Maker Educator Boot Camp & Me

A Match Made at Children's Museum of Pittsburgh - June 2018

Why Make?

"Because information and resources come from all kinds of places, not only from books" - a quote from the "Bubbler" librarians in Madison, Wisconsin, my table mates during the boot camp.

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh Info

Parents Magazine rated it as one of the top ten children's museums in the country. It is located on the north shore of Pittsburgh and provides quality experiences and programs for 306,000+ visitors every year. It has established partnerships with Pittsburgh Public Schools, University of Pittsburgh, Reading is FUNdamental, etc. To read more about this uniquely vibrant museum, please click here.

Boot camp Instead of the Beach?

No, not because of my was not that type of boot camp!

I am a media specialist/teacher-librarian in a large urban school district in the Atlanta area. I have been fascinated with the maker movement, because I personally learn by doing. If I just read about how to do something, as illuminating as it might be, at the end, I am not going to know how to do it. And, there is such satisfaction in making and seeing a finished product. Along the way, it occurred to me that some of my students might find doing and making a good way of learning, too.

For example, this past school year, I read the students a book about murals in a Latino neighborhood. They adored the accompanying mural making activity using butcher paper on the tables, crayons and markers, and some background salsa music. The act of doing and exploring patterns and shapes brought that book alive for students and created our own community atmosphere right there in the media center, something I could not have achieved with only sharing the story. The ESOL students started speaking Spanish and showing us salsa dance moves, and the rest of the students practiced their Spanish vocabulary, too.

I was so excited when I found out I had been afforded the opportunity to attend, and I wanted to record my journey. This is the blog of my progression through the experience.

Day 1

I arrived in Pittsburgh to attend Children's Museum of Pittsburgh's Maker Educators Boot Camp just in time on Tuesday morning. (I fly standby and was very happy when Delta called my name off the list.) I didn't want to be late; CMP had awarded me a very generous scholarship to make my attendance possible. I was filled with trepidation and excitement . What if they required me to use a buzz saw or something, which would be way out of my comfort zone, and I might be terrible at? But, I was determined to succeed in whatever they threw my way. At the boot camp, I met teachers, librarians, museum directors, and administrators from all over the country and world.

As background for my interest in maker spaces, I created a small, mobile, creative space in my media center, but I have never been sure if I have doing it "right." And, when I look around at other schools and districts, I've seen all sorts of Maker Spaces, some very techie and some on the creative side. Which was right? (I lean towards creative, because that's my style.) It turns out they are both "right." Making is about using real world items to create, to explore, to learn, and to find joy while doing it.

We were immediately turned loose with odds and ends of found objects today and told to create something collaboratively. i was a little intimidated....what if my table mates were all more creative and way cooler than me? It turned out that did not matter; we all worked well together in creating a super hero costume. I loved that our project did not start out being a super hero costume, but that's the way it evolved. That afternoon, we were given a scavenger hunt to complete throughout the museum, so we got to explore the activities and maker spaces. I was most impressed with a little girl, who was about three, making a screen print. Watching her brought home the idea that with encouragement and a little help, creativity can blossom, no matter what age, perceived ability, and prior knowledge you might have.

Day 2

First workshop day, and I had no clue about what kind of workshops we will attend, but I soon found out. As it turned out, I was assigned to the Fiber Makeshop. There was a little instruction and a lot of fabric, yarn, thread with all kinds of interesting textures and patterns. I started with the idea of making a pocket, but then I watched Paige, the fiber artist, making a stitch that looked like a tongue or a flower petal. I was immediately in love, so I used thread and yarn to add embroidery detail to a jungle scene. One of my colleagues from Cranberry Public Library shared that she has patrons make Franken dolls out of left over stuffed creatures cut apart, using beginner needles (very blunt). In terms of literacy, what a great pairing making Franken dolls with McDonnell's The Monster's Monster would make. There was an emphasis on learning by observing and conferring in this workshop. For instance, a colleague and I shared Rebecca Ringquist's Embroidery Workshops, a very beautiful book of stitchery. Kids can learn skills much the same way, through observation and peer teaching.

In the afternoon, I went to the Electronics Makeshop. I learned how to make circuits, switches, and take apart stuff. I even learned how to solder and solder suck. Solder is that metal alloy that holds all of the little switches and circuits in your electronics in place. What amazed me the most was the intricacy of the circuit boards that were in a $9.99 dvd player. (I took it apart, and it had a $9.99 sticker on it before I did.) This workshop definitely fell into the category of tinkering, and it was a great way to explore tools and materials. I learned safety in that there are some items you should not use in a tinkering studio, such as cameras, because even cameras that have not been used for a long time can hold electricity. The circuits were rather simple, but it was empowering knowing how they work.

Day 3

Today, I started with the Digital Makeshop and learned to block code with Scratch, as well as making stop motion videos with iMotion. Students would love making stop motion films, and I'm a fan because of some of Wes Anderson's movies (think Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox). This workshop was way too short. My Scratch elephant needed more care and attention. Before the workshop, i understood what coding was; long ago, I learned to code in BASIC. But, sitting down and having the luxury of time to explore the Scratch website was wonderful. There is much to be said for doing as opposed to sitting and listening.

Second makeshop of the day was Heavy Materials, the title of which struck fear in my heart. I can't even hammer a nail straight. After the makeshop, I could rasp, saw, and nail. I even knew what a pilot hole was and why you drill them. Though I probably will not be turning my students loose with saws and hammers anytime in the near future, I saw the value in kids learning how to use them in more sheltered environments. My new found skills with a leveler will be helpful in hanging posters, too!

Day 4 - Conclusion

We watched a presentation by Manchester Charter School in Pittsburgh, who has embraced the maker space philosophy and now has a full time maker space teacher, along with 3-D printers, a heavy materials room, a tinkering room, and even a kitchen. Not every school can dedicate that many resources, but the philosophy of maker spaces can be applied in the simplest or the most complex ways to libraries, classrooms, camps, etc. When I think about how proud of myself I was after I made things myself during this workshop, including hammering nails properly, i also think about empowering a child to feel the same way. Making things and mastering new techniques help children and adults alike to take ownership of their learning.

Theory Behind the Movement

During this week, it struck me that maker spaces were very constructivist in their approach to learning. By doing and exploring, each participant constructed his or her own knowledge, with hands on activities, bringing their prior knowledge and experiences into the mix. The workshop leader acted as a facilitator.

Going back to my notes from my Educational Psychology class (GA Southern), I found that in constructivist theory, the learning occurs inside the student’s head. Yet, it is the action of building something that is personally meaningful, or creating a tangible product that is shareable, that cements the real learning for the learner (Martinez & Stager, 2013). Fleming (2015) explains, “The Maker Movement is about moving from consumption to creation and turning knowledge into action."

In addition to learning theory, I was interested in students' affective reactions to the making experience. Throughout this blog, I shared my emotional connection to what I was doing, and I did that with purpose. Our students may experience similar emotions when they approach new tasks. Our job as educators is to encourage students to work through those fears in order to try new things (even multiplication tables). "Brave before perfect" became my motto (credit: Traci Chun) during this journey.


Chun, T. (2017, June 13). Future ready librarians; Empowering students as creators (Webinar post). Retrieved from

Fleming, L. (2015). Worlds of making; Best practices for establishing a maker space at your school. Corwin.

Martinez, S. & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn; Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Modern Knowledge Press.

A heartfelt thank you to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh for the opportunity!

Patty O'Connor, Maker, Author, & Photographer