Lately, with all this focus on mobile learning, the computer lab has been getting a bad rap – labeled as a place where students sit disconnected from each other, learning how to type or create PowerPoint presentations. That method of using technology is already outdated and, frankly, boring. But, the reality is, most schools have a computer lab and I’m not sure we want to throw them out just yet! They’re not (all) bad places. They are just not always being used effectively.

Turning computer labs into Maker space – spaces that make room for choice, creativity, collaboration and connecting – is the right fix. Look at spaces like  YouMedia Studios in the middle Chicago’s Harold Washington Public Library. Any middle or high school student can come in to use the technology to create photos, videos, music, publish magazines or books. Now this is where I see the future of the typical school computer lab moving. Every student deserves a space where they can take learning into their own hands and make something original from their own knowledge and expertise. Recreate an old, out dated, lab into a media studio where students are free to make the media they are such avid consumers can truly change the culture of the school.  A studio like that will become the heart and soul of the school where great ideas come to life and are shared with the school community and beyond!

Why Limit The Space to JUST technology?

Photo Courtesy of iact.ie

“Maker Faires” are popping up all over, created by Dale Dougherty, founder of Make magazine and advocate for having schools be places for inspiration and innovation.  He is launching the Maker Education Initiative this summer with the mission to create more opportunities for young people to make, and, by making, build confidence, foster creativity, and spark interest in science, technology, engineering, math, the arts—and learning as a whole as he shared in this interview last month, taped at the Maker Faire in the Bay Area- it’s a great interview and I’ve already registered to join the intiative! ( http://youtu.be/2N5Z19fCJbs?hd=1 )

In the San Francisco Chronicle article, “Maker movement inspires students, teachers,” Betsy Corcran describes how the Maker culture can fit right into the classroom. Youngmakers.com is a perfect resource to help create this type of culture for students. Kids naturally love making, and I think that includes the physical and the digital world. A great computer lab should be a combination of that, allowing the students to take their learning off the computer and place it into the real world.

New Lab: New Goal

It was actually a project shared by @courosa on Twitter last week that led me to formulate this goal of having students become self taught experts on a subject, make, reflect and share the process. Alec Couros is a professor of educational technology and media at the University of Regina, and in one of his pre-service teacher courses, he had his students pick a skill to learn using technology and then produce incredible projects summarizing their own personal learning. On his blog, open thinking, he shares these final projects, ranging widely from learning to knit, to playing the ukulele, to creating resources for Chemistry educators.

Sifting through these final projects created by college students incited me to try and create the same spark for this type of learning/making in the computer lab at our K-8 school this next year. We’ll be using tech to learn NOT how to use tech. In a “Maker” computer lab/media studio, students can tap into their own personal learning styles and then decide how to share what they know, be it through video, podcasts, blogs. vlogs, ebooks, glogs … the list goes on and on!

Fitting the MakerSpace into that Old Lab

I am very excited to inherit our school’s computer lab for my new classroom.  Twenty four iMacs lined up in 3 neat rows of eight.  I will keep those Macs, no doubt, but want to reconfigure the lab to make it a true Makerspace. If I move those Macs to round tables and maybe add a camera or two, a microphone or headset, possibly paint one wall green for an instant green screen set up, stock the cabinets with some art supplies and tools I think I might have just that! Hey, maybe I could even add that Lego wall I saw on Pinterest about a year ago!  Just a few tweaks and add ons, and I think this once “single-function” computer space could transform into Makerspace for my students.

Inside a lab like this, I can hopefully capture their love of learning and making to tap into their passions- taking any “boringness” out of the lab and allowing it, instead, to be a space where learning has no limits and the students are the experts.

A “Makerspace” computer lab… what else will I need in there to really make this work?

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