The Silent Storyteller

My job for the past two years has been working with a student who has multiple disabilities. Let’s call him Jim. His primary diagnosis is having Down Syndrome, but he has also been labeled as autistic and having catatonia. Jim loves to play ball, laugh with peers, watch TV, and hold hands with pretty girls. He is sixteen years old.

Jim has very few friends. He has never had a girlfriend. He plays basketball with Special Olympics, but has never been in a competitive game because of his catatonia. Jim struggles to speak, and his clinical level of speech is that of a 15 month old.

This teenage boy cannot tell his story. He cannot share his hopes, his fears, his pain, his joy. At this point, Jim’s storyteller is his mother, Cathy (not her real name). Cathy explains how Jim’s night was, how he seems to be doing in the morning, and what I should look out for during the day. When I take Jim out into the community, I try to let his body language and facial expressions talk to people, but I fill in the blanks as needed. He has an iPod app that displays pictures for choice making and simple greetings, but his catatonia regularly prevents him from touching his desired icon.


Photo from Best Buddies.

I sometimes feel that Jim’s internal story must be full of laughter, tears, and sighs. Often I am left with my own tears, wishing that this young man could tell his story, describe a fun game he played, rant about a stupid classmate, tell a joke, or explain how he got that blister on his finger.

After working with Jim, I reminded that some of the most heart wrenching stories are those that cannot be told.

If you would like more information on Down Syndrome-Autism Spectrum Disorder (DS-ASD), visit Down Syndrome Education International, the National Down Syndrome Society, and Down Syndrome-Autism Connection.



High School Makerspaces: Resources

I want to pull kids into the library or learning commons or media center or whatever it is you call that cool place where all things of shared humanity and stories meet. I think makerspaces are a superb way to draw people toward creating and sharing and learning. In the high school, makerspaces need to be relevant to teen interests, abilities, and time constraints. This is what I found:makerspace.graves

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) –

The Week of Making – full of connections, ideas, and continuing ed

Setting up a Makerspace –




Response: Ignite Love (of reading)

ILoveLit.button.jpgThroughout my San Jose State course “School Library Media Centers,” I have been saddened by the thought of libraries’ diminishing literary presence and increasing tech and media purpose. I love books. I want to share the joy of reading, exploring, empathizing, experimenting, fantasizing, maturing, and participating in humanity through stories with youth.

A classmate – Jenisha – points out on Just a Pipe Dream’s “Ignite Love” post that reading aloud is one of the most powerful ways to draw people into the literary fold. Libraries offer a unique jewel to humankind: learn, share, and experience what your fellow man has to say. It’s free. The words may challenge you, may stretch your understandings, may stir resentment or animosity, may open hidden cupboards of emotion, may tickle you silly, may . . . , may . . . , may . . .fitzgerald-beauty-of-literature

Libraries of the 21st Century have expectations upon them for technology access, freedom of all information, beautiful space and architecture, and welcoming presences. School libraries are to tie their collections with learning standards and curriculum, while housing spare hardware and activity sets and computer labs.

AnnieDillard.BooksAirLiveBut a love of stories rests at the core. Do we have to move on from that foundation? Are humans’ shared experience no longer needed as an institutions primary source of existence. I hope not.

I hope to teach students to love stories – stories in books, in movies, in songs, in poems, in blogs, in the hidden goals of research and historical events and science experiments and computer coding and mixed media art. So let us share the stories, share the learning, share the understanding and confusion, and share the beauty of humankind.

A Response: Make the Connection

Library.WordCloud.jpgAn ongoing problem in the world of academia is subject isolation. My peer Trina addressed this in regards to library programming in her blog post “Make the Connection.” In a key statement, Trina says, “Regular classroom teachers are very busy, and asking them to seek ways to use library facilities is not good enough, we have to go out and get them.” Trina argues that many library upgrades – makerspaces, gaming stations, gardens, etc. – are utilized by a “niche” of students and do not reach some of the students who most need alternate learning modes.

Trina’s post covers a fundamental concept that many librarians, media specialists, and learning commons staff fear: we must advocate for our programs! If teacher librarians (TLs) don’t advertise what their programs have to offer and don’t explicitly connect resources to teachers’ lessons, much of the time and energy spent on library programs will be diminished in value.

Flyer-Rural-2-ColorSo, what are specific things a TL can do to ensure use of their facility, programs, and resources? San Jose State University (SJSU) library professors Harlan and Buchanan repeatedly discuss the need for self promotion in regard to the library facility, collection, and staff. Prof. Buchanan gives a number of “strategies” for promoting a school library as a TL: gain authority through school data, market the library and librarian in newsletters and at meetings, collaborate whenever possible with other school professionals – especially in classroom settings, and conduct professional development sessions.

Like Trina, I wonder how many library programs wither because of poor communication and lack of promotion. I hope that current MLIS students and current TLs participating in continuing education are absorbing and internalizing the skills, resources, and techniques to enliven libraries within their schools and communities.SoMuchToDo.Library



Buchanan, S. (2016). “Teacher” librarian. San Jose State University. Online lecture.

Cheap Cheap Elementary Makerspace Labs

I’m all about kids learning for free. In my frugal spirit and mindset, here are some super cheap and/or free elementary-age activities for your makerspace. Make sure you include images and some instruction sets for different projects.

Basic materials like scissors, pencils, and scratch paper should be at every lab.


DIY-Woven-Coasters-14-of-20.jpgYou can have a variety of weaving options at your creation station. For materials I suggest cardboard, styrofoam, paper cups and plates, yarn, popsicle sticks, cotton fabric strips, and construction/cardstock/thick scrapbook paper, pipe cleaners/chenille stems, beads. Include images and some instruction sets for different projects. BabyTurtleGodsEye.JPG


To keep students coming back, have a few different instrument possibilities. When setting up the lab, I suggest having popsicle sticks, rubber bands (check for age appropriateness), empty containers (oatmeal tubes, plastic take-and-do boxes, tissue boxes, cardboard tubes), straws, and possibly shaker items (beans, rice, beads, sand), paper plates, plastic wrap, tissue paper, wax paper, and coloring tools (markers, pencils, paint, paper and glue).Chinese-New-Year-drum-craft-for-kids-Gift-of-Curiosity

Water Filtration:

Students can create theories and practice with filtering materials. Objects to have on hand include large and small pebbles, sand, rice, beans, silica gel beads, coffee filters, alum, dirty water (may use food coloring if lab is for very small children), funnels, clear jars, strainers and colanders.


PanPipeStraws.jpgStraws offer a number of engineering possibilities. For great exploration, have plastic straws of different sizes (bendy and straight), scotch tape, small balls (marbles, styrofoam, bouncy), and small cardboard containers.

String Art:

You’ll need paper plates, brass brads, colorful yarn, embroidery thread, rulers, protractors, hole punche, beads, and colorful paper.

Paper Craft: Quilling

To launch an study of paper art, have ¼ inch paper strips (use a shredder), q-tips, glue, toothpicks, cardstock, twine, making tape


One of the best extra resources:

Iterations in Makerspaces

iterative_approachAre you familiar with “Austin’s Butterfly”? In 2002 a first grader – Austin – was drawing a butterfly for his science project on tiger swallowtails. He took a drawing to his peer reviewers: they said, “Austin, that’s a really good butterfly. Maybe change the wings to look more like a swallowtails.” So, Austin went and made a second draft. He ultimately took six drafts to his friends before the rendering was complete. A first grader made six drafts! (Models of Excellence,

Thomas Edison attempted over 1,000 designs for his lightbulb before settling on the prototype for incandescent bulbs.

Maria Montessori, founder of the play and create to learn schooling model, said “Every great cause is born from repeated failures and from imperfect achievements.” creative-play-ideas-for-kids-moms-1

Failure and imperfection drive humanity’s greatest ambitions. Conversely, schools in the USA no longer allow for creativity and failure; we penalize imperfection; doodling is a waste of time and paper airplanes are dangerous.

Makerspaces counteract America’s product-driven education system. Creation labs allow for play, conversation, idea generation, trial and error, and self-satisfying exploration. Let’s bring creativity and discovery and personal interest back into American education with makerspaces. Oh, and if you need a talking point to convince someone in authority:

  • “For 65% of scientists with advanced degrees, their interest in science started before middle school” (IMLS, Talking Points).
  • A 2013 study from Michigan State University found links between “childhood participation in arts and crafts activities to patents generated and businesses launched as adults” (Parker, K., Roraback, E., & LaMore, R.).
  • Check out the Edutopia article “Making Friends with Failure” and its implications with STEM achievements (

ReferencesLittle Children Hands doing Fingerpainting

IMLS. (2014). Talking points: Museums, libraries, and makerspaces. June 2014. Retrieved from

Models of Excellence. (n.d.). Austin’s Butterfly Drafts. EL Education. Retrieved from

Parker, K., Roraback, E., & LaMore, R. (2013). A young Picasso or Beethoven could be the next Edison. MSU Today, Oct. 23, 2013. Retrieved from

Ramirez, A. (2013). Making Friends with Failure. Aug. 26, 2013. Retrieved from

Overcoming Your Mental Resistance to Starting Makerspaces

When I listen to discussions on the logistics of initiating a makerspace program, I hear three concerns repeated in group after group, school after school: one, where do we get the money to start a makerspace? Two, where are we going to put a makerspace? Three, who is going to supervise the makerspace? Let’s go ahead and address these primary issues.

Where do we get the money to start a makerspace?

Activity labs can affect budgets from a zero-dollar, nil effect to tens of thousands of dollars. What? Zero? She’s nuts! Well, I may be a bit far out, but your program really can launch a building and learning space for no cost. Here’s how:

  1. Gather what you haveReduceReuseRecycle
    1. Reduce, reuse recycle – hop on Pinterest and check out “recycle craft;” feel free to include a developmental age like “preschool” or “middle school”
    2. Cull out duplicate resources – scissors, tape, glue, yarn, staplers, storage bins
    3. Weed through your inventory – clean out the faculty lounge cupboards, send out an email requesting broken tech, magazines, used posterboard, broken gym equipmentsocial-network
  2. Make friends
    1. Contact local non-profits, businesses, and volunteer groups: ask for their help with 1.2. and 1.3. in the community/businesses
    2. Launch a campaign requesting craft, building, and tech donations – used is fine!
    3. Brainstorm with your cohorts – a thinktank comes up with great ideas

Where are we going to put a makerspace?

I’ll admit it, this one might be tricky for some of you. Floor space can be tough to come by, especially if you want your hackerspace to allow for noise. Here is my suggested process for finding or making the creative area.

  1. Look for a walk in closet or work room. It may be full of stuff, but many institutions have been able to clean house and end up with a nifty space for a new makerspace program. Even if you find a small closet, empty it out and relocate its contents so that you have storage for your maker materials. BenchStorage
  2. Be willing to sacrifice. Can a staff lounge shrink by 50% (or 100%!) for the benefit of students and staff who want to create? Can your library shelving be perpendicular rows again so that an idea lab fits in a corner of the room? Can a table or two be moved or repurposed for the space?
  3. Small space can have a big impact. Check out Pinterest or talk with local storage experts about maximizing space. Remember murphy beds? Build a wall cupboard that has a fold down table, flat storage space, and clever multi-use tools.IdeasforOrganizingCraftSuppliesCraftArmoire
  4. LAST RESORT: really, if all else is IMPOSSIBLE, make a pack and go makerspace. You’ll have kits in bins that can be hauled around, but this is not ideal. Why? One, part of the beauty of makerspaces is that they are welcoming areas where kids, teens, and adults can just start creating, no thought, precleaning, or go-get-it-yourself needed. Two, people are far more likely to use what is immediately available than materials boxed away in a cupboard. Three, if your bins get hauled to another room, you might lose some important tools or materials.

Who is going to supervise the makerspace?

This one is huge. The supervision component has magic potential. Seriously. Did you prefer playing alone as a kid or with a friend or adult? What happened when an adult praised something you made? How does anyone get from prototype to final product: independently or with guidance?

Ultimately, you need to have an adult or two supervising the makerspace, but this does not have to fall entirely upon the library staff. In fact, the more variety and new faces you can bring to the idea lab, the better. ManyHands

  1. Teachers can come hang out on their preps or with study halls. Administrators often enjoy having a break from paperwork and phone calls and getting to work with students in a fun, casual setting.
  2. Retired folk love to talk with youth. Contact local senior citizen groups – AARP, retirement homes, volunteer organizations, etc. Encourage students to invite grandparents or elderly neighbors.
  3. Bring in community experts – newspaper and media folks, local artists, wood carvers and builders, fibre/textile creators, computer techs, etc.

A bit more help

Sonoma State University ( put out a helpful video on ideas to consider before your launch a makerspace. Here are the key ideas:

  1. Don’t do everything at once
  2. Students take risks and build confidence (iterations)
  3. Support from local, county, and state education offices
  4. Group reflection – what didn’t work and why
  5. Learn with everyday tools (don’t worry about high-expense tools)
  6. Excite students via challenges
  7. Student-built makerspace – drill and saw plus boards
  8. Students as “active agents” in the learning
  9. Start small and dive deep in ONE thing

*Making does not require money – shift your paradigm to realize that making is not monetarily based. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Have students bring in resources from the get-go

  1. Know your values (instructor and school)
  2. Craft your “maker mission statement”
  3. Purposeful problems to solve
  4. Finite amount of time and resources
  5. High expectations has many excellent articles on preparing for a makerspace. A few examples are