Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maker Classroom Resources

In your maker classroom, you might to see the resources for teaching and learning as Widespread, Shared or Scarce. How you provision your learning environment will depend on how any given supply or tool fits into these categories.

Widespread resources

These are the supplies, materials, tools that are readily available in quantity and without reservation. In many schools, copier paper fits in this category, pencils, paper clips and other traditional supplies can be had with a minimum of begging. If there is a drink machine in the building, plastic bottles should be readily available. You may also arrange a donation of some amazing resource that will be available from the community. Several years ago, I worked out a deal with a parent employed at a corporation to donate 80 Pentium II and III computers. They arrived on two pallets along with mice, keyboards and a couple of boxes of power cords. Where before the donation, computers were a relatively scarce resource, suddenly I had so many computers that they were literally stacked three machines high under the the classroom tables. After using them as computers for students to rebuild, the components had a long life. From this ubiquitous resource of compujunk, we learned a lot about how computers work, how to fix them and how to repurpose the components, all the way down to harvesting cd drives for their motors, switches and amplifier chips.

Shared resources

For some materials, tools and even spaces, it makes much more sense for them to be shared. If there is an expensive tool that you don't use all that often, it can see more action in a shared environment. This is the case with 3D printers, electronic component collections and even the work room itself. Teachers who travel with a cart know about shared resources, as do people who frequent hackerspaces, community centers and vacation camps. With shared resources, tools and supplies can be concentrated in an area where other people have access to them, an the resources' use may be sporadic. These devices and supplies may be donated equipment or purchased with the intent to share.

With shared resources, it is important that people recognize the shared nature of the device and manage their time and access accordingly. If the whole class is sharing access to the laser cutter, or 3D printer, and others are waiting on machine time, then doing short cuts or short prints will help move the whole group to get a chance to use the tool. Saving a long print or a long cut until last in line when most of the group has moved on to their next class will help get everybody through. Trying out a new process that might take a lot of machine time can prevent others from getting their ideas made. If a student is waiting for access to the vinyl cutter, she should sit near the machine watching how the other people operate the machine so that she can get her project made quickly when it becomes her turn. People sitting near the machine should use it and move along so others can get their chance. They shouldn't sit and hang out, preventing others from accessing the resource.

With shared resources, the expense can be spread out over a greater amount of users who will access it. If a 3D printer costs $1,000 and thirty people can get access to the tool in a classroom or shared learning space, the cost per person is lower than if it's bought as a personal machine that stays at home and only one or two people use it.

Scarce resources

Some materials that student and community learners can benefit from are very difficult to get, expensive or potentially dangerous if not operated properly. If your classroom has one sewing machine, and there are twenty students, this scarce resource will need to be managed. While one person uses it, another might watch, but the other students will need to be working on other phases of the project while they wait their turn. Some might be designing, preparing materials, gathering information before using the machine, and others might be finishing their work and documenting their projects with photographs, video, text and posters after sewing with the machine.

If your classroom is equipped with just a little bit of white paint, this scarce resource must be managed carefully to make sure it gets used well. Sure, maybe you could go out and buy some, but what if time or money is also a limited resource, and you can't get more? How can the resource be managed? You may also want to make a resource scarce for other reasons. Soldering irons or utility knives are resources that I personally prefer to keep as scarce resources. It makes me more comfortable knowing that there are only a few of them to keep my eyes on.Having potentially troublesome tools kept scarce helps encourage students to use their time in a more focused manner. If you have large class size, then storage space might be more scarce than if you have small class size. This will affect the types of projects that will be appropriate.

Some resources may start out as scarce, then move on to shared and ultimately become ubiquitous. Computers hold a good example here. In the early days of computers, a student would have been lucky to get any computer time. Eventually, computer terminals allowed some schools to give access, then personal computers appeared in a few classrooms. It is now fairly standard for there to be at least one computer in each classroom, making it possible for shared access. Some classrooms have widespread access where every student has a computer. Digital cameras have followed a similar arc as they have gone from unusual and expensive to standard and embedded on just about every cellphone that students may have. As more students have greater access to these resources, it becomes easier to design projects around their use.

What are the Widespread, Shared and Scarce resources in your learning environment? How do you manage students' access to various devices and supplies to get the most learning out everything students can use?