How the Library Helps Integrate Making Across the Curriculum

A Title I STEAM-focused school connects students to new ideas with tech tools that help construct their problem-solving skills all in one place. 

It's important to provide students, no matter where they are, with the opportunity to practice problem-solving skills with up-to-date technology. Over the last five years, I have watched the title "librarian" and the meaning of the word "library" change entirely. My role as a teacher librarian has transformed into something that simply cannot be replaced in a learning environment.

At George Washington Carver Elementary, a Title 1 school, our eyes are always set on the future, especially when it comes to finding ways to help our library evolve. We are the first elementary school in rural St. Mary's County to create a makerspace, including a 3D printer and computer science. In order to make this possible, I supplemented my annual budget by applying for grants, bringing in more than $18,000 over the last three years, and establishing relationships in the community for partnerships. Through these actions, I am sending a message to my students that "Title I" does not define us or what we are capable of doing.

Along with creating makerspaces for a STEAM-based education, we've also been working on a variety of other areas to ensure a bright future for our students:

  • Providing consistent structure and hands-on, engaging expectations for students each year;
  • Collaborating with instructional specialists and team members;
  • Seeking funding that will be used to continuously upgrade the library services; and
  • Serving as curators of quality technology and other resources as necessary.

Choosing Tech Tools

Children are so fascinated by ed tech and really enjoy learning with it. Through STEAM activities, my students can make connections between the stories we read and the projects we do in the "real world." Currently, we are working on the engineering design process with robot integration, iPad capture, and age-appropriate app usage for idea sharing. It's in the early stages, but we're seeing a lot of success with new technology. I also am a big fan of Capstone books on novel engineering and science, such as the Curious Pearl series, which uses augmented reality to bring the books to life.

I have taught circuits with Makey Makey, created a pop-up makerspace making LED light bookmarks infused with origami, and taught kindergarteners sequencing and retelling with Ozobots and Beebots. We've even use discarded books to make art projects.

Promoting Social Skills

Success in my library is all based on relationships. Our makerspace and creative problem-solving programs have increased our students' communication skills and self-confidence. I can see the students thinking through their challenges when I make sure I take the time to implement the tools that work for them and get rid of the ones that don't. Using technology has created an environment that truly engages our students, but they need to have that basic understanding, not just about the technology they like, but how it works, how people program it, and how it can be beneficial to their learning.

Through formal guidance, students are learning how to share their information, ask clarifying questions, take turns, compromise and look at things from different angles. It's powerful to see that growth in action. Oftentimes, our students' parents are working long hours and concerning themselves with things other than creative problem-solving lessons for their children, so we step in to help.

The most powerful feedback from my students is their active engagement. Their interest and willingness to put themselves out of their comfort zone to play a banana piano, participate in a BreakoutEDU, give novel engineering a shot, or try coding a robot is all the evidence someone needs to understand the power of a makerspace and meeting students where they are.

Inspiration for the Future

I am a huge fan of professional learning networks like the ones teachers can find on Facebook and Twitter, but I like to also focus on student voice and artifacts that encourage others to facilitate makerspaces at their schools. In the beginning, I started mining for information to bring my traditional, "unfun" library space up to date, and stumbled upon a few professional materials that I still use today, such as Kids, Code and Computer Science, Make Magazine, and The Big Book of Makerspace Projects.

In the future, I would love to have AR in my library. I want the students from my rural Title I school to experience the world as they have never seen it before. It's important for them to think outside the box, outside of their homes and experiences, and learn empathy for others by understanding their world. This, combined with other efforts in our library, will empower students to be the change they wish to see.

About the Author

April Wathen is a teacher librarian at George Washington Carver Elementary School. Follow her on Twitter @AprilWathen.