School librarians looking to launch a maker space in their schools, but who lack the funds to purchase high-tech gadgets like a 3-D printer, should consider the recent MakerBot and DonorsChoose.org partnership, says Andy Plemmons, media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA. Plemmons recently took advantage of MakerBot Academy’s initiative to put a 3-D desktop printer in every public school in the United States by December 31, 2013—and a 3-D printer is already on its way to his media center.
Earlier this month, MakerBot announced that it would provide a MakerBot Replicator 2 desktop printer, three spools of MakerBot PLA Filament, and a year’s worth of the MakerBot MakerCare Protection Plan for $2,000 (a discount of 25 percent off the retail price) to all schools who use the crowd-funding site DonorsChoose.org and are able to reach that funding goal.
Plemmons discovered the project on Twitter on November 12, the same day it was announced. Within a few hours, he had obtained his principal’s approval and submitted an application. “I wanted to get a 3-D printer for our maker group for a long time,” he tells School Library Journal. “Our principal has been very supportive. Our school district was going to buy one for us, but because of funding issues, couldn’t. That’s why we’re so thankful for this opportunity.”
The media specialist shared the project on several social media accounts, including Twitter, his personal Facebook account, and the school media center’s Facebook account. By the next day, he had received $400 in donations from current and former students’ families and fellow librarians from across the country. To his surprise, MakerBot and an anonymous company made the final donation needed to reach the school’s goal—all within a few days. “I think it’s because they saw how I was actively promoting the project,” Plemmons added.
Other schools in the Clarke Country School District did not have such an easy time, although they ultimately obtained the necessary funding. Shannon Thompson from Howard B. Stroud Elementary School and Leslie Gonzalez at Hilsman Middle School signed up with the project approximately a week after its initial launch, and spent 5-6 days requesting donations. It took a final push from MakerBot, earlier this week, to reach their goal.
Prior to the project’s launch, Plemmons had begun fundraising for a 3-D printer by raising awareness at parent events and allotting a portion of book fair monies to the machine’s future purchase. Many of the teachers and parents were intrigued by the project, but didn’t see how a 3-D printer could be educationally used by elementary students. “We’re teaching kids skills for jobs that haven’t even been created yet,” Plemmons says he told them. “If this is the latest technology, why not let them start exploring now? With it, they will be better equipped for the job market.”
Plemmons already has plans for how to use the 3-D printer. His school’s maker group—which meets weekly and has already completed projects such as Caine’s Arcade’s Cardboard Challenge and Sylvia’s Super Awesome Show—will continue to design and print their own creations, and present these to the school. Barrow Elementary’s third graders, who are currently studying rocks and minerals, will be using the printer to create and design jewelry, inspired by a recent Skype session with a local jeweler that does the same. The school’s first graders, meanwhile, will engineer their own inventions to complete their learning unit on the subject.
Though the printer will live at the library, it will be accessible to all students and classes. “As a media specialist, my role is to listen in on what classes are doing and seeing how the 3-D printer can fit,” Plemmons says. “The students and teachers can take projects even further than they ever thought they could. For me, it’s not about turning the library into a maker space, but giving kids access to as much technology and tools as possible to create. You don’t have to change your library into a maker space.”
For wary school librarians, Plemmons adds, “My philosophy is, if we don’t expect miraculous things to happen in our libraries, then we’re just limiting ourselves. Why totally shut a door when we don’t know where it leads to?”
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