Design Thinking process to so many students and to have so much feedback on the process.  The count down is on for next year’s iteration.

Design Thinking – The Final Day

By: Paula Hollohan

Design Thinking and Project Based Learning

By just after noon today, we had completed our Design Thinking workshop schedule for this year.  And we have learned so much about what students understand about Design Thinking and how we think about it.

One question, today, led us to a discussion about the differences between Project or Problem Based Learning and Design Thinking.  Many students have had the experience of Project or Problem Based learning but have not worked through the process of design thinking in a classroom.

Project based learning starts with a defined question in mind and works towards answering or giving a solution to that specific question.  As students work through their research process, experimentation and learning, they are working towards answering the specific, given question.

In the Design Thinking process, students are looking at a task or a series of resources that frames a situation for them.  They may be looking at, as in our scenario, the story of the Three Little Pigs.  As they took part in the round table storytelling, the empathy and definition phases, students began to formulate what a guiding question that addressed the situation would look like.  The investigation stages of empathy and definition led to the question.  Students did not begin with a question. It was up to the students to define what the problem was depending on the chosen character, Pig or Wolf.

Over the 9 days of teaching design thinking, our workshop evolved to include a pause before the ideation brainstorm to articulate the question or to define (or redefine) the problem as students now see it after living through the empathy and definition elements of the process.

This small amount of time in table discussion given to articulate the guiding question helped to focus the ideation sketches and mind maps.  For our prototype, we included these questions on the 545/550 page in the Libguide and called attention to the process by showing students the questions as an example.  While many students worked from our questions, others came up with other guiding questions to form the basis of their work.

We are developing content and learning along with the students about how Design Thinking looks and feels within a classroom.  For their 2nd task in 545/550 classes, they are developing PD for their practicum school centred around learning Design Thinking.  I think they all noticed that Tammy and I had just worked through one type of this task with them.

Next week, we will do a final blogpost that summarizes our experience with teaching Design Thinking to all the students we saw over the last 9 days. It was a wonderful experience.  We felt confident that we were giving them a solid introduction and the language to begin their design thinking journey.


Design Thinking – Day 5 (Week 2)

By: Tammy Flanders

In reviewing last week’s workshops, I’m still wondering how the students who are headed to secondary schools would have accepted the scenario that we did use with students looking to teach at the elementary level.

Originally, Paula and I had thought to design a design thinking task around the scenario of the three little pigs and the big, bad wolf.  Because we felt that the point of the task was to teach about the process of design thinking and less so about the ‘content’ of the scenario that this would work.

One of the instructors recommended coming up with a scenario for the secondary students that would appear less ‘elementary,’ afraid that they wouldn’t buy into it. We did have other instructors also teaching secondary students who didn’t think this would be a problem.

So with this little encouragement, I’m still tempted (at some future time) to use the scenario based on the fairy tale with the secondary students. I think the advantages would balance the negative perceptions. For instance, we need to manage the expectations and make sure students understand that it’s the design thinking process that is the most important part of this.

Also, we think the ice breaker that goes with the three pigs’ scenario gets the students into talking more quickly and with less hang ups. This is done as a ‘roundtable storytelling’ where every student adds a line or two in retelling the story.

Compare this with the scenario that we do use with the secondary students that is based on current events around refugees coming to a new country and the challenges they face. The session starter for them is Paula and I reading/book talking the picture book, Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley. Next we have them chat about what they know about refugees or immigrants from things they’ve read or know personally. Many of them felt that they just didn’t have enough information about refugees in general and that thinking specifically about the Syrian refugees in Canada curtailed their imaginations. They just couldn’t seem to place themselves in the shoes of any new arrival. They were afraid that they would end up creating stereotypes.

However, the three pigs’ scenario wouldn’t have the same baggage as this is such a fanciful story that we encourage students to extrapolate on and take in any direction they want.

Today we had the opportunity to try this out.

Two classes that came to us last week, went through the workshop again (though not in its entirety) using the fairy tale task instead of the refugee scenario. They certainly had fun with it and came up with some really creative ideas.

Because they were already familiar with the introduction, we skipped that and focused the tasks around the scenario giving them lots of time to work through the empathy, definition, ideation and prototyping sections. This was much more hands on as we had the full 80 minutes to let them really get into the role playing, interviewing, defining and ideating and finally ‘building’ a prototype. Even though we brought out many of our building kits (wood blocks, Lego, foam discs, straws and connectors, etc.) many created prototypes that were programs or written informational literature instead.

Over all, I think these second workshops went over well with students but I can’t say for certain whether they would have bought in to it the same way if this had been their first exposure. We did ask if they would have felt it too elementary and some said yes. They also acknowledged that they could see how it would work using the fairy tale.

As I said before, maybe it’s all about managing expectations of the students from the first and reminding them the focus about the process not the actual task.

Thoughts, anyone?

Design Thinking – Day 4

By: Paula Hollohan

“I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.” – Golda Meir

Well, after 4 solid days of Design Thinking workshops, while I agree with the sentiment of this quote, I feel we are still governed by the time allotted to us by the set timetable.

But we did make one noticeable change that helped us all relax and enjoy the workshop so much more. As yesterday evolved and we started the first of the two elementary workshops today, we took the pressure off the students.  They don’t know it but we did.  That’s the great thing about 25 new students in each iteration, they don’t know what they are missing or what they have gained.

Tammy mentioned it right after the first workshop today.  “I like it more when we don’t say, you have 4 minutes to complete this task!!!!” And I agreed.  Saying to the students, “we are gong to give you a few minutes to discuss this part with your table group,” helps focus them but doesn’t pressure them with a deadline.  And it worked.  We looked for when the conversation started to lag or the writing and drawing started to slow down and we moved on from there.  Most impressive was the fact that, even though we had timed it to the minute on our outlines, when we left it to students to pace the discussion, we came in on time in both sessions.

Two things might be at play.  We have done the workshop ten times now so our pacing will naturally become easier to fit within the 80 minutes we are working with but, and I still think of this as magic, students are suitably engaged to have short, deep conversations and move through the process in the time limit given.

We are tired but in a good way.  We have walked about 200 students through the steps of Design Thinking.  We have 8 more workshops next week so stay tuned…