Recently, my elementary school hosted its second-ever Maker Day. It was a huge success (again), and here is some information about how it worked, for those of you who are looking to try something like it. Please see my post about Maker Night, which was our technology fundraiser this year, and which was held the evening of Maker Day.
Our school has a two-year-old maker committee, which started by touring makerspaces at different schools in our district before starting our own. We wrote a district grant for our makerspace, which included a part-time person to help manage it the first year. All classes were expected to attend every third week, so that all teachers could see some examples of "making" in action. These lessons began with fairly common challenges (marble roller coasters in tubes) run by the part time teacher, and expanded to coding experiments and eventually, teacher-led tasks that connected to curricular units.
End of March - Maker Day
Early/mid-March - Students chose their sessions, supplies purchased
February - Spaces formally assigned, supply lists created
January - Session option slideshows finalized, a few volunteer sessions added
December - Staff members submitted sessions to run
November - Committee met to determine staff availability and session sizes
October - Date and times finalized
September - Committee met to review last year's survey and plan sessions
Our Maker Committee decided to prioritize choice and 100% participation for students in our school. The prior year, we had given students one choice for a maker session, and simply rotated each group to the next room for the second session. This made for a convenient, quiet transition, and it was good in the sense that we want students to be open-minded and try new things. However, it was a lot less fun for presenters and participants to be with a group that wasn't really motivated to do that activity. This year, we let students pick the first and second sessions, and the transition between was a bit messy, but the session experiences were a lot more enjoyable.
We tried not to disturb specials classes, lunch, or recess for any grade level. This meant the specialist teachers (music, P.E., and art) were not part of our official Maker Day rotation, because they were seeing regular classes while classroom teachers had regular planning time on a busy day. However, the specialist teachers did plan maker-themed lessons to use with their classes that week, so students got to do those activities in addition to their Maker Day sessions.
To make the schedule and the sessions work, we had our K-2 sessions in the morning and our 3-5 sessions in the afternoon. Our first session for K-2 began at 9:30 and finished at 10:00, with a five-minute transition to the second session, which ran from 10:05 - 10:35. The whole block ran from about 9:20 to 10:40, including transitioning to the first session and returning back to homeroom classes. The 3-5 sessions followed the same schedule in the afternoon, with two half-hour sessions and a five-minute transition for students in between.
The year before, we had given the younger students a smaller time window for sessions, thinking they might not have a long enough attention span for some activities, but they needed the extra time to get settled and clean up.
For the K-2 sessions, kindergartners were only in classes with people from their grade level, and the same was true for first and second graders. For the 3-5 sessions, students were mixed together, so each session had students from grades 3, 4, and 5.
Choosing the Sessions
We showed a set of Google Slides with the 3-5 maker options - a picture and a student-friendly sentence - to the students a few weeks before Maker Day, and then students were emailed a Google Form and told to select two different sessions. We used a disappearing option add-on to the form, so that when a session filled up, that dropdown no longer appeared as an option to students.
Out of about 260 students, we had four select the same choice for session I as session II, so we addressed that with individuals in person, to set up new choices from the remaining options.
The Slideshow and The Form
Originally, we planned to include photos in the Google Form that students in 3-5 would use to select their Maker Sessions, so we asked teachers to write a student-friendly description and provide a list of supplies on one document, and save a photo of the activity to a common folder, thinking that folder access would save time. Too many of our teachers uploaded photos that were pasted into docs or pdfs or non-photo formats, or didn't submit a photo at all, so that was not a good plan. One lucky person (yours truly) assembled the descriptions and photos into a set of Google Slides to show the students. It would have been better to create a Google Slide for each teacher's session and let each teacher edit her own page from the start. It would have been good to insert photos into the option form to remind/help students to know exactly what they were choosing.
The form included the student's name, grade level, and teacher name, with a dropdown option for session one and another for session two. It would have been good to have fields for first and last names, since many students just entered a first name, and we had some accidentally select the wrong teacher name from the dropdown list, so the grade level helped to figure out which student was supposed to be where in those cases.
The form link was sent to teachers late one evening, and then teachers had their students access it the next day (often from Google Classroom) to make their choices.
The K-2 teachers gave their students choices, but they placed their own students in a spreadsheet instead of using a Google Form.
Our budget wasn't huge, so teachers had three options: supply their own materials, put out a call for donations, or ask the school to buy materials (with a limit). After teachers filled in the supply request list, the committee put out a call for things like googly eyes, yarn, and construction paper, and many of the items were collected through donations. If the supply list were completed sooner, we probably could have gotten more donations from community members. Our committee members bought the remaining supplies, unless teachers brought their own.
Session Sizes, Space, and Facilitators
We had class sizes of about 15 students for grade-level teachers' maker sessions, and anywhere from 4-12 for sessions run by our parent volunteers.
We used our hallway villages and office spaces, and tried to make class sizes as small as possible to make each activity as manageable as possible. Although our specialist teachers (art, music, and P.E.) were teaching their regular classes during the maker day sessions, we had others, like our librarian, Spanish teacher, TAG teacher, office secretary, and interventionists running sessions during the morning and afternoon sessions (four total). Grade-level homeroom teachers only ran sessions during their block of Maker Day - so a first grade teacher only ran two sessions in the morning for first graders, and a third grade teacher only ran two sessions in the afternoon for third, fourth, and fifth graders mixed together.
In addition to our school staff, we had some parent volunteers come to run sessions. We also had some fifth grade students who led maker sessions, including some who extended their Exhibition action projects, as well as some who were confident in coding or other skills. We paired the parents and student leaders with staff members who didn't have their own session ideas, but could help monitor behavior and handle any unexpected issues.
The energy and excitement of the Maker Day sessions is something I wish we had every single day. It was an amazing way to build cross-grade-level interactions, solve problems, be creative, and try things we don't normally get to learn about. I would love to see more diversity of options in the future, especially with activities that have real-world audiences and purposes.
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada.