Monday, December 4, 2017

The Play Predicament in my MakerSpace

Every recess, there's a big crowd by the library door, holding passes like they are hot tickets to a rock concert. When the doors open, they rush in and I spend a few minutes at the laptop recording the names of the visitors and their purposes. This wouldn't be possible in a school with a larger population - my school has about 300 students. (It wasn't possible to analyze the data when I once collected this information as a paper sign-in, even with just 300 students. Thank you Francis Ngo for the idea to go with Google Forms!) I make this effort to record visitors, however, because I'm a bit of a data nerd and these sort of statistics might be useful for responding effectively to the needs of my school population and being accountable in my annual report for the school library. I hadn't created an annual report for several years, for many different reasons. I returned to it but I really wanted my quantitative data to mean something more - ergo, the Google Form and the switch from student entry (which used up all their recess time as they lined up to laboriously key in the information) to teacher-librarian entry (because I can type faster and they can go quicker to do what they originally intended).

Since it's the first few days of December, I want to share the findings of my recess visit log here. This tallies all the school days from September 2017 to November 2017. (December 1 was Federation Day so students were not in school while teachers participated in professional learning.)

915 responses, but that doesn't count the amount during book fair that I wrote but never recorded.
142 people came during book fair week. The actual number is ... 1057!

Certain classes have students that use the library more than others.

In case this is hard to see, the big pink slice of the pie is the MakerSpace option.

As you can see, the MakerSpace aspect of the school library is a big hit. The section that I want to highlight in this blog post is the "other" option. The library is supposed to be available for almost any activity, within reason. Many students come to feed or spend time with the skinny pigs, so much so that I'll probably have to create that as a separate category. Several times, children came in and asked "Can I play?"

"Do you mean, use the Makerspace?", I'd try and rephrase.

Some would simply agree. Others would reply with "Play with the Lego"or "Play with that", pointing to one of the bins or boxes I have near the back of the library, filled with balls or dolls or planes.

I was quite stumped. Is play an okay reason to be in the library at recess?

When I'm faced with a moral or pedagogical dilemma, I often turn to others to talk it out and help me sort things out in my brain. This time was no exception. I spoke with Jennifer Balido-Cadavez, an amazing Early Childhood Educator at my school, and with Renee Keberer, the HSP/MART and a close friend. This is just a short pro/con chart highlighting just some of the issues we debated.

  • Increase positive perception of library by students
  • Play is part of learning
  • Recess time is student choice time so they can choose to play
  • Some items don’t lend themselves to outdoor play
  • Calmer, “quieter” atmosphere in library
  • Create negative perception by other teachers of library purpose
  • Messy library
  • Students don’t put away materials
  • Too many students will want to come to the library (supervision issues)
  • Students need to go outside for fresh air

Jen, Renee and I talked about heavy topics like the purpose of recess, student choice, and teacher mental health and well-being. They reminded me that I was not obligated to open the library at all during every single recess. Jen and Renee gave me a lot to consider.

I think I've come up with a compromise that I feel comfortable with implementing.

Giving students "carte blanche" to take anything and everything was almost too much choice. Objects were mislaid or broken when there were too many about. I remember reading that kindergarten teachers will often only put out a few play options so it's not overwhelming.
What I'm doing now is placing a few "play options" out on a visible rectangular table in the library. If students want to play, they can pick from one of the 2-3 items on the table. I'll rotate items out every couple of weeks. When recess is over, as long as they return items to that designated table, I won't panic at the disarray. (I have a pretty high tolerance for mess as it is.) We still have student limitations on the passes - 2 students per class pas - and I've noticed that many of the teachers have arranged systems in their classes to ensure that no one monopolizes the recess library pass and visits are determined fairly and equitably. This means that I will never have more than twenty-two students in the library during recess at one time. (Occasionally a teacher will request that three or four students use the pass simultaneously because the students are working collaboratively on a project, and I've agreed - it's important to be flexible.)

How has the change been going so far? Well, students often ask me to take photos of their work, as some things must be packed away after recess and can't be saved. Here are some of the free time creations.

I'm pleased with how the "play predicament" was resolved in my space. The final proof that I made the right decision came last Thursday when I received a note from four students in Mrs. Commisso's class, thanking me for allowing them to come to the library at recess. (I'll try and post a photo of their sweet note on here with their names obscured.)

Credit should also go to "C", a former student of Mrs. Commisso's who was an equity leader without realizing it. She first questioned the fairness of only permitting junior and intermediate division students in the library at recess and it was her initiative and perseverance that led me to open the school library to all grades at recess, a decision I have not regretted. Thank you to all the students and staff members who have prompted me to examine my teaching practices, ensure they are aligned with my philosophy, and make changes that benefit others.

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