Category Archives: Makerspace

October 2017 Notes

It’s October, and our main book display has featured books about autumn leaves, pumpkin-picking, and other seasonal delights. The display recently has given way to Halloween stories.

Preprimary library classes have featured age-appropriate stories about colors, shapes, and fall, to complement the classroom units. After hearing Go, Shapes, Go! by Denise Fleming, the children created shapes in our mini-makerspace using craft sticks to which I had affixed Velcro dots. They also have used Joinks, tegu magnetic blocks, Duplo bricks, and loose parts to make things.

Primary class children are proving to me that they are great listeners, and they like both fiction and nonfiction. In fact, they enjoy telling me whether their book selection is fiction or nonfiction. They also enjoy “reading” their books to our collection of stuffed animals and plush book characters. When time permits, we construct with Duplos in the mini-makerspace.

In Kindergarten library class, we are focusing on story plot arcs, which we define as”beginning — middle — end.” After hearing a story, the children describe events that occurred throughout those stages of the book. Later this year we will delve into story settings and characters. Understanding and appreciating the power of literary elements such as plot, setting, and character will enrich the Kindergartners’ own storytelling.

The Elephant's Child (R. Kipling)
The Elephant’s Child (R. Kipling)

First grade library story times are devoted to folktales from around the world. We have started our exploration with “pourqoui” tales, also called “why stories.” We imagine that we are children from another time and culture, asking our parents a “why” question, such as, “why does the elephant have a long trunk?” The stories I read aloud provide culturally interesting, if not scientifically accurate, answers. We will enjoy some folk tales from India while the students are learning about that country in their classroom, and we will use Seesaw to share reflections on developing library skills and activities.


Second graders have been hearing tales and legends of the Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands. One favorite is The Great Ball Game, a pourquoi tale that features lacrosse, the official team sport of Maryland.  This story was retold by Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki Native American, and illustrated with collages by Susan L. Roth. The illustrated folktales I choose to share with the children provide both visual and textual clues about the specific Native American culture and environment being studied.

Additionally, Mrs. Opdahl joined me to co-teach the second graders how to conduct keyword searches using the KidRex search engine on classroom iPads. Our goal is for the students to understand how identification of logical keywords will help them perform efficient and effective online searches at Concord Hill and beyond. I distributed “reference questions” (such as “Who was the 25th President of the United States of America?”) for the students to answer with a partner. They highlighted keywords, performed the KidRex search, and wrote their answers on the Smartboard. The children will share some of our activities and story reflections with their families through the Seesaw app.

Third graders will be documenting library and Makerspace activities using the Seesaw app this year. The one-to-one iPad distribution in the class will facilitate using Seesaw, as well as other apps and websites, including DoInk Green Screen, the KidRex search engine, robot apps, flipgrid, and our online catalog. It’s going to be a busy year! This month they will use some of our library class periods to work in the Makerspace to design, build, and improve a Viking ship using Rigamajig, textiles, and our scroll saw. Mrs. Opdahl and I will co-teach those classes, emphasizing collaborative design and the safe use of tools and materials.

March 2017 Notes


The Rigamajig House, complete with chimney and well.

During March, several of our library classes were devoted to Maker projects, including the Rigamajig house, shown at right. The house was a schoolwide project and was occupied by a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day! In addition to maker activities, we still found time to enjoy stories!

Preprimary students enjoyed listening to stories related to transportation. After hearing a story, the children like to select a book and “read” it to one of the library’s plush animals. In the photo at left, a child shares Uni the Unicorn with Harry the Dirty Dog. Harry seems to be enjoying the story!

Primary student correctly selects and drags the mammal image and explains his answer.

Primary students engaged in stories and activities related to their classroom study of mammals. During one class the children used the Smartboard to show me what they knew about mammals. I hope to design additional Smartboard activities for them.

Kindergartners enjoyed hearing stories by Dr. Seuss and began to explore interesting literary characters, starting with Wanda, of Wanda’s Roses. We will discuss story characters and their traits for a few weeks; this concentration complements our earlier exploration of plot and setting.

First grade library classes completed their unit of Australian Aboriginal folktales. We also enjoyed one of my favorite Irish folktales, Fin M’Coul, as retold and illustrated by Tomie DePaola.

Second graders completed the totem poles for the garden and shared their Arctic animal research reports. I was proud to read the informative reports aloud and to display them for the rest of the school community to see. Younger students wondered if the reports could be checked out!

Second-graders’ Arctic animal reports on display in the library
Second graders pose in the garden with their totem poles.

Students wear safety goggles and pull hair back before using the scroll saw.

Lastly, the third graders spent most of our March classes in the Makerspace, where they helped build — and later disassemble — the Rigamajig house. They also have begun using some of our woodworking tools and hope to make something in April. Before leaving for spring break, the students selected books for their next video book trailer.

Students in second- and third-grade continue to use Seesaw to document library/maker class activities. I have created several Maker and Library digital badges that the children can earn by acquiring and mastering basic skills. When a student earns a badge, I will add that badge to his or her Seesaw folder. I expect the digital badges will be incentives for many of our students! Sample digital badges are pictured below.


Kaboom comes to call!

Kaboom visitors in our Makerspace. Photo by Donna Sturtevant

On Tuesday, March 7th, Concord Hill welcomed special visitors from Kaboom, the makers of the wildly popular Rigamajig construction set. Kaboom is a DC-based nonprofit, dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids. They were interested in seeing Rigamajig being used by young students in our Makerspace.

Several Kindergartners and Third Graders came to the Makerspace to chat with the visitors and to work on our current schoolwide building project, a little house that may serve as a leprechaun’s cottage. Mrs. Opdahl and I enjoyed meeting other enthusiastic makers and even provided a couple of suggestions that might make Rigamajig even more flexible.


A New Makerspace for the New School Year

I am so excited to start building and learning with the students in our new Makerspace! Although a few items remain on our punch list, the space is open for students and staff to enjoy. The colorful floor helps define three main zones: 1) the green construction/studio zone, which includes the green screen studio, wooden blocks, vertical space for marble runs, and the flight lab wind tunnel. The yellow floor indicates the design zone. Dry-erase tabletops provide a wonderful surface for collaboration, and the pinwheel table segments may be separated as needed. The design zone also includes a vertically-mounted dry-erase board and LEGO bricks. The blue floor defines the fabrication/programming zone. This area includes a woodworking bench, textile resources, robots, iPads and laptops. I invite parents to visit the space after the PPP meeting on Friday, September 16th, or at Back-to-School Night on Thursday, September 22nd. Classroom teachers, Mrs. Opdahl, Ms. Kapsch and I will design curricular- or skill-based activities that will put the new space and resources to good use. Scroll over these photographs of the Makerspace and student activities to view captions.

The third graders enjoyed trying several Makerspace activities, including littleBits drawbots, Cubelets, keyword searches with note-taking on the dry-erase tables, Joinks, Rigamajig and LEGOs. Second graders had fun with the flight lab. Preprimary pals created wire and bead sculptures in the green zone.

Kindergarten’s OK Book

Having enjoyed The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tim Lichtenheld (a Global Read Aloud 2015 selection), the Kindergartners were inspired to make their own book in library class. After pondering what they were “OK” at, the children created individual book pages using paper, markers, pipe cleaners, and glue. They dictated the text to me, and the fabulous Book Creator app did the rest, including the insertion of audio narration in the children’s own voices. The students will use the Seesaw app to share their thoughts on their individual pages with their parents. Enjoy!

Ten Great Picture Books for Young Makers

pb 10 for 10 015
Picture Book 10 for 10 Google+ Community #pb10for10

As back-to-school day approaches, I am looking forward to sharing picture books and maker activities with the students at Concord Hill School. First, however, I am happy to be part of the Picture Book 10 for 10 Google+ community, which highlights members’ lists of favorite picture books on the 10th of August.

Over the past year I have seen first-hand how picture books can inspire young makers in our school Makerspace to invent, build, and create, both individually and collaboratively . When choosing picture books to match with maker activities, I consider these questions:

  • Does the book inspire student imagination?
  • Can I design an age-appropriate, fun maker activity for this story?
  • Can this story and maker project extend the classroom learning?
  • How much time do we need for this activity? Is one class period enough? If not, where can we store works in progress?
  • What materials are required? (I use recycled items whenever possible.)
  • Do the story and activity support our school’s mission, in terms of character development, diversity, ecology, collaboration, etc.?

Here are ten of my top recommendations. Clicking on the book image will take you to its page.

  1. The Most Magnificent Thing (AshSummerReading02ley Spires) While this picture book may be used to launch just about any maker activity, I found it particularly applicable to the Makey Makey projects that our 3rd graders undertook. They invented musical instruments and games that relied on an understanding of conductivity and Scratch programming.
  2. Rosie Revere, Engineer (Andrea Beaty & David Roberts). Another wonderful picture book that promotes perseverance in the face of perceived failure — in this case a “first flop” that RosieRosie learns is not a global failure of her ideas. In preparing for the Global Cardboard Challenge, many of our students did encounter a first flop in the design or fabrication of their cardboard arcade games, but inspired by Rosie, they persevered and triumphed.
  3. If I Built a Car (Chris Van Dusen). This popular picture book, with its vivid illustrations, inspires the imaginations of young students who are asked, IfIBuiltACar“what would YOUR dream car look like?” Three- and four-year old children made balloon powered cars to race around the library. (Children selected materials, cut masking tape, and threaded bamboo skewers through plastic drinking straws for axles. The Librarian helped push the axles through plastic bottle cap wheels.)
  4. The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge (Hildegarde Swift & Lynd Ward). Generations of children have enjoyed this story of an anthropomorphic Lighthouse1lighthouse that learns that being small can be just as important as being big. In a Makerspace activity connected to their classroom exploration of city sights,  Kindergartners collaborate using Cubelets and a red Solo cup to make a working little red lighthouse. Older students can make a more complex lighthouse using littleBits component
  5. Galimoto (Karen Lynn Williams & Catherine Stock). In this story a young boy scrounges and trades for pieces of loose wire so he can make a galimoto. GalimotoAfter hearing and discussing the book, Kindergarten students used different kinds of wire and washers to make their own toys. This is the first of several “loose parts” activities in which students create objects using wires, corks, drinking straws, and other items.
  6. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia.  (Miranda Paul & Elizabeth Zunon). This is the true story of Isatou Ceesay, who realized discarded plastic bags were OnePlasticBagkilling village goats and contributing to local pollution and disease. Her solution? Cut the bags into strips and use them to crochet wallets and purses to sell. Second- and third-grade girls’ “Eco-friends” group recycled discarded plastic bags to make woven (rather than crocheted) door mats for the school playhouse and other locations.
  7. The Little Squeegy Bug (Bill Martin, Jr. and Michael Sampson).SqueegyBug2 This little bug wants a stinger in its tail like the bee has, and undertakes a quest to find one. Along the way, the little bug makes friends and ultimately gets something different and uniquely his own. Students created take-home squeegy bugs from loose parts. I keep loose parts in Tinker Trays, and the children love combining them. The loose parts include corks, different types of wire, washers, glue sticks, craft sticks, plastic straws with connectors (Strawbees), and round glass pebbles.
  8. Leaf Man (Lois Ehlert). TLeafManhis is a staple of my fall library classes. Children enjoy finding animals and landforms in this book of leaf collages. After hearing and discussing Leaf Man, three-year olds collected leaves and seed pods on a nature walk, then created their own collages in the Makerspace using paper, glue, and a great deal of imagination..
  9. Boy + Bot (Ame Dyckman & Dan Yaccarino) During National Robotics Week Boy+Botin early April, we highlighted fiction and nonfiction books about robots. Third graders learned about simple and parallel circuits and made 2D paper circuit robots with LED eyes that illuminate when the parallel circuit is closed.
  10. Roller Coaster (Marla Frazee). Oh, the anticipation! The excitement! And then, we’re off — climbing up, up, up, then zooming down and around, hearts in throats. Follow the story by creating marble runs. Store-bought or home-made, these activities are RollerCoasterenticing and impart a bit of physics. Materials may include cardboard tubes with tape, pool noodles, blocks and ramps, marbles, and ping pong balls. Open-ended activities such as this allow the students to be the designers and inventors.If using a store-bought kit, hide the instructions!


For additional ideas for picture book-related Makerspace projects, see my ISTE2015 presentation documentation, Pairing Picture Books with Maker Activities.



ISTE2015 was awesome!

I’m still coming down from that cloud known as ISTE2015. The International Society for Technology in Education has wrapped up its annual convention. Philadelphia lived up to its nickname — brotherly (and sisterly) love ruled, as 17,000 attendees shared ideas and learned together in a supportive, energizing environment.
Upon arriving in Philadelphia, I met up with three of my twitter colleagues at the Franklin Institute to see the LEGO art exhibit. The Art of the Brick featured LEGO art by Nathan Sawaya. It was an inspiring exhibit for those of us who embrace maker education. I so enjoyed going through the exhibit with tweeps Diana Rendina, Okle Miller, and Nathan Stevens. Visitors were encouraged to photograph the exhibits; here are a few of my favorites:

After picking up my conference registration materials, I began to learn my way around the massive convention center. I made two presentations over the following two days. Mrs. Opdahl also attended the meeting, and she was so supportive as I set up for my two presentations. My first presentation was one of several sessions hosted by the ISTE Librarians’ group. As one of several stations in an area dubbed a “playground,” I discussed how librarians can match picture books with maker activities. I especially enjoyed meeting librarians from all over the world who are interested in starting their own library makerspaces.

Many librarians were interested in discussing how they can design maker activities around children’s literature.
Heading out for the Convention Center with my exhibit materials
Heading out for the Convention Center with my exhibit materials

The following day I lugged books, robotic devices, and other maker resources from our hotel to the Convention Center for my second presentation. “The Youngest Makers: Maker Activities that Help Preschoolers Develop Fine Motor Skills” was a very popular station, if I say so myself. Attendees enjoyed experimenting with one of our Bee Bots, the Osmo tangram set, Cubelets, and a “tinker tray” full of loose parts. We focused on how each resource could help young children develop hand strength, pincer grip, and other skills. I posted QR codes linked to the resources, and many visitors indicated that they planned on acquiring and using the items with their own students. I had 300 handouts, which proved to be too few. I was pleasantly surprised when Benjamin Herold, a journalist with Education Week, asked if he could interview me for that publication! The article has a couple of minor inaccuracies, but I chalk them up to my own momentary discombobulation following the two-hour presentation! The EdWeek blog article is here.

Mrs. Opdahl provided enthusiastic support as I prepared for my “Youngest Makers” session.

In addition to sharing my own ideas, I attended several workshops and sessions so I could discover more ideas to borrow! I enjoyed a Makey Makey workshop, a session on designing library makerspaces, a panel presentation about incorporating maker educuation into the curriculum, playgrounds featuring digital storytelling and early learning technologies, and other topics. At the ISTE Librarians’ Network breakfast meeting, I was inspired by the keynote speaker, Shannon Miller. She spoke about the important role school librarians should play as technology integrators in encouraging students to find and share their own voices respectfully and safely through social media — including Skyping with their favorite authors. Mrs. Opdahl and I attended the Independent School Educator Network’s dinner, where we found other Marylanders and AIMS members, including our friend Marti Weston of Georgetown Day School. Marti was awarded the group’s Outstanding Educator Award for implementing innovative practices, establishing private-public partnerships, and advancing the teaching practice with all educators. Well done, Marti! Another evening I attended the Librarian Network’s dinner and social at the Independence Beer Garden near the Liberty Bell, which was great fun. Several vendors and corporate sponsors hosted social events. The Gaggle party and the Edtech Karaoke party always are popular. (I had so much fun at the former that I was too pooped for the latter!) Speaking of vendors, Mrs. Opdahl and I both spent hours meeting and greeting representatives of companies we already know, and making new connections with potential vendors, as well. Some of the products and companies represented were Microsoft, LittleBits, Modular Robotics, Britannica, KidPix, LEGO Education, MakerBot Industries, Bretford Library Furniture, SMART, One More Story, Common Sense Media, Sphero Education, and many, many more.

Your intrepid ISTE2015 volunteer serves up Philly water ice to a happy attendee.
Your intrepid ISTE2015 volunteer serves up Philly water ice to a happy attendee.

My final action to report on from the immersive experience of ISTE2015 was serving as a conference volunteer for a couple of hours. I handed out welcome treats to attendees — Philadelphia water ice, such a refreshing treat — and got a t-shirt for my efforts. Before I knew it, it was time for Mrs. Opdahl and me to get our bags and go to the Amtrak station for our train home again. Now I will have some time to thank everyone who was kind enough to tweet about my sessions, and plan how I can incorporate new ideas into my own curriculum. Making new professional connections, extending my own personal learning network, and acquiring new skills and ideas are great take-aways from the conference. (The vendor swag is pretty cool, too!)

If you would like to see my presentation handouts, click on the “Nan’s ISTE2015 Presentations” link on the top menu. To learn more about ISTE, see and watch this ISTE-produced video about the conference:

Getting ready for ISTE2015!

At the end of June I will be in Philadelphia for the annual meeting of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). I am pleased and proud to report that I will be sharing two presentations. The first, “Pairing Picture Books to Maker Activities,” is part of the Librarian network’s “playground” — an expo in which librarians from around the world share ideas, technology, and maker projects. The following day I will present my solo presentation, “The Youngest Makers: Makerspace Activities that Help Preschoolers Develop Fine Motor Skills.” I have many ideas to share based on my work with our youngest CHS students this past year. I can’t wait to network with other makers and librarians, and I’m especially excited that Mrs. Opdahl is attending the conference, too. Here’s an example of a classic children’s book with a Maker project featuring Cubelets.


Make & Break: the 1st Grade Piñata

In conjunction with their classroom study of Mexico, the first graders made a beautiful piñata. After watching a how-to video together, the children made a star-shaped papier mâche piñata around an inflated balloon. After applying several layers of the newspaper over a two-week period, the children decorated the piñata with crepe paper fringe. I put special favors and treats inside, and the class enjoyed breaking open the finished piñata on Cinco de Mayo. Throughout the process we listened to festive mariachi music. Olé!