How to Run an AWESOME After-school Makers Club

How to run an AWESOME After-school Makers Club | I've run an after-school Makers Club at my school for the last two years. Learn my tips on setting norms and routines, balancing guided projects & free time, building in reflection and sharing your projects with the world.

When I first started up my makerspace at Stewart, I knew that getting students in there after school would be the ideal time to really dive deep into projects and develop a community of makers.  During those first six months, my school didn’t have afterschool clubs but was piloting during school clubs with 6th graders, so we had a small but mighty K’nex Club where we had tons of fun.  This gave me a chance to experiment with what running a club was like, and it gave me a lot of ideas for how an afterschool club could work.  The next school year, my school started supporting afterschool clubs.  We had a small program with about ten students.  Being a magnet school, our students come from all over the county, and it can be difficult to get students to stay after-school.

This year, our STEM Booster Club supported starting several after-school STEAM clubs, including art, video game design, robotics, space and our Makers Club.  Our principal was even able to get funding to pay the teachers for staying an extra hour and a half once a week.  We’ve had WAY more students participating this year and we’ve been having tons of fun.  As our program has grown, I’ve been learning what works and what doesn’t, and I’d love to share that with you here.  I think that starting an afterschool Makers Club is a fantastic way to promote a culture of making at your school, especially if you’ve been getting pushback from teachers and administration who don’t want to lose class time.

Students at work during Makers Club | RenovatedLearning.com

Students at work during Makers Club

Set routines, norms & procedures

Without some structure early on, an afterschool maker club can quickly turn into unorganized chaos.  Through a lot of trial and error, I found ways to set routines, norms and procedures that helped us to have more structure

Routines

Where to put your stuff: My students all come in with backpacks.  At first, they would just drop them wherever, and we were all constantly stepping over each other’s stuff.  I quickly started a routine where everyone put their backpack in front of the checkout desk.  It took some training, but evenutally they got it.

Clean-up: I haven’t perfected a clean-up routine with my students, but I’m working on it.  I’m thinking about having a clean-up theme song (maybe Eye of the Tiger?) and setting a routine with students where they know that when that song comes on, they have to stop what they’re doing and start cleaning.

Norms

Setting norms with your students from the beginning is very important, as it will set the tone for everything that you do.  Some of ours include:

  • Don’t mess with other people’s projects
  • Respect the ideas of others
  • Hands/feet/objects to yourself
  • Don’t throw stuff
  • Don’t interrupt the speaker (during presentations)
  • Ask permission before taking a photo

Procedures

Students need to know some things from the beginning.  Procedures you might want to develop for your group can answer such questions as:

  • What materials are we allowed to use?  How do we access these materials?
  • Where are projects stored inbetween meetings?
  • What if I want to use something that someone else has?
  • What do I do if something breaks?
Project being made during free exploration time |RenovatedLearning.com

Project being made during free exploration time

Balance guided projects with free days

If you want yours students to get creative, you need to find a way to balance design challenges with free days.  I love using design challenges to help my students get focused by giving them a specific theme to work on (ie. build something that can hold your phone to make a video, build something that Sphero can pull around the library, create a building out of cardboard).  Challenges help students to focus.  Free days are fun in moderation, as they allow students to try out things that they are interested in and explore new tools.  But too many free days can often be overwhelming – too many choices, students not being sure what to work on.  If I have too many free days in a row, I see my students starting to gravitate towards playing games on their phones, being destructive, etc.  I love free, open exploration, and I think it plays a huge role in allowing students to explore new ideas and pursue their interests in Makerspaces. But for clubs, I find that students really benefit from being given guidelines and then making something within those guidelines.  Balanced with free days or blocks of free time so that they don’t feel too restricted.  It’s like Austin Kleon says: “Limitations mean freedom.”  I’ll be writing more in the coming weeks about how this works in our space.

Student using the design process worksheet to document her group's learning. | RenovatedLearning.com

Student using the design process worksheet to document her group’s learning.

Build in a reflection piece

This is something that I’m still working on, but I think it’s super-important and takes making beyond the “messing around” phase.  Find a way to have students reflect on what they’ve created and document it.  This will be different for different schools.  If you have 1:1 iPads, students could take pictures and write up reflections in Evernote.  You could set up student accounts in Edublogs and have students blog about their projects.  Or you could go low-tech with composition books.  I recently created a design process worksheet that I’ve started using with my students.  They write a few brief sentences or draw some sketches for each step of the design process.  I’m planning on having them keep these in folders, and maybe later they can use the worksheets to create deeper reflections.

Skyping with Deer Path Middle School about our makerspace | RenovatedLearning.com

Skyping with Deer Path Middle School about our makerspace

Create opportunities to share out work

Letting students share about their work is an extremely important part of the process and really helps to motivate them.  Designate a sharing day or time when everyone gets to talk with the group about their projects.  Set up a Skype or Google Hangout with another school and have your students share their projects with them (hello joint design challenges!).  Plan a school-wide Maker Fair where students can showcase projects they’ve created.  Utilize social media outlets like Twitter, Vine and Instagram to get students’ projects out into the world.

Engaging with the greater maker community at Gulf Coast MakerCon | RenovatedLearning.com

Engaging with the greater maker community at Gulf Coast MakerCon

Build a community

Help your students to feel like they’re a part of a community.  Come up with a name for your club together.  Design t-shirts.  If your school uses something like Edmodo or Edsby, create a group for your students to share ideas.  If you’re able, go on field trips to local makerspaces, or bring in local makers to talk to your students.  Help them to see that they’re a part of the greater maker community.

Do you run an after-school Makers Club at your school?  What are some best practices you’ve picked up along the way?

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Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory School, an independent 6-12 in Tampa, FL. Previously, she was the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog RenovatedLearning.com & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Secondary Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace with Colleen and Aaron Graves and is also the author Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this post! This came right as I was deciding to change my after school class from just Raspberry Pi focused to more of a Maker Club. thank you for these great Ideas!

    Some additions from my after school club experience:

    Norms are very important. Tough to go through with the added excitement for kids of not being technically in school, but that is why it is so important. Kids get so excited, and you need to calm the chaos that will happen without Norms. I love the cleanup song idea. I’m going to try that.

    Projects vs Free time. I’ve been trying this and agree 100% that free time needs to be a part of the experience, but when I dont have an activity planned (in Raspberry Pi) kids just play Minecraft or python games and ignore all the other awesome feature of the Raspberry Pi.
    I have been slowly buying Raspberry Pi books and using some of the small 1 page lessons in there for my classes. I teach middle school kids and suggest photocopying these directions out, or re-writing them to help your learners. I find that some books that say they are for kids are still wordy so I will use a book’s code or parts of a project and re-write the rest for my kids. Seems to work better for students as much as I hate using paper nowadays.

    I worry that I keep seeing students do a project and then gravitate back to games when finished and not think about a project they could undertake using their new found skills. How do you help kids “think outside the box of what they can do?”

  2. I just wanted to thank you for writing this. I run a middle school math club and need some help with chaos prevention. ? Even though my activities are totally different, I try to have the same mix of inspiration, fun, creativity, and community, so your article was totally relevant to me, and I know these suggestions will get us going in the right direction—thanks again!

  3. […] teachers on how to work through them with your students.  These challenges would be fantastic for after-school clubs, maker lunches and even class […]

  4. […] ours to hold a variety of arts and crafts supplies, especially the ones we tend to use during our Stewart Makers Club.  I do need to work on labeling the bins better so that students know where to put things, but […]

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