Authentic Use of a MakerSpace

I couldn’t be happier to have Anthony Gabriele as a guest writer on my blog this week. Enjoy!

Anthony Gabriele is currently the Supervisor of Learning, Development & Professional Growth for the Garnet Valley School District, as well as Senior adjunct faculty with the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Literacy Network. Throughout his career, Anthony has worked as a 7-12 English Language Arts teacher and a K-12 instructional staff developer, with a specific focus on integrating literacy, technology and curriculum. Anthony also worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to build PA Core aligned Instructional Frameworks and Assessments and, in partnership with Apple, iTunes University Open Education courses to support educators in their work with the PA Core standards. Currently, Anthony is the district lead on working with the U.S. Department of Education on the #GoOpen movement. Most recently, Anthony was awarded Learning Forward PA’sBest Practices in the Area of Professional Learning in the State of PA Award Winner. He also writes (occasionally) on his blog

Authentic Use of a MakerSpace

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” ― John Dewey

In their book Hacking Project Based Learning: 10 Easy Steps to PBL and Inquiry in the Classroom, Erin Murphy and Ross Cooper identify their first ‘Hack’ to be “Develop a Space that Promotes Risk Taking”. In this chapter, they not only discuss remaking the physical environment to “make your classroom look less like school”, but to strive to “foster learner agency through your physical environment”. The next 9 ‘Hacks’ then focus on really the heart of what these spaces are built for – teaching and learning through collaboration, inquiry, metacognition, and the like.

Here at Garnet Valley, when we first began re-designing our learning spaces, as part of our push towards becoming a #FutureReady School District, we made sure to keep in mind that form had to match function (see When Form Matches Function… & Final Form: A Future Ready Library for specifics on the process and different components of redesigning of our district learning spaces). After many visits, research and reading, when thinking about a vision and goals for the spaces, we ultimately decided that the focus of all our redesigns was tied to three main non-negotiables:

To avoid these spaces becoming nothing more than, as Tom Murray would say, ‘Pinterest worthy’, we also allocated (and continue to allocate) time, energy and resources into professional learning related to the types of activities and lessons that would best suit the space. We have four Instructional Technology Coaches in the district who work K-12. One of their areas of focus is working with teachers to co-plan, teach/model, and/or co-teach in these spaces.

In order to provide authentic and purposeful experiences that include technology, design thinking, making, inquiry etc… the coaches and teachers collaborate together to take the already existing curriculum and standards and design lessons and projects that provide students with innovative opportunities that amplify the learning experiences for their students. This is done by co-planning, modeling, co-teaching, supporting risk-taking on both the role of the teacher and the coach. Our collection of Genius Hour Projects Across the K-12 Landscape is a good example of the types of work happening because of this collaboration.

Through our early work with the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Literacy Network on student centered engagement and lesson design, to our purposeful and student focused curriculum design work around Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design 2.0, to our more recent #GoOpen and Open Education Resources (OER) work focused on student centered resource design, as well as our beginning work with the Global Online Academy on student focused Course Design for Blended and Online Learning, we are constantly learning, growing and evolving our lessons and units to find ways to best meet our students where they are, push, then support them.

Linked below are samples of lessons, units, and experiences in our Collaboration and Innovation Labs that our coaches and teachers have been working on over the past few years. Some of the links are to blog posts, Facebook posts, videos, and lesson that reflect the purposeful and authentic innovation that we are working to achieve in Garnet Valley.


Making, Robotics, Coding and Programming, Project Based Learning, Inquiry Lessons & i-Search/Genius Hour Projects

In the K-5 Classroom

In the 6-12 Classroom

For more on innovation in Garnet Valley, please visit:

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As always, thanks for reading!

Part 1: How 8th Graders in Virginia Are Changing The World (and Education)



My first year at a new school was great, so when it came time for an end of the year exit interview with my principal, I didn’t have much to complain about. Our school was going on a double block schedule that would provide additional minutes of support for students who failed the English and/or Math SOLs.


What that meant for the rest of the students was that they would be slated to attend an “Innovation and Literacy” period with silent sustained reading for the first thirty, Innovation the second thirty and remedial needs the last thirty. I saw an opportunity.


I went to the meeting and proposed a truly innovative alternative: turning my students into entrepreneurs. Our school recently was awarded a $20k grant to enhance our current Makerspace and I could see the gears turning in my principal’s mind.


He didn’t say yes but he didn’t say no either. He told me to see what I could come up with and get back to him. It was at that moment that the stars began to align.


I sent out emails to everyone in the Richmond metro area that was associated with entrepreneurship. One particular email was of great interest to me: the one I sent to Jeff Foster at the VCUarts Center for Creative Economy. The program was partially designed to turn the stereotypical starving artist into a profitable business person.


I waited, and waited, and waited. A month went by of obsessively checking my inbox when I received an email from Jeff.


We set up a meeting at the VCUarts Depot Building on VCU’s campus in Richmond, VA. For nearly two hours we brainstormed about what “this” could look like and it was pretty awesome looking back at how the creativity that came out of that single meeting.


The first day of Innovation class. Students entered the room for the very first time. Like every new group of students, they had no idea what to expect. Little did they know, they were going to be apart of a truly innovative classroom experience that no one else in the state, the county, or the school had ever experienced. We would be doing things differently than their classmates. Their ears perked up.


The first task for my students: Chindoguu


Chindogu is a tool that is not useful, but not necessarily useless either.




The task would be to use the Stanford D. School’s design thinking framework, ultimately creating a physical prototype, of a useless tool, getting feedback and presenting their work. When I introduced Chindogu, they were confused. When I told them they would be presenting in front of a group of exchange students from China, two college professors, parents, and their principal, they were terrified. One student even dropped the class.




But for those that stuck around and persevered through iteration after iteration, and through practicing their Shark-Tank-like product pitch, students walked away with a new-found swagger that they didn’t possess before this experience.




In the following month, students continued to push themselves “outside-the-box” and learned about design principles from watching the Tinker Hatfield episode on the Netflix docu-series Abstract: The Art of Design. They took part in a condensed version of a capstone project created by the Stanford Innovation Lab centered around bringing value back to a “lost” sock.


They also collaborated on the classic “How to Make Toast” activity and worked with kindergarten students at a local elementary school on green screen videos related to the kindergarten concepts of past and present.


All of this within the first two months of school! What’s even better: what happened when I stopped creating experiences for them and let them take the reins.


We sat in a circle for 90 minutes and had a conversation about what to do next. Students decided that they wanted to do something to help people (this in and of itself is simply amazing for a group of thirteen-year-olds). They decided to create something based on the concept of making people smile. They would perhaps create a piece of artwork displayed in the cafeteria, write positive quotes, and maybe even create a hashtag to get people talking about it on social media.


What happened next, no one could have anticipated.


The following day, the local news media released a video showing a neighboring middle school. The video showed white students making racist comments and actions against an African-American student. As you can imagine, the news spread quickly, and this was all the students were talking about in the hallways the next day.


When we gathered in our circle this time, no one commented on the details of the story but said they wanted to pivot (my word) to a concept of unity. They hated the fact that if someone Googled “Henrico County Middle School”, this was what you got.


They wanted the world to know that our class was different. That we got along with each other and wanted to do something to change the narrative. They wanted to create a video that would go viral and end up being highlighted on Ellen.


Typical 8th-grade response right? Wrong.


They knew that the impact of a video only would be short-lived. So, they decided that we should create something long-lasting like a business, no, a movement around the concept of unity. What they didn’t know was that their work was already having an impact in their world and a lot of people were starting to pay a lot of attention to what they were doing.


Part 2 (Community Partners: How 8th Graders in Virginia Are Changing the World (and Education)…Coming Soon