Take two crazy school librarians, one supportive administration, 80 volunteers and committee members, more than 500 participants, many generous sponsors, and almost 70 hands-on learning activities and what do you have? It’s SLIME! (Otherwise known as the Students of Long Island Maker Expo.)
The maker movement has transformed the way students think and learn. Their learning is self-directed and knowledge acquisition is inquiry-based. These are the cornerstones for developing lifelong learning skills. We both have active makerspaces in our school libraries because we see inquiry learning as a stepping stone to innovation and deep knowledge acquisition.
Inspired by the maker movement and with the goal to do more beyond our own libraries and our own districts, Kris founded SLIME and Gina jumped on board as co-director. Though we work in different school districts, we joined forces to provide unique learning experiences for our community at-large. We’ve even participated in the inaugural National Maker Faire in Washington, DC representing SLIME.
SLIME, an annual event now in its second year, brings together K–12 students, educators, parents, organizations, and community members from all over Long Island to have fun and learn from one another. SLIME celebrates creativity and innovation through hands-on activities that explore everything from recyclables to robotics.
Are you thinking about creating your own maker expo? Here are 5 lessons we have learned, which will help your planning:
Get school leaders on board
When we hosted our first SLIME, Bay Shore Middle School’s principal (Dr. Outlaw) agreed to host the event for us. Although she wasn’t sure exactly what this day would look like, she trusted us and supported our decisions. We got her input about event particulars such as securing the venue and date, and then she allowed us to pursue our vision. Having administrators as allies is necessary when opening up the space to the entire community.
Organizing a maker event requires a lot of support. You will need a dedicated committee who can oversee all the elements that will make your event a success. Build a network through your school community, and even your family and friends. Involve your local parent association, as well as educators from other districts. There are more people than you might think who would like to participate. During the event, kids can help out by running errands and even being in charge of project stations.
Get funding…of all kinds
Let’s face it, funding is critical! Many of local civic organizations and businesses like to support educators, and a maker expo allows them do so while also gaining recognition for their business. Present them with specific ways they can help, like sponsoring an activity, but also be prepared to welcome donations in any form. While monetary support can help you to purchase necessities as well as other items on your wish list, donations such as refreshments for volunteers, printing services, and goodies for swag bags are also a great way to get what you need.
Think about posting a donation request on your school website, and harness the power of social media. Twitter and Facebook can help you connect with scouting troops and crafting groups who can help. You should also ask your friends and family to save recyclable materials. For months leading up to SLIME we save tuna fish cans, toilet paper tubes, plastic tablecloths, baby food jars, and CD cases. And sometimes you might get happily surprised! Two weeks before our first SLIME event, we received a grant to purchase art supplies and a digital camera with a portable printer. You might even find a use for those 300 picture frame corners that you found on Craigslist!
Make it fun
There is a quote we love from Benjamin Franklin, which is a guiding principle for us: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Remember... It’s all about the kids! An expo can be a showcase for what students created at school, but it’s not school. What participants loved about SLIME was finding the joy of learning. While standards and assessments are necessary to help students reflect on their progress, the first question you should ask yourself when organizing an activity is “Will kids enjoy this?” If they aren’t having fun, then it’s just another day at school.
Get the word out
How do you get all those people to show up to an event that’s never been done before? The answer lies in advertisements, marketing, and communication. Start with the school librarians to get the word out, but don’t stop there. Contact district administrators, and network at local conferences. Use listservs to spread the word, and use every lead possible! Couple that with social media and you’re on your way to a successful event.
Kristina Holzweiss of Bay Shore Middle School (Bay Shore, NY) was named School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year in August 2015. Be sure to check out her other blog post, My Story: From a Job Cut to Becoming School Librarian of the Year. Together, she and her colleague Gina Seymour of Islip High School (Islip, NY), are spearheading the maker movement in Long Island school libraries. Follow Kristina at @lieberrian.
Gina Seymour (Co-Director of SLIME) is the library media specialist at Islip High School. She is the recipient of SSLMA School Librarian of the Year (2014) award, serves on the ALA's Website Advisory Committee, and is Chairperson for YALSA’s Website Advisory Committee. Follow her at @ginaseymour.
Photo: Kristina Holzweiss