The 6.5 Ingredients of a Mobile Creation Station

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The buzz about "maker" spaces has reached epidemic proportions. Schools everywhere are repurposing extra classrooms, renovating computer labs, retooling media centers, and rehabbing teacher lounges to accommodate creative workstations, materials, and tools.

That’s fantastic.

But what if the school doesn’t have an extra room? Or has an anemic budget? What if teachers refuse to clean out the fridge and surrender their lounge? The answer is simple: go mobile! A mobile creation station requires no demolition, has a friendlier budget, and can be more efficient than a permanent room-based workshop. Here are the 6.5 action items for rolling out a mobile creation station.

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My homemade mobile makerspace.

The 0.5-step comes first because it’s the most obvious—the cart. This component will move from place to place and house all the "wonderfulness." A sturdy, roomy cabinet with wheels will work well. School warehouses are a great place to start looking. Here are the other 6 steps.

  1. Consumables. These are items your students will cut, glue, bend, break, and transform. Consider recyclables because they are often free (or nearly so). Have parents bring water bottles, cardboard, newspapers, milk cartons (rinsed out), scrap wood, string, and so on. Ask neighbors to donate paper, glue, and markers. Reach out to local businesses that toss out the bubble wrap; it's perfect for that egg-drop project! Working in this way does more than simply stock your mobile creation station for free; it also fosters priceless community buy-in.
  2. Non-consumables. This is where you’ll want to spend your money. These items will get used again and again. They include learning tools like Sphero, MakeyMakey, Hummingbird Robotic Kits, Straws and Connectors, a few Raspberry Pis, and more. Search the web and see what other schools are using. Think about what you want students to accomplish with this rolling resource; then find items to match those needs.
  3. Tools. Students will need some tools. Stock your station with scissors, pencils, markers, and crayons. Other great tools include hammers, tape measures, saws, drills, screwdrivers, and safety glasses. Please don’t forget the safety glasses! Like the non-consumables, these items won’t need to be purchased repeatedly--unless they break. Tools can be pricey, so get resourceful. Ask parents for donations, scout out garage sales, and partner with a local hardware store. You can add tools throughout the year, so don’t feel pressured to amass everything at once. Did I mention safety glasses?
  4. Coding with a Sphero robot and the free CodeSnaps app.

    Connections. Connecting your creation space to classroom learning can be extremely rewarding. I feel maker spaces should be free of grading, but students will make connections, and teachers can harness that energy. Curriculum Pathways offers a cornucopia of free resources for math, science, English language arts, social studies, and Spanish. And these all align seamlessly with creation stations. Teachers can introduce the Curriculum Pathways item before, during or, after using the station. Here’s an example: an English language arts teacher facilitates a class exploration of a Curriculum Pathways lesson involving Lawrence Yep's Dragonwings and then rolls in the creation station for the students to engineer earthquake-proof structures with straws and connectors. Not only have you added an extra "ELA" to STEM (STEMELA anyone?), but you've also embedded a tangible connection to the text.

  5. Organization. Someone or some group must keep the cart ship-shape--replenishing consumables, organizing non-consumables, checking tools, and inventorying items. This is a great job for the PTA or a school volunteer. Find someone without classroom responsibilities for this vital role.
  6. Schedule. Creating a schedule to reserve the cart will enable teachers and students to enjoy the amazing resource that’s been engineered for them. Online scheduling systems are quick and easy to set up. Or go old school: print a paper calendar and have teachers reserve the cart for specific times.

Here's an example activity:

Something Fishy (a delicious multi-modal lesson overview involving aquatic life, seasoned with a dash of math, a sprinkle of science, and a blend of maker goodness)

A 5th-grade teacher introduces the concept of rounding numbers (CCSS, 5.NBT.4), using the Commercial Fisheries data from Curriculum Pathways' Data Depot. This math lesson leads to a science lesson about aquatic ecosystems (CCSS, 5.L.2), which the teacher reinforces with the Stream Ecology VLab. Next, the teacher has the mobile creation station delivered to the classroom and informs students that they will be use recycled material donated by parents to make battery-powered submarines equipped with small cameras. After testing the submarines in a water-filled bin, students launch them in a nearby pond. Later, they'll view the video captured by the submarines and use Writing Navigator to plan, draft, revise, and publish a report on their newfound knowledge.

That’s it. Now go build a mobile creation station and share what your students do with the entire world. When the academic accolades arrive, tell everyone, “Mobile creation station...that’s just how my school rolls.”

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About Author

Sean Russell

Husband, dad, 5th grade teacher, tinkerer, geek, ukulele enthusiast, beach cruiser pilot. Follow him on Twitter: @SeanRussell311

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