Open Portfolios: Ravenswood Makerspaces District-Wide

This is the seventh in a series of blog posts about Maker Ed’s Open Portfolio Project work during the summer and fall 2014. These posts are also written in conjunction with the Research Briefs being released throughout 2014 and into 2015.

The Ravenswood City School District, just north of Silicon Valley, serves a predominantly Hispanic population in East Palo Alto and surrounding neighborhoods. Over the last 2 years, Robert Pronovost, the Lead STEM Coordinator, has spearheaded an enormous effort to design, build, and establish 7 makerspaces in schools throughout the entire district. His personal passion, making, mixed with coding and robotics, form the basis of the activities in the makerspaces, many of which are in varying stages of completion. One, located in a mobile classroom at the Los Robles Dual Immersion Magnet Academy, is up and running — and thriving.

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Currently, the hope — in addition to having a space at every school — is to have enough funding to allow the makerspaces to be open to the community, with dedicated facilitators at each site, to welcome not only students but parents as well. The one open day in 2013 was well-attended by parents, and they experienced first-hand the excitement that emanated from kids and adults. The Ravenswood makerspaces are also looking to integrate with curriculum and existing classes, whether science, social studies, or language arts. There’s also potential for an “Introduction to STEM” course for 4th and 5th graders, led by a certified teacher who is also well-versed and excited to facilitate making experiences.

In addition to the building of physical space, documentation of making is a close-second in priority. The coordinators at Los Robles explain that documentation helps youth see what’s possible. It provides students with examples of projects by peers, and it showcases the successes as well as the processes — all of which require perseverance, development of skills, and problem solving. Project samples allow others in the greater community glimpse what’s happening in school, and it provides a spark for students to start making things for themselves. On another level, documentation is a clear assessment of student learning. It provides evidence of whether the makerspace supports student development, and it feeds back into the cycle of self-improvement with information on what works and what doesn’t. It also provides, quite simply, data for topics like material popularity. Documentation allows coordinators to better understand which materials should be kept in stock.

Ravenswood-2Currently, in November 2014, the makerspace at Los Robles contains snippets of documentation in all corners. Students logged onto Tinkercad use a group account for the makerspace, allowing students to easily see each other’s work. On one shelf with multiple bins of projects is a digital photo frame that rotates through photos of projects and youth. In another corner of the room is a glass display of 3D printed objects, all by students, near the 3D printer. Buckets with projects in-progress sit on shelves all along the wall, and near the back corner is an example of a simple MakeDo house, inspiring kids to build their own out of the pile of cardboard nearby. On tables in the middle of the room are also project examples, some being actively developed by staff and some being tinkered on by students. As part of a unit on green energy, a small-scale wind turbine sits on the edge of the table, facing a large box fan, ready to generate power. Up front, a project binder is filled with individual pages of student writing and drawings, some with a simply jotted idea or goal and others with writing and reflections on every stage of work. That binder is the initial, informal step towards portfolio creation. 

Students initially came to the makerspace during recess and lunch. With growing demand, the makerspace began to stay open to classes outside of lunch. Students who hesitantly joined in last year are now leading and helping others; they are already familiar with tools, already thinking about future projects. Students come to the makerspace to learn Tinkercad, work on projects, collaborate with others, and even focus on homework. With digital cameras that are wifi-enabled, facilitators record the action via video and photo, and coordinators are thinking about how they will have students share their work from one makerspace to another, connecting all of the district sites. Robert mentions that he’d like to eventually have ID cards for all students, each card containing data on what skills they’ve mastered and what interests they have. Students will be able to support peers through their own expertise and experiences.

There is a unique opportunity brewing at Ravenswood: the community of makers and makerspaces being built will develop organically to fit the needs of the specific school and youth, and their connections to one other will allow for easy sharing and demonstration. Each makerspace will both reflect and showcase the passions of its individual audiences. In turn, the portfolios created — whether representing the individual or a group identity — will do the same; they will be an ever-growing collection of both physical and digital artifacts that capture the special facets of what youth and educators are doing.

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