I’ve been asked by other teachers, how did I score room to set up a Maker Space for my students. The simple answer is the same answer to the question “How did you get a Planetarium Classroom” – luck. Strange things happen when you design and build a magnet school. Here’s how it all came together.
When I first sketched out this building to house the Planetarium Classroom sometime in 1995, I knew that I would need a workshop space to build / fix planetarium related things and for various Poinciana classroom teachers who were always asking me to build science equipment for them. In addition, I needed a darkroom, because back then that’s how productions in planetariums were produced – on slide film, developed in darkrooms. They built me the space, and I filled it with old metal shelves scrounged from the demolished former Poinciana buildings full of parts, tools, and other stuff. There were two workbenches, one for woodwork and another for electronics. The unmarried, childless version of myself which opened the Poinciana Planetarium in 1996 spent many hours happily working on various school-related projects late into the evening back in that workspace. Occasionally, a few students even joined me to work on projects.
After I left in 2000, Steve Schiff was director for awhile and he tore out the darkroom (slides were on their way out in favor of video) and turned it into a space shuttle simulator. The workshop was mostly cleaned out as well and transformed into an area for the student astronauts to meet, learn, and eat lunch when not flying the shuttle. The tools were still there, things could still be fixed, but it wasn’t so much a workshop any more.
I ended up coming back to Poinciana in 2005 to teach 5th grade, which I did for 4 years. During that time, the Maker Movement really began to gain steam. Make Magazine began publication, Instructables.com became popular, and I used both of these resources with my students both during the school day, and after school with my engineering club. Boy, did I wish I had the workshop back – this time for my students to use!
So after Dr. Schiff’s retirement, I jumped at the chance to move back to my old Planetarium Classroom, and began the transformation of the room behind the planetarium into the “Mad Panda Maker Space” (Poincaina’s mascot is the Pandas). My engineering club kids moved right in, but the space wasn’t really set up for a bunch of kids to work in – I needed some different tools, more and more accessible supply areas, and better defined stations. Cubbies for student project storage were needed too.
Over the last few years, it slowly came together. Poinciana and I received grants from several different sources, including SECME, the Palm Beach County Education Foundation, Poinciana PTA, and some private donors. This enabled me to purchase tools, supplies, storage containers and systems, and even our amazing Makerbot Replicator. Check out my post on this year’s opening of the Maker Space to see how it’s all ended up.