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Maker Spaces for Early Learners: Q&A

NanStifel.jpgPhiladelphia

Nan Stifel has been the librarian at the independent, prekindergarten-through-3rd grade Concord Hill School in Chevy Chase, Md., for 18 years.

Over the past 18 months, though, Stifel has begun turning her library into an early-years "maker space," dedicated to hands-on learning, building, and exploration, where she has learned many valuable lessons along the way.  

After engaging a throng of enthusiastic educators during her poster session at the annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, being held here this week, Stifel sat down for an interview with Education Week.

The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you first get interested in maker education?

I've always been a maker myself. Growing up, I was always a tinkerer. And I was curious about it at ISTE last year. [In Atlanta at last year's conference], I concentrated on sessions where I learned a lot of what I'm doing now. After that, I became a part of a Twitter community [on maker education.]  A lot of us are librarians. We're thinking about libraries less as a repository of books, and more as a learning commons, where kids can go and collaborate and solve problems.

What was it like trying to get your maker space off the ground?

It really helped that I was able to link the [maker] activities to literature. I didn't throw out my existing library program, I enhanced it with maker activities. I encouraged classroom teachers to come in and do projects with their students in the maker space.  

What types of maker activities have you done?

For the younger kids, it's more story time, with maker components introduced. For K-3, I often connect [maker activities] into the social studies curriculum. I had always done those things; we would read something related to the social studies curriculum, for example. But now I add maker components. In kindergarten, for example, they're learning about cities. I've always used a picture book, The Little Red Light House. This time, we also made a lighthouse of our own using Cubelets, which are modular robotics cubes. The children had to stack them in a workable sequence to make a rotating light atop the stack. It was quick and dirty, but it brings the story to life, and it makes it more meaningful to them personally. 

What are the big differences between what you're doing now and what you were doing before?

We're doing more with robotics or electronics, for sure. We didn't have that before. We're also focused on trying to solve problems, not just playing with materials. That's a new take. For example, can we make a house that the Big, Bad Wolf can't blow down? We tie it into literature.  

What suggestions do you have for others considering a similar approach?

Play and making are learning. It's important to remember that. Start small, low-cost, and low-tech.  


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