STEM + Inquiry + Makerspaces = Library Excitement!

Inquiry…STEM…Makerspaces…these are three very popular terms in education right now. I try to avoid buzzwords and falling into traps of the latest and greatest idea to save education and make our students better adults. I see many of these hot ideas as new packaging for what we have always known to be good teaching that is best for students. However, our high-stakes testing society has gotten us away from that mission, and the world outside of education seems to be feeling the impact in their hiring pools. Maybe these three terms can work together to bring us back to teaching in a way that makes a difference. Librarians are positioned to lead the charge!
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Inquiry – asking questions. What better place to encourage questioning than in the library? Librarians are trained to guide students to find answers and we should be focused on teaching the students how to use the resources effectively and efficiently to not only answer their immediate question but to continue asking more. The library should be a place that stimulates curiosity.
STEM – It can be difficult to see ways to directly link science, engineering, and math to library instruction, but when it is done the connection can be powerful! Our students who go into the workforce in a STEM-related field are increasingly expected to have the knowledge and ability to think critically and solve problems that we didn’t even know existed a few years ago. A collaboration between content area teachers in these subjects and librarians can open even more doors to the students and allow them more opportunities to bounce ideas off of adults who can facilitate questioning and learning. This was the essence of my most powerful collaborative work with a Biology teacher when I was a high school librarian. The teacher knew the content and I could be in the classroom, computer lab, or library with his class as they experienced learning. Together we could offer the students so much more than just the content from the textbook. They could become scientists, asking questions and seeking answers. The same can be done in math, engineering, and technology classes with a collaborative librarian as part of the instructional team.
arts-and-crafts-suppliesMakerspaces – early in my career, I set up a “Children’s Engineering” station in my library. There I had a variety of arts and crafts materials, found objects, and tools for students to create things. I included books in the area that would help them generate ideas. When they were finished, I displayed their creations. I also started many class lessons with an engineering activity – build a tower for Rapunzel out of newsprint and a length of tape…make a house for a pig out of toothpicks. I allowed students time to play, and through that play they learned. This is the heart of a makerspace. It does not have to be fancy or include a 3D printer (although that might be cool). It does need to encourage play and creativity. It needs to allow students to think out of the box and to make things using their own imaginations, to solve their own problems, to be part of something new. To create.
Inquiry, STEM, and makerspaces. Not the scary buzz words that I often shy away from, but a powerful triangle of success for our students’ futures.
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