If You Build It….They Will Come

I am lucky enough to be in a school where I have quite a few resources when it comes to makerspaces and technology.  We were lucky enough to be picked for one of the schools for Curriculum Redesign and were given quite a number of cool resources.  One of the amazing things I found when I came to the school last year was a “bus” that had Raspberry Pi’s, Ardiunos, Little Bits kits, Lego Mindstorms, Makey Makey’s and more.  As well, I was able to bring in Minecraftedu and Scratch as programs for students to use.

Unfortunately with it being my first year last year, I wasn’t fully able to use all the things listed above and it really was something I wanted to tackle and get into.  I felt my littles this year weren’t quite ready to take all this on so I decided why not start an afterschool making/coding club.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

I talked to my admin who supported me (as usual), did a little research and wrote a parent letter telling about this new afterschool club, along with what I called my “Code” of Conduct – my expectations for how things would go in this little club of mine.  Last Friday I called a meeting at first recess calling for all those who liked to tinker, create and build to come to the first ever BG Making/Coding Club. Well….first recess came and I walked down to the atrium to meet those who were interested and came upon a mob of kids.  I couldn’t believe it honestly – I asked them to sit while I explained what my goals and hopes were for the club as well as shared my code of conduct.  Those that were interested were to bring the form home, read it over with their parents and then bring it back to school on the following Monday. I ended up handing out over 70 forms.

I then went home and tried to come to grips with what had just happened.  Now I knew I would not get every student that had come to the meeting – some would have parents that would say this just did not fit into their schedule, some would not be interested in the expectations I was putting on them and for some after school pickup would be a challenge. However, I had to figure out how I was going to handle the numbers if I did get a lot of kids.  For me, the challenge was I did not want to leave kids out, I did not want to draw names out of a hat, I did not want to split into groups where one group would get a few months, then the other would come the latter half of the year.  I had a lot of things I wanted to do with the club this year.  So I decided that I would just take whoever showed up that Monday with their forms.  Those students who did what I asked, read over and got their forms in on the assigned date would be showing me they were seriously interested and could follow what was asked of them.  Again I was under this crazy assumption this might bring my numbers down.

By Monday lunch, after I put out an announcement saying all forms must be in by that lunch no later, I had 57 students in my first ever coding club…. yes, that is correct 57 students.  So now I had to figure out what how I was going to organize this sheer number of kids and how things would work.  I ended up having a meeting on the Tuesday morning with the 57 and explained that by the end of the day that had to be in a team of 3 and would be part of one of the following team challenges:  the Minecraft Challenge, the Lego Mindstorm Challenge or the Scratch Challenge.

At the end of the day, myself, my new partner in crime (the learning coach who was willing to jump in and join me on this journey) and 57 kids started our first coding club meeting.  For the Minecraft team their challenge was to plan and build something that would knock my socks off.  I explained that I was pretty Minecraft savvy and had seen some pretty amazing things so I now needed to see what skills they all brought to the table Minecraft wise – what were they capable of creating with the knowledge and skills they had.  And trust me, they were ready to go.  Many of them kept coming up to me going “I can’t wait for you to see this Mrs. D.  – it is going to blow your mind.”

Some of the Minecraft teams hard at work.

Some of the Minecraft teams hard at work.

For the Lego Mindstorm groups, I was very blunt.  I explained I did not know much about them but was willing to learn with them but their challenge was to work as a team and build something, whatever creation they wanted to as a team.  I was lucky enough to have 3-4 kids that had a pretty good idea of how Mindstorms worked so they got into their teams and away they went.

One of the Lego Mindstorm teams hard at work.

One of the Lego Mindstorm teams hard at work.

For the Scratch team, I was not able to get things going that day for them.  They were a smaller team – only 6 were interested.  I asked them if they would be willing to join the Minecraft challenge until next week when I could have things better organized with putting groups in different areas as well as backpacks.  (who knew 57 backpacks would take up a HUGE space in my classroom – I lost a big building space to backpacks alone.  I now know next week there needs to be a different space for this)  However, my challenge for them will be for them to make a video in Scratch talking about our amazing school and what is so great about it.

The plan will now be for the teams to work for the next 2-3 weeks on their challenge.  We will then collectively as a group come together and do a share where we will see what others have created and share our thoughts – what we think has worked well, what we liked and then have the group reflect on what they have built, what they like, what would they do differently if they could.  Then they will have the opportunity to rotate to another challenge.  This should keep me going for the next few months so that I can figure out how to slowly introduce all the other makerspace tools I want them to have a chance to experiment with.

So now that the whirlwind that has consumed me for this last few days has finally slowed down, I can reflect and say how amazing it is that I have the number of kids that I have.  During that day, I had students engaged and creating, helping each other out when they couldn’t figure out how to work something, not one student was left out, all were on a team of some sorts.  I heard over and over “this is so awesome….” “this is so cool….”  and “I can’t wait for next week…”

I actually have a waiting list of more that want to join, but I did have to be realistic and cap it.  I was close to getting in over my head with the numbers I already had. But I look forward to this adventure ahead. I have many ideas and goals this year and now that I know I have a group of kids excited to join me on it who knows what we are going to come up with over the course of the year…. but I’ll keep you all posted.

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