A Library in Vermont Offers an Outreach Makerspace Program to Schools

By Kurt Broderson | November 21, 2017 

As part of the Infy Maker Awards program, Kurt Broderson was invited to a MakerEd Conference In August 2016 held in San Francisco, CA to further develop makerspace activities back home in Vermont at Ilsley Public Library. In addition to serving as Executive Director of Middlebury Community Television, Kurt is the Technology Coordinator and Makerspace Outreach coordinator for the library. He works with students, teachers, and schools to bring Makingspaces to the residents of Middlebury, Vermont. 

Ilsley Public Library serves patrons in the town of Middlebury, Vermont and Addison County. As a municipal library, Ilsley regularly leads the state in per capita circulation as well as program attendance. After receiving an Infy Maker Award grant in 2016, the library was eager to provide making, electronics, and robotics learning opportunities to local students in grades 4-6. Initially, there were hopes to create a dedicated Makerspace within the library. A postponement in pursuing library building renovations led us to pursue a local outreach model instead. We realized that in building strong connections with local schools and teachers, we could broaden the demographics of students reached, rather than just self-selected library visitors who happened upon a fixed Makerspace. 

For the 2016-17 school year, we set up Makerspace outreach programs with the Aurora School (co-recipient of grant), offering weekly sessions at Aurora, the library, and Mary Hogan School, a public K-6 grade school serving Middlebury. Aurora students began the school year with team-building, and students participated in problem-solving activities on two trips to Branbury State Park. 

For the first project, students worked in small teams to construct uncooked spaghetti towers to support a marshmallow. The students who raised the marshmallow highest and longest got a few marshmallows to snack on and engineering bragging rights. 

A follow-on maker project had students using strings and a rubber band to move a half-full soda bottle onto a target without entering a defined space around the bottle. The students had to creatively solve problems and work as a team. In both cases, the maker activities introduced me as a facilitator and established a model of organizing collaborative activities in groups of 3 to 4 students. 

In the weeks that followed, students created maker journals to document their ideas. They built and decorated clocks, fabricated their own flashlights, and created moving, blinking, buzzing creatures with LittleBits electronics kits and recycled materials, including even building LittleBits Mini-Golf. Students learned about circuits and sharing, built and took apart, failed and succeeded. 

An Electricity and Magnetism Fair was held. 

Along the way, Ilsley’s pegboard Marble Machine run was developed and fine-tuned. It’s been used a number of times for library events, but gets its wider statewide debut at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire later this month. 

This past school year the grant served approximately 550 students, established partnerships with several area teachers, and additionally helped create a network of local adults interested in Makerspaces. 

Attendance in our two weekly outreach visits for the 2016-17 school year averaged ~30 students per week, with drop-in attendance adding 5-10 per week. At Aurora, an average of 16 students would attend each weekly session, ranging from grades K-6. Outreach at Mary Hogan School worked with 6th graders. 

In addition, we were able to offer monthly after school drop-in makerspace activities at the library, as well as two makerspace activities each week this past summer. Over the summer, we offered maker related programs to 170 people, with the first week welcoming 24 children and 10 adults. Local kids know that the library is a place for hands-on active learning as well as a place to read. 

In the future, the library will continue to rely primarily on an outreach model, and diversify the audience reached (other schools or settings, other ages). Recently our initial partner, Aurora School, was closed due to declining enrollment. To turn this setback into an opportunity, however, all Aurora students have since transferred to other area schools, and will serve as ambassadors of Ilsley’s makerspace as we reach out to new school site hosts for our visits in the 2017-18 school year. Aurora’s board and staff are also trying to keep their doors open as a community learning center, so we may be able to continue makerspace activities there after all. 


"My favorite thing was making chain reactions with the marble run and littleBits. It was awesome. I really wish I could keep all that stuff."
---Christopher, student

"Empower(ed) the students so that they were in the driver’s seat."
---Alyce Scheremerhorn, Art teacher, Mary Hogan School

"In the process, they’re really honing in on some of our goals around critical thinking and problem solving."
---Steve Flint, STEM teacher, Mary Hogan School

"It was exciting and rewarding to be able to step back as a teacher and watch students struggle, share ideas, collaborate, and get excited about their successes. Each makerspace project challenged students in multiple ways, and each one sparked their creativity. Makerspace was a highlight for all of us each week."
---Elaine Anderson, teacher/director of the Aurora School

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