|Take-Apart Technology station in the New Milford High School Makerspace.
“You don’t build it for yourself. You know
what the people want and you build it for
Early in my career as a classroom
teacher, I remember building a
reading tree house and an outdoor
classroom with large rocks as
seats. Now in this digital age, I
believe that the whole world can
be our platform. We should seek to leverage
the power of multiple platforms, across the
physical and virtual spheres to reach and
engage all learners. This kind of thinking
has carried through to my position as library
media specialist at New Milford High School
(NMHS) in New Milford, NJ. When I was
faced with the task of making an outdated,
drab, and unused library relevant, I had to
get creative. My long-term goal was to help
the school improve student performance by
working to create an exciting and engaging
learning environment for all.
Inspired by the work of Pixar Animation
Studios, my goal was to turn my library into
what they have dubbed, a “constant learning
organization.” I was further inspired by the
t-shirt company, ‘Threadless,’ who “puts
everyone in charge” and defines company
as community. Much like Threadless’
customers, the students and staff at NMHS
are interested and passionate about what
they do, and are bursting with ideas, skills,
and knowledge. I also discovered that they
were keen to become part of the solution for
our new library. I wanted the learning space
in our library to reflect the reality of our learners by
allowing them to contribute to creating a dynamic
community. My goal was for them to feel empowered
and learn with and from each other.
|A snapshot of some of the virtual learning spaces of
New Milford High School.
It was with all of these things in mind that I
embarked on two major initiatives. The first was
the creation of a “Makerspace” in the library. In
creating this informal learning space, I spent the
first few weeks of the school year watching the usage
patterns of the first few students who came into the
library, speaking to them about their interests, and
even peering over their shoulders as they used their
devices to ensure I had a
firm grasp on what they
would want in their Makerspace. At the same time,
I looked carefully at the existing curriculum and
programs that the school was offering. It was at that
point that I developed themes for our Makerspace.
I ordered materials to support the themes I came up
with and then went to work on designing the space.
To set up the physical space, I used my school’s
existing resources, including old library tables
and bookshelves. Architecting the space and
sharing my plans with the school community
was a collective effort. Soon after, I was able
to receive great input from the school’s tech
team, observe the skills of the custodians, and
engage with an enthusiastic bunch of students
who were interested in ‘making’ experiences.
It was exciting to witness how eager they were
to see a place like this in their school and make
valuable contributions to its creation. From
this Makerspace, our library has now become a
vibrant, relevant part of the school community
that offers opportunities for all students to
tinker, make, play, innovate, create, and learn.
|Clockwise from upper left: The littleBits bar in the New Milford High School Makerspace.; Students assembling eco-friendly robots in the Makerspace at New Milford High
School; Students using a Makey-Makey kit to turn pieces of fruit into a video game controller in the Makerspace at New Milford High School.
My second major initiative was creating
a virtual campus for NMHS. I formed a
partnership with a company called ProtonMedia
that provides an enterprise solution called
ProtoSphere. This technology solution allows
users to explore the possibilities of an avatar-based,
3D, virtual learning and collaboration
platform. Thanks to this exciting and
stimulating virtual learning environment, our
classes, lessons, and activities were no longer
constrained by the physical classroom or the
school timetable. The virtual space helped to
redefine learning at NMHS in ways that we
could never have imagined, even just a few years
Both our Makerspace and our virtual campus
brought to fruition my vision of making my library
a constant learning organization. Our school now
has two robust, student-centered spaces that are
both physical and virtual. Students and teachers
have access to various technologies and digital
and print resources. These learning spaces are
productive and offer boundless possibilities for
collaboration and creativity.
Laura Fleming is the library media specialist
at New Milford High School (NMHS) in New
How One Library Reinvented the Learning Space
At the James I. O’Neill High School Library in the Highland Falls/Ft. Montgomery CSD in New York, we reinvented our library into a 21stcentury
learning commons. Here’s how.
Changing the Rules: There have always been many rules in the library that prohibited the formation of a true learning commons where
the students wanted to be. Therefore, we made the switch from “No” to “Yes”—we now allowed students to eat, drink, use their cell
phones, play computerized games, watch YouTube—and yes even talk—in the new library commons.
Changing the Physical Space: A three-year renovation plan was created. First on our list was tackling the books. After weeding our list,
we still needed to accommodate 10,000+ books, and we did not want to use valuable floor space for bookshelves. This was solved by
relocating the free-standing stacks and mounting them to the empty wall space.
Next on the list was repurposing the open floor into learning spaces to accommodate multiple classes occurring simultaneously, while
allowing the space to remain as open and flexible as possible. We subdivided the 60 x 60 space into five areas— a computer lab setting
for 32 students with an interactive whiteboard, an Internet browsing area with 18 work stations, a moveable lounge for 24 students (this
area also doubles as an informal classroom setting), and two moveable classroom collaboration areas for another 50 students.
Adjacent to the learning commons is a media lab/maker space for classes on Web page creation, design and drawing for production,
computer animation, 3-D design (complete with a 3-D printer), and electronic music production. In addition, we built a video production
studio including a chromakey green-screen wall for student and faculty use. The video club has taken the lead in using this space to collaborate
with classes to produce read-alouds of poetry and reader’s theater.
Changing the Virtual Space: Changing the virtual space came naturally as a result of an online public access catalog and the district-wide
adoption of Google Apps for Education. We equipped two charging carts with Chromebooks for use in the classroom and also
for students to borrow while in the library. In addition, the 11th- and 12th-grade students received a Nexus 7 as a part of a 1:1 initiative.
Teachers are using their Web pages and GAFE to make assignments and learning resources available for student and parent access 24/7.
This transformation has opened the door for students to be active participants in this process as they define the learning spaces that
empower them to succeed.
Andrea Tejedor, Ed.D., Director of Innovation & Instructional Technology, and Sheri McNair, Library Media Specialist, work at the Highland
Falls-Fort Montgomery School District in New York.