Power Tools in the Library

Hammers, screwdrivers, and nails. Oh my!

Yes, all of those and more are in my high school library. These items are just as important as books and computers in our library for they give us the ability to build and create on a larger scale.

My students are working hard to create an Exploratorium which will be featured at this year’s SLIME: Students of Long Island Maker Expo. (Disclaimer: I am co-director of this event and yes, I encourage my students to help out.) We are creating marble runs and wind tubes. To do this we’ve had to take over quite a bit of real estate in the library. Not to mention re-arranging the furniture (yet again!). It’ all good. It’s  wonderful to see the pride on my students’ faces when I explain that their hard work and creations will be enjoyed by hundreds of children. [#IslipPride #GoBucs ] Some, still children themselves, are excited to play with our creations. Since these items are physics based, I see it as a hands-on learning opportunity. Speaking of learning, we had to tinker quite a bit before each item ‘cooperated’. There was lots of measuring, adding/dividing, and assembly that looked simple on paper….

We discovered early on that hammering is loud. Really loud. Well that’s one way to clear out the library 😉 We’ve since moved on to power tools. Surprisingly, it’s much quieter, though one might say it’s all relative.  Teachers walk over to our makerspace to watch their students in action clearly impressed and amazed by the creativity. Others have ‘hinted’ that the library is loud. What do I think?

My school library – it’s messy, noisy, productive, and happy. I love it!


Arts & Crafts Skills Foster Learning

Left-Right: Simple flower hacked with copper tape and LED, an English Language Learner following directions, snow globes are not as simple as they appear (see below), and a piñata engineered to fail (the candy has to come out!).

When chatting with librarians and educators, whether when presenting at a conference or as a participant, these makerspace comments always come up – “I have to justify the educational basis for all makerspace activities.”  “We can’t do arts and crafts, it has to be tech related.” “We just bought a 3-D printer for our kindergartners.”


First, let me say – your students need arts and crafts skills. Cutting. Folding. Taping. Sewing. All my tech projects involve these skills. Don’t assume your students have them. They’ve grown up on digital devices and many have a hard time with the motor skills needed for creating models or threading a needle. A student who cannot sew a pin cushion cannot use conductive thread to sew a string of LEDs to a garment. Here’s a simple wearable technology craft project: give students a needle and have them sew conductive thread to the tips of their winter gloves. Now they have a touch screen compatible winter wear. They have moved from consumer to producer with a little bit of tech and a crafting skill. Can your students design, fold and decorate a card? Move over Hallmark. We’re making our own cards using conductive tape and LEDs. How’s that for arts and crafts tech? But remember, it starts with imagination, colored pencils and paper then one can add a sprinkling of tech.

Don’t let anyone talk you out of having craft supplies in your makerspace; these supplies serve many a purpose and usually not the intended one. For example, a student using our Makey-Makey kit needed to ground herself as she found it was difficult to use the alligator clip controls and grounding clip at the same time. She went online and found a solution. – Gotta love YouTube. – So she made herself a wire ‘bracelet’ to which she attached the Makey-Makey alligator clip. How? She raided the jewelry making supplies in our makerspace.

“Why do we need to add glycerin to our snow globes, Mrs. Seymour?” Before I could respond another student explained the concept of liquid density. Well, someone was paying attention in Chem class. Bravo! After this incident, I posted a sign with the materials explaining density to whoever hadn’t yet taken chemistry, but it was nice to see students teaching and learning from each other which happens often in a makerspace. Priceless collaboration and learning.The learning didn’t stop there. In addition to the glitter, our plastic figurines floated in our snow globes. We had glued them to the shiny, smooth underside of a baby food jar lid using the hot glue gun. Not good. Where’s the sandpaper? Rough up the surface and start again.

My students come in to ‘fix’ their phone cases, binders, and the like, using the supplies they scavenge in our makerspace.  Creative solutions to solve a problem. Yes, duct tape is a popular item as is the hot glue gun. In fact, I have a shelf dedicated to glue. Glue sticks, Elmer’s glue, Modge-Podge (several varieties), Tacky glue, hot-glue guns, wood glue – you get the idea. Question: Which is the best glue to use for your project? This requires thought and analysis or on the flipside, trial and error; again things we teach in classrooms. I like to think I’m raising the next generation of materials engineers and problem solvers.

While I have no problem with a 3-D printer in elementary classrooms, I’d like to see equal time devoted to mastering fine motor skills. As you can see, arts and crafts is educational and can be the basis for many tech related projects. So get out the scissors, glue and fabric!

Try this handy chart from Make: Don’t Glue Anything Without This Handy Reference Chart

glue chart


Let’s Talk About a 4-letter Word: PLAY

define play


P-L-A-Y. Nowadays, saying the word out loud in a school setting almost seems subversive. When did ‘PLAY’ become a 4-letter word? Ok, calm down word enthusiasts, I know how to count. I’m just saying in my travels I’ve encountered a negative attitude. When I say, my students like to play with fill in the blank – (SnapCircuits, LittleBits, Legos…), I see the frown. It seems you just can’t use the word play around everyone.  Sometimes I hear “my principal doesn’t want me to leave arts and crafts activities  out for students” or “I have to justify that learning is taking place.” My students are working to increase their knowledge of how things work, be it paints, glue or circuits.They are initiating and developing creative problem solving methods and overall are engaged with activities they deem fun. In short – they are having fun while learning. That is to say they are ‘engaged in an activity (learning) for enjoyment or recreation.

The etymology of the word play derives from the Old English ‘plegian’ – to exercise. I like to think my students are exercising their brains in unique ways. It doesn’t matter if they’re using a paper towel roll or a set of LittleBits (though a combination of both could be interesting!).

Ask yourself these questions: Can learning be for ‘enjoyment’ or ‘recreation’? Does the enjoyment of the activity negate knowledge acquisition? Does this type of play promote the desire for lifelong learning? I believe we need play to discover our passions whether tech related, crafting or some other desire. As educators, we all strive for engaged learners. Shouldn’t learning  be ‘amusing’, ‘entertaining’ and ‘fun’? Most of my makers come in during their lunch periods. Their time. So why not let them play. I know they’re learning because I believe making allows students to acquire knowledge through action discovery, imaginative thinking, and creative problem-solving. It also helps them to develop critical thinking skills through persistence.

play more seriously

I am fortunate to have the support of my school principal, Mike Mosca, who can be seen in the photo below ‘playing’ with our robots. PLAY is a 4-letter word we love to use at Islip High School Library!