This is a post that has been a long time coming. Back in October I was contacted about having a Brilliant Labs Makercart in my school and housing it in my classroom. It took less then 2 seconds to say 'yes' and to be incredibly excited! The cart arrived stocked full of different materials: Makey Makey's, an Arduino Kit, a Redbot, a Raspberry Pi 2, Little Circuits, a Hummingbird kit, some wearable tech, a drawer of creative materials, and then the two class favourites, a sewing machine and a Printrbot Play - 3D printer. Over the course of the 4 months we had the cart we jumped in and explored all the materials in it. These explorations were student led, hands on, and awesome! Students discovered, created, made mistakes, got frustrated, confused, and tried again. And above all, love it. The beauty of the cart is the ability to explore with classmates, find something that you really like and explore it farther. It is not easy to understand all that is in the cart (I still do not understand it all), and students get to experience things being difficult. The perseverance that they learn and experience is invaluable. Too often students are not allowed to fail and pick themselves back up. The Makercart allows for this and the result is stronger students who are not scared of a challenge or not getting it right on the first go. The support of the wonderful staff of Brilliant Labs was great. Sarah (@sarah_sarahryan) and Jeff (@brilliant_labs) were always available to answer a questions and provide support. The materials from Brilliant Labs were awesome, but the people made it all work. The Makercart has now left the class and headed to someone else. I think of it a bit like the Phantom Tollbooth, a magical box to spark the imagination and creativity of all those who use it. So we were thrilled that we got to experience it, and now are looking to build our own Makercart, and build on the success we found with Brilliant Labs.
Brilliant Labs makercart
I started out this school year with 27 students and 27 desks. I found that it was hard to negotiate the classroom and that we were pretty crowded. There were limited possibilities for arranging them in different group pairings due to space limitations. I had heard of alternative seating and decided to give it a try and jump in. It started off with looking for some volunteers to go "deskless". There was a large number of students who wanted to give this experience a go. I started with 5, removed their desks and brought some more comfortable seating in. As the week went on I added 6 more to the realm of "deskless" students and we were on to something! When all the students who wanted to be "deskless" had their desks removed we had 17 students who have no fixed seat and can move about to different chairs, spots, stools throughout the day. This is not to say that the students who have chosen to keep their desks are stuck in them. They too have the choice to move about the room to different seats if they choose. We call it our "work around the room" approach, where as long as students are working, it does not matter where they work.
I must admit it was a work in progress from the beginning and there are days where it still feels that way. There are a couple of bugs that we are still working out, but overall it has been a great experience for the class and one that I will look to continue in coming years.
We use a combination of beanbag chairs, padded stools, a couple of rolling desk chairs and a few regular plastic chairs. We also have 2 carpet areas and some body pillows and blankets to add to the atmosphere.
A couple bugs that I need to work out are storage of student materials. We have a bookshelf for binders, and some bins for books. The main issue is pencils, and few other personal items. I have tried using some blue folder bags, but they tend to get left out and do not have a solid place in the room. I am hoping to add a bookshelf that will have a cubby space for each student to house such items. Even better would be 2, so I could break them up and make it easier for larger numbers of students to get to their things.
Mr. Nick Baskwill
Grade 5 teacher, Pirate