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    The Process of Hacking the ISTE16 #MakerChallenge

    The Process of Hacking the ISTE16 #MakerChallenge

    by Colleen Graves and Nicholas Provenzano

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    The Maker Challenge Overview

    Nicholas Provenzano and Amazon Edu thought it would be a great idea to bring novice makers and Master makers together to demonstrate making live at the recent ISTE conference in Denver. During this quick and frenzied two-hour challenge, people could stop by and see the teams think and create solutions to the task at hand. 

    How it Began

    Nicholas: I had an idea to do an event that featured awesome Makers from across the country doing what they do best: Make and teach others how to Make. Amazon Edu was excited about supporting this idea and teamed up with me to make this happen.

    Colleen:  I got a message from Nicholas (aka The Nerdy Teacher) about joining “The Maker Challenge” as a Master Maker. He basically prepped it as a game show type of event with maker stuff and said, “it’s kind of like Iron Chef but for making.”  I thought, “Wow that sounds interesting…. I’m in!”


    In the beginning…

    Nicholas: Trying to put together the event required lots of trial and error. I wanted to make an event that was fun and not too burdensome for everyone involved. ISTE is a crazy event and I thought about different ways I could give the Master Makers a chance to prep ahead of time so the event would not be another stressor during the conference.

    Colleen: Nicholas emailed us ahead of time and asked us to write a lesson plan for Raspberry Pi. I’m not sure how many of us emailed Nicholas and said, “We don’t want to write a lesson ahead of time!” That’s not what we would really do in our makerspaces—we’d give the kids a challenge and let them work on it within a time frame. We wouldn’t give direct instructions for kids on what they had to make during a challenge. Instead, we would limit by materials or by topic. We convinced Nicholas that the challenge should be issued the day of the event.


    Ch...Ch… Ch.. Changes! (Adapting to maker’s ideas)

    Colleen: I’m not going to lie. I was very nervous about this event and didn’t want it to turn into a spectacle as that isn’t how I see making in my own educational setting. To me, a makerspace is a community where students are allowed to lurk or jump in at any time and offer assistance.  I wasn’t ready to try and battle maker against maker. I just wanted to have fun and make stuff with my friends. (Which is probably the same way my students feel about coming to our library. They come for the community and the opportunity to hang out and mess about and make stuff.)

    I began to fret, “What would the challenge be? Could I make something in two hours to address it?”

    It didn’t take long before the challenge was announced: “Take a classroom activity and hack it.”

    Nicholas: There were five tables for the five Maker teams and they all had supplies to address the questions. There were chairs spread out around the tables where the audience was supposed to sit and watch the events unfold. It started slowly with the design phase, but the next thing everyone knew, the crowd was up and participating in the event.

    Colleen: I found my partner and noticed two rows of “viewing chairs” set up behind our table. Those chairs quickly became filled and a “viewer” said, “Where am I supposed to sit?” I instantly said, “Come sit with us and help! Or learn! We are here to have fun!” This is the same type of frenzy that happens during maker events at my library. Students join in on making and other students instantaneously become expert makers and sharers. Near the end of the school year I had a class in the library completing maker challenges in stations around the library and many individual students that were not in the class came to help and join in. This is what makes the maker movement so awesome for our students, in a makerspace, every student is welcome and has a unique gift to give.

    Makerspace_ISTE2016_Donna Macdonald pic.png 

    Viewers join David Saunders and Donna MacDonald’s Team


    Nicholas: This was not the original intention of the event. People were supposed to watch the teams get to work and see what Making can look like for their students and staff. However, the Makers would not have people stand idly by while they were creating. Guests were quickly asked to jump in and play an active role in the Making process. Groups of people were bouncing from table to table learning, sharing, and Making. This really became a group event where everyone was participating and it could not have been more perfect. 

    Colleen: What I love about making is that each makerspace is as diverse as the community it is grounded in. The projects and enthusiasm in this room was astounding and I have to attribute that to the caliber of educator attending ISTE. Educators who came to watch not only joined in helping, but helped educate others. I had people come to my table and ask how the Makey Makey worked and before I could answer, the passive viewers at my table became active instructors. Students became teachers and experts in a snap.

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    Making is about Becoming an Active Participant

    Nicholas: The spirit of Making and being a Maker is about inclusion. While the original event was designed to show people who may not be familiar with the Maker movement what is possible when passionate educators get together to Make awesome things, it strayed to the beauty of Making, which is about letting everyone get their hands dirty if they want. Making is not a passive process. Neither is learning. The event evolved into a large Making extravaganza because it is the natural process for Making. More people made for more Making. That is the beauty of putting in Makerspaces in schools. By having the space and a few passionate Makers, students will dive in and start Making things that matter to them.

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    There is no “I” in Maker


    Colleen: If you want to incorporate this enthusiasm in your own space, you need to think about accessibility and letting EVERYONE join in. When looking for training on starting a makerspace, you want to focus on equitable and culturally responsive making. You need to discuss with your administration and teachers how you can build a culture of making and inquiry that builds this inclusive maker community in your school. Get students involved in the process so that student choice drives your makerspace and allows students to become leaders and experts in the space from the get go.

    One of the most awesome aspects of the Maker Challenge was while it had a focus, the five teams had free choice on our tools and ideas for solutions.

    This free choice is why students love to come to the makerspace. A lot of our kids are accustomed to getting assignments and checking off things they need to do to complete them. In a makerspace, you don’t have that. You have the opportunity to be challenged and find a solution—just like the real world. (My dryer broke? How will I fix it?) The best thing about this type of problem solving is that we do not focus on one solution. In a makerspace, there are many solutions. Our makes for the day showcased that. Some focused on hacking assessments, some focused on hacking safety, and my team focused on getting kids back from the bathroom in a timely manner! HA!


    Next Year?

    Nicholas: As for next year, the event will look more like it unfolded and less like it was planned. The event can grow and include more educators in a larger space that allows everyone to show up and learn a few things and Make stuff along the way. There is a beautiful power in learning to Make and sharing it with others. There is still plenty of room to grow this event and make it hold true to the basic principles of Making.

    Colleen: This event blew my expectations out of the water. It was one of the most exciting and joyous events I’ve experienced at a conference. As soon as it was over, I asked Nicholas if we could make something again. To say I loved it would be an understatement. While I already hold design challenges at my school, I’m now thinking of how I can incorporate “quick” maker challenges like this for my students. I think a quick challenge like this is a great build-up to a bigger, more empathy-focused design challenge and I can’t wait to see what my students create.

    Makerspace_ISTE2016_Instagram NPriester.png 


    Further Reading on Making:

    Nicholas Provenzano 

    Colleen Graves

    Follett School Solutions

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    Author Bios

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    Nicholas Provenzano is a high school English teacher and an education blogger who is passionate about educational technology and making cool things. He writes on his website,,, the ISTE blog, as well as many other prominent educational websites. He has been featured on, Education Week, The New York Times, and many other media outlets. In 2013, he was awarded the Technology Teacher of the Year by MACUL and ISTE. Nicholas is Google Certified Innovator, Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, and a TEDEd Innovative Educator. His new book on Makerspaces comes out in September and you can get the first chapter free by signing up through his website.  Nicholas can be found tweeting and posting plenty of nerdy ideas on Twitter and Instagram at @TheNerdyTeacher.


    Makerspace Colleen Graves pictures.png

    Colleen Graves is a middle school/high school librarian, obsessed with learning commons transformations, makerspaces, technology education and making stuff. Colleen brings a passionate, artistic energy to the school library world. As a connected educator, she brings the global community to her students on a daily basis. She blogs about makerspaces and libraries at and is happy to announce that she is co-authoring two books for maker librarians to be published in 2016. Colleen was awarded the School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Co-finalist Award in 2014, named by Scholastic as one of the Top 10 School Librarians to follow on Twitter in 2015 and was named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker in 2016. Look out for her upcoming book (co-authored with Aaron Graves)  The Big Book of Makerspace Projects: Inspiring Makers to Experiment, Create, and Learn and Challenged Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace (co-authors Diana L Rendina and Aaron Graves). You can follow Colleen on Twitter and on Instagram and Facebook.



    It was a super fun time with some awesome makers: David Saunders @DesignSaunders , Diana Rendina  @DianaLRendina, Bill Selak @BillSelak, and Jeff Branson  @SparkFunEDU! Plus, makers that joined:  Jennifer Yuenger (My teammate), Ashley KazyakaMichael MedvinskyDonna MacDonaldMark SchreiberSherry Gick , Elissa Malespina, and so many more!!!

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