Go Ahead, #MAKE my Holiday 

12-days-of-making-48It’s the week before holiday break. We’re in Monday through Thursday and as all educators know, the closer to the break the more things unravel. As I listened in on conversations regarding pre-break activities, I thought more could be done with students than eating doughnuts and watching a video. So, I invited teachers to bring in their classes to either use STEM makerspace items, Hour of Code or a MakerCare activity.  MakerCare is a section of our makerspace dedicated to community service projects.  Santa arrived early with some new coding robots, LittleBits STEM Kits, Bloxels and some 3-Doodlers. So there were lots of fun choices. With all these good choices the overwhelming the choice to give to others.


With this added help we’ll be able to finish up our plarn sleepmat for the homeless and make catnip toys for our local shelter.



The other major activity in our makerspace is the gift of giving. For three weeks now students have been flocking the makerspace everyday at lunch and afterschool creating unique homemade gifts for family and friends. So much giving go on this month it makes my heart swell. I am so thrilled to be part of a community of caring individuals.


Happy Holidays Everyone!


The Compassionate Maker: Because we all need a little ‘kind’ in our lives.  

Today is Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor those military veterans who served our country in the Armed Forces. So in our MakerCare Center, what better way to honor the men and women of the military, than that of a heartfelt ‘Thank You.’


Our MakerCare Center was all set up this week with supplies needed to create personalized greetings. Colored pencils, markers, glue and scissors all lined up ready to go. Cardstock paper in a variety of colors. Students approached the center not sure how to proceed; what exactly to say? After some thoughtful reflection, the words came flowing out and the artistry and creativity shone. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Our successful MakerCare program facilitates service projects for our teens as described in this  School Library Journal article. A highlight for us was to be recognized by Maker guru himself, Dale Dougherty. The truly special thing about our program is the amount of collaboration that takes place among myself, staff and outside agencies. Our collaborations go deep, and in this case, obtaining the names of service members and veterans so students can truly appreciate the sacrifice made by these men and women. dale-dougherty-tweet-compassionate-making

To personalize the interaction I gathered names of service people from either our community or related to someone in our community. Students got a particular kick out that one of the servicemen lives/serves in Hawaii! I explained to them it was well deserved after a tour in Afghanistan and winters in Fort Drum! Another of our contacts lives on base in Alaska! I also gave students an opportunity to write to a recent Islip grad, my son Jacob, a Marine.


I was truly touched by one of the cards. Read it below and I dare you not to say, ‘Wow’ afterwards.


This week I presented at the Long Island Regional School Library Conference, discussing our school  philosophy of Compassionate Making and how we implemented our MakerCare program. It was well received probably because we all need a little ‘kind’ in our lives.

no-act-of-kindness-no-matter-how-small-wasted-aesopAs always, it’s our dedication to collaboration that provided our students with this special MakerCare experience. At Islip High School, we are dedicated to #makeadifference in the lives of others!




Hispanic Heritage Month Meet your #Maker 

Last year we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month in our high school makerspace. Our ELLs (English Language Learners) made paper flowers practicing following directions, new vocabulary including names of colors all with beautiful results. We also made piñatas with foreign language classes where students had to keep in mind they were engineering to fail as the purpose of piñatas are to break. We’ve all been there when a piñatas refuses to break even though beaten unmercifully. Too light on the tape and they fall apart before you hang them up. Too much tape, well forget about getting at the candy.

Piñatas:The original piñata was shaped like a star with seven points. The points represented the seven deadly sins, and the bright colors of the piñata symbolize temptation. The blindfold represents faith and the stick is virtue or the will to overcome sin. The candies and other goodies inside the piñata are the riches of the kingdom of heaven. Thus teaching that with faith and virtue one could overcome sin and receive all the rewards of heaven.” We’ve come a long way in piñata design.

We not only made piñatas again this year but also expanded the celebration and learning to other cultural items such as worry dolls, typical of Guatemala and Peru and calaveras (skulls) a prominent feature in Day of the Dead celebrations.

Worry Dolls: According to the Mayan legend, when worrying keeps a person awake, he or she tells a worry to as many dolls as necessary. Then the worrier places the dolls under his or her pillow. The dolls take over the worrying for the person who then sleeps peacefully through the night. When morning breaks, the person awakens without the worries that the dolls took away during the night.”  Perfect for our stressed out teens!


Calavera:  “Calaveras are whimsical caricatures-most commonly drawings- of skulls or skeletons.” Look at the individuality and creativity!


Our celebration included building an ofrenda (an altar in honor of the dead. RIP Selena.) I learned that November 1st is a day honoring children and November 2nd is the day honoring adult spirits. I mistakenly thought the spirits were all honored on one day only.


Cultural literacy is important and as such is part of the Foreign Language curriculum. The activities were available to anyone, students and staff, regardless of scheduled class participation. Anyone could stop by the makerspace during the day and participate as we all benefit from a global cultural education. I also believe one successful program leads to another…

So now the Italian teachers approached me stating, “You know Italian Heritage Month is also celebrated in October, Gina.” There’s an emphasis on ‘Gina’ as they know I’m of Italian descent my father having emigrated to NY in his twenties. It’s amazing, I didn’t have to seek out the department to work on a project together; they contacted me! It’s wonderful to collaborate with enthusiastic teachers and I’m looking forward to using and highlighting maker activities to celebrate Italian heritage. So stay tuned, blog post on the events coming soon.

For instructions on how to create the items listed above, check out my HHM Libguide at http://hslibguides.islipufsd.org/HHM

The Compassionate Maker: #Make a Difference in the World


Last year around this time a former student barely 18 years old passed away suddenly. Tragic and senseless, that was the impetus of compassionate making as an outlet for teens in my school. The idea to make for others to alleviate or help in making one feel better whether to heal wounds caused by grief or to assist local community agencies is one of the cornerstones to compassionate making. I wrote about this experience in Teacher Librarian called The Compassionate Makerspace: Grief and Healing in a High School Library Makerspace. The article details the collaboration between Mrs. Volkmann, our Interact Club advisor, and myself and how students came together in the makerspace to create a memorial to a peer.

I work regularly with service based clubs in my school. Advising. Assisting. I used to lead the Interact Club, a rotary based club for teens, with the guiding motto Service Above Self. I’ve always had this sense of helping others. There are so many in my school who share this same philosophy so collaboration is easy.

Making for a cause or to benefit another being is not a new idea. Mankind has shown compassion for centuries. What is new is the way we can foster this emotion. As teachers and maker leaders, we can model and facilitate compassion in children and we can do that with the availability of makerspaces. While STEM is a major focus for many makerspaces (and rightly so) there’s no need to exclude crafting. And while my teens love to craft for themselves, I also have many who come in to make items for Mother’s Day or an Aunt’s birthday.

I welcome this.

I embrace this.

I facilitate this.

Expanding on the work we’ve already done, we have dedicated an area for our MakerCare activities benefitting others. We don’t have a specific service learning  requirement at our school, but many students need service hours or activities for resumes. A sign-in book to log and keep track of their hours resides in this area.

Many character education programs, in my opinion, don’t work. They ‘talk’ about being compassionate, kind, helpful. One of my favorite sayings adequately describes my sentiment, “Acta non verba.” Deeds not words! You’ve got to do something. #Make a difference!


This September we’re starting with our furry friends in need. We’ve all seen shelter dogs, whether on TV or while on a visit to a facility. Bored and sad in a kennel waiting for a forever family to bring them home. How simple it is for us to make a difference in their lives using a few upcycled fabrics. Old, stained, worn fabric from tees, jeans, and towels can have an extra life. Simply call for these items to be donated to your library. Once collected, cut the fabric into strips and braid. Who needs expensive pet store toys?

My two shi-poos love their homemade toys. (I make theirs from the lone sock bucket in my laundry room. You know how it is, two socks go in and only one comes out….Btw – what’s up with that?)

If you want to get fancy find some old tennis balls. Tennis clubs and high school tennis teams are good place to ask for free ones. Why spend the money? I’m fortunate my school has a tennis team and we also have a local tennis club. Make a slit on both the ends, then push your braid(s) through. Voilà dog toys!

This year some of our projects will go overseas, such as Little Dresses for Africa, and many will stay close to home like our dog toy project. Either way, our teens are making a difference in the world – local and global.

I hope you’ll join me here on this blog as we document and discuss the successes and failures of our MakerCare program. Let’s build a community of caring, compassionate makers.


Why Sustainability is Crucial for the Maker Movement: and vice versa

sustainability Creating something gives you a special feeling. Take a bunch of random objects and violà you have created something else. The problem with making is that sometimes it can cost a lot of money. We’re always looking for funds or swiping our credit cards. Constant trips to the local craft store. Can we support this type of making in our makerspace programs? We can if we look to the sustainability movement. Believe me, you can get a lot done with cereal boxes, jars and cans, old fabric, even dead tennis balls from your high school tennis team.

According to the EPA, “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.” (To learn more about sustainability and how you can help, click here.) Many items end up in our landfills that could otherwise serve an additional purpose. These discards have an impact on the environment. We can upcycle by converting old or discarded materials into something useful. This is a great way to reuse materials and reduce our footprint, thus having a positive impact on the environment by removing items from the global garbage accumulation. It’s not just the excess garbage in our landfills that we need to worry about, but also the waste and energy required to make and transport newly made supplies to our local Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s or other craft store. Think of all those 18-wheel vehicles barreling down the interstate. Then we need to jump in our cars and drive over to the store to gather our shiny new supplies. Which, even with clipping coupons, costs us a pretty penny. Can we continue to do this indefinitely?


Still not so sure about this? Here’s what I propose, let’s combine the two (Sustainability + Making) and upcycle some common objects. Here’s just a few ideas to get you started in realizing how really simple this can be. There are numerous ideas online once you decide to take it further or you can look at some ideas on my Compassionate Maker webpage or makerspace themes page.

 Some ideas using fabric… 

Between myself, my husband and our four children we have lots of t-shirts. You know the collection – ones from vacations, some from other people’s vacations, and the never ending supply of yearly school sports team tees. (Just in case you don’t have the volume of tees that we do, it’s easy to call for donations. My library makerspace has a stack of at least 50 t-shirts. There’s someone, somewhere who wants to clean out closets and draws.)


no-sew tote bags



braided dog toys




There’s always a supply of jeans. Someone is always gaining weight (that would be me) or losing weight (not me). We have a yearly call for jean donations in our school.



jean bag

-braided dog toys; see above (any fabric will work – denim, t-shirts, old towels)



Your kids no longer like their “fill in the blank/former popular character” fleece blanket? Turn it into a pet bed or dog blanket. Instead of going out and buying Poly-fil stuffing, stuff the bedding with poly-fil from an old pillow or use t-shirts. (Yeah, I have a lot of t-shirts…)

fleece bedding blanket

For more animal related activities click here. Did I mention I have two Shi-Poos?

Other assorted items…

Got Balls? 

Used tennis balls make a dog very happy. Just cut a slit at both ends and insert braided fabric (see above). Fido is now busy and content and you didn’t need to gas up the car and drive over to Petco/PetSmart. dog toy


See that wasn’t so bad. Easy peasy. Hopefully by this time I’ve motivated you to upclyle a few household items and help save the planet in the process.  I use some of these activities when human impact on the environment shows up in the curriculum. While these ideas are great to use individually, hopefully you’ll bring similar ideas into your makerspace and give your students another more physical and tangible angle to the curriculum they are reading about in their classrooms.




Left Behind: Makerspace Surprises


The makerspace at Islip High School Library is an active part of our school. Students drop by during their lunch periods throughout the day to tinker and explore the many resources. I like this open format, though I do have scheduled classes come in too. The openness not only reflects the students’ ability to use the space but also their wishes and desires to discover activities and projects of interest to them. That’s the best part, I think. The freedom to learn on demand.

My husband tells me I don’t like surprises. I guess that’s true. With four kids and two dogs what working mom likes surprises? Well, maybe if I arrived to a clean home with dinner prepared…Not. Most of my gifts are chosen from my wish list or outright selected by me in the store and handed over for giftwrapping and later ‘surprise’ presentation. Yes, I’m that predictable.

I’m going to focus and stay positive as there were a few negative surprises this year. Most notably when we moved the bolted bookshelves of twenty years during construction work. Yuck. Though this shouldn’t have been a surprise really, I have had a refrigerator moved once or twice.

schmutz during construction

There were two surprises this year that really got me. The first surprise was when I entered the library after returning from lunch to spot a mass of color left behind on the one of the tables in the makerspace. Walking over I was a little annoyed that someone left a mess and expected me to clean up. The closer I got I realized I was in for a pleasant surprise. Someone left behind a rainbow of origami cranes. Wow. Thank you.

My next surprise, and perhaps my favorite, was spotting a hidden message on recycled newspaper after a maker activity with a group of students. We use the previous week’s WSJ, NYTimes and USAToday to cover our library tables and protect them from paint and hot glue. This day, mixed in with the remnants of hot glue droppings, the following message was left behind, “I ‘heart’ school”. Awesome. It was literally in the garbage before I realized what I had. Quickly salvaged the newspaper now hangs in my office.

I heart school

I love our library makerspace and maybe I like surprises, too*. There I said it.


*I’m still keeping my wish list current at the local jewelry store!

Good Grief! A Librarian’s Reaction to Grief and Bereavement

I started off the school year with the death of former student. Unfortunately, I’m ending the school year with the death of a staff member. The death, another car accident, occurred over the weekend and I dreaded going to work on Monday. Senseless tragedies depriving us of vibrant lives lived.

It is said that when grieving we need to do something physical as it gives us power over the situation in which we feel powerless.

When a former high school student, Anil, died students came to the library to make memorial buttons to be worn at Homecoming and throughout the numerous memorial events that occurred during the year. It was a very cathartic experience. I still see buttons on staff lanyards and on student backpacks. It’s oddly comforting.

Recently while still feeling sad and contemplating ideas for a new end of year bulletin board, I thought this would be my opportunity to express myself. But why stop there? Why not invite others to participate. So a simple activity to provide a colorful distraction in honor of a colorful woman thus became an interactive art display.


These experiences got me thinking about grief and bereavement and the librarian’s role. When my children were young and their first dog died the very first thing I did was to run to the public library for bibliotherapy. We needed a copy of The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (Viorst), Dog Heaven (Rylant),  and stack of other related titles.  Libraries comfort us, they heal us. Psyches iatreion is roughly translated as “Healing Place for the Soul”; this phrase was found inscribed on an ancient Greek library. I  read aloud to three distraught little boys, we made our ‘Good Thing’ lists and decorated them. We grieved through doing, through making something.

Working in a school setting we are fortunate to have social workers, psychologists and counselors. However, librarians should never overlook their usefulness in this area.

In typical librarian fashion I love to curate. I also love to make and create. And unfortunately I’m not immune to grief.  I’ve gathered sources and ideas so that I could direct students and others to help themselves. Please feel free to use this list: http://hslibguides.islipufsd.org/grief and look for my upcoming article in Teacher-Librarian regarding this topic (Seymour, G. (2016, May/June). The Compassionate Makerspace: Grief and Healing in a High School Library Makerspace. Teacher Librarian.)