Spencer Sharp is an elementary STEM teacher from Indiana, who built the STEM program at his school from scratch. Spencer developed STEM curriculum for Kindergarten through 6th grade, and hasn’t turned back. He is still in the classroom, and is simultaneously pursuing his dream of creating STEM curriculum for teachers across the country. He hopes to use his experiences – and the experiences of other teachers – to build a curriculum that is worth teaching to our students. He’s also the host of the Innovative Teacher Podcast with Naomi Meredith, who joined us on the show a few months ago, and runs the blog for teachers, Sharp the Builder. Spencer, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.
Spencer Sharp (03:29):
I am so excited, and thank you for the intro. That was so kind of you, and yeah, I just, I love what I do and I love talking about it. Like when I set up this meeting with you, I was like, it doesn’t even seem like a job to me to do this on a Sunday. This seems like just like a fun conversation. And like we talked about earlier, we followed each other so long. It’s like, this is kind of cool to finally meet each other, even though we feel like we have known each other for like over a year now as well, how long we’ve kind of done this. So I’m excited to be here and I’m excited to talk about all these fun, different things around the world of makerspace and STEM and all that great stuff.
Yeah. I’m so excited to have you. We were chatting, like you said, before the show and it’s been so neat getting to watch your journey online. We both kind of started doing similar things for teachers online at roughly the same time. And so it’s been really cool to watch you grow and see all the neat and innovative things that you’re doing in your classroom. You’re a STEM teacher, and you build STEM curriculum for teachers as well. Could you talk about your background and what led you to where you are today?
Spencer Sharp (04:32):
Yeah, it’s kind of like a really strange story in the fact that when I was in college STEM, it was like, you could take like a class or two. I know a lot of colleges now you can get your minor in STEM. You can even get a major in STEM, which is really cool, but at the time it wasn’t very well-known. I took a couple classes in STEM, so I could a concentration. And I was like, this is really cool. I grew up really struggling in the classroom. I had a little bit of ADHD and my mom was a teacher. So she kind of helped me cope with that and taught me some different, cool, mechanisms and things to do that made me successful. And I was super grateful for that.
Spencer Sharp (05:07):
And after I graduated, I actually went to a school and they said, Hey, we want to start a STEM program. Would you be interested in teaching us? So they kind of approached me a little bit, but I also had to apply for it. We had a conversation with my principal now who’s incredible. It’s super supportive and our visions were kind of lined up. We wanted to make it affordable for the school. We wanted to make it effective. And in doing that, I knew there would be a lot of work in the beginning. And, ever since that kind of happened, I said I couldn’t teach another classroom. Like I could physically not do it just because I feel like STEM is that powerful for me. And if I did a classroom, it would be STEM all the time, which I know some schools will be cool with that.
Spencer Sharp (05:46):
And, I could step into something like that, but really building this program up, it’s been like my baby, like I said cause I love it. It’s so much fun. And every year I get to try new and I have a lot of freedom in what I can try. And the cool part is now I have teachers come to me or schools and they’re like, Hey, I’m now going to be the second through fourth grade STEM teacher or I’m going to be the STEM teacher for elementary. What are some pointers and things you have that could help me? And I’m always like, this is why I kind of started on Instagram and kind of went to the blog and everything else. ‘Cause I know for me it was like five in the morning until five o’clock at night that first year, if not longer, writing curriculum. And all that stuff. And I love it, but I’m like, I want to help teachers. So I’m kind of in that position now where I can do a little bit of everything and I love that because that’s how my brain works. And so it’s one of those things. I just, I love my position. I love that. It came up to me. It was one of those things that was just perfect timing and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
That’s amazing. Well, it’s so clear that you’re so passionate about what you do for your students. You’re so passionate about helping other teachers out there as well. So to clarify, your very first teaching job was as a STEM teacher, is that correct?
Spencer Sharp (07:03):
It was like I graduated. And then I went to look for jobs and it was actually kind of funny because when I applied to the school, I applied for a kindergarten job and now I’m like, it takes a very special person to teach kindergarten. Like I would say, kindergarten teachers are like angels sent from heaven. ‘Cause I’m like every time I have kindergarten, that’s some of my hardest like classes for STEM where I’m still trying to figure it out and I’m still doing, trying new things and stuff, but yeah, it was my first position. And I think the hardest part was there wasn’t any curriculum. And so when I was in college, there was always curriculum and I was like, here’s what you teach. And then like you get to create your own curriculum. So I’m like, wow, that’s like big right there.
Spencer Sharp (07:39):
And they were like, here’s all the materials you get. And they had like four tables set up in my room of just random stuff. And I was like, wow. So I just kind of went through, started writing curriculum. After my first year I actually got my Master’s in STEM curriculum and instruction, which I’m glad I did after the first couple of years, but it was kind of nice to get a couple of years under my belt and then get that. But it was one of those things that like most teachers being thrown into that position probably wouldn’t enjoy it. Maybe their first year just ’cause it was a lot of upfront work. It was. But like it was super rewarding to see like the kids succeed. And especially I’m in my room the first year, I really saw some of the kids that they would bring into my class.
Spencer Sharp (08:23):
They would bring them in sections, the high, medium, and low group, which I hate that to begin with. But that’s how they brought them and my students who they classified were low were my best students by far, and it wasn’t even close and it’s because they always had to have those skills that they built those, well, I don’t understand this. How can I understand it? And whereas, the higher kids, they would always say, I understand it. And they just want you to tell them the answer. The lower kids they’re into exploring critical thinking, problem solving. And those are the skills that really flourish in STEM, Makerspace, whatever it might be that I was doing in my room at the time. And I always thought that was really cool to see, ’cause I know I was a student who was kind of lower and I didn’t really ever get recognized even if I was working harder than the other kids. It didn’t, it didn’t matter.
Oh, that’s so neat. That’s something that I’m kind of always talking about on this podcast too. I feel like that I’ve noticed as a STEM teacher is that the kids who typically struggle the most and like this very traditional rigid classroom setting are oftentimes the ones who are really thriving in my classroom. And so that’s something that’s neat to hear that you’ve experienced with your students as well.
Spencer Sharp (09:36):
Yeah. And I mean, I think too, like I know you probably get, I mean you probably, I know ’cause I’ve listened to your show a lot. You get to tell such fun stories about it. And I feel like those are what makes STEM seem inspiring to others. And I know like when I write emails to my email list or when I’m chatting with people on Instagram or whatever, it might be like teachers I’m like, I always give them like a story and they’re like, wow, that was like super powerful. And I’m like, yeah, like, and it’s not something that’s like out of the norm, like it, this doesn’t happen to me. It happens to you happens the most STEM teachers. ‘Cause That’s what it’s kind of designed to do. It’s those skills that we see kids using in jobs and in future jobs with programming and everything else, those are the skills we need to build.
Spencer Sharp (10:14):
So it’s, I mean, it’s one of those things like, that’s why I love STEM. Like that would be the number one thing I would say. Like, that’s why I love it. That’s why I believe in it because I see the value in it. And I see the value from those students that sometimes teachers kind of ride off, just cause they’re like, well he’s really low. He’ll be lucky that he gets a job and I’m like, no, I mean, he could get a job being an engineer or an electrician, maybe, we do an electricity unit or maybe programming. And I think that’s always kind of cool just to talk about with STEM teachers. Cause it’s like we have so many cool stories about our students that people, I mean, I wouldn’t say necessarily teachers don’t believe, cause they always believe in all their students, but someone that they’re just like that kid kind of has this place where STEM teachers are like, I don’t think he has a place. I’m not going to really put him in a box. Him, he or she, or, or whoever, I think they can try this. And that’s what I always encourage my students to do. Cause I’m like, you’re young, try those new things out and maybe you love it. Maybe you don’t love it, but that’s the only way you’re going to learn.
Hmm. I love that. I really love that. So thinking back to your first year teaching, right, you developed all this STEM curriculum from scratch. That to me is really incredible. I had somewhat of a similar experience. I wasn’t the first STEM teacher at my school when I joined. But when I got there, there was no curriculum for me. Because the teacher before didn’t really help leave anything behind. And so I, in a lot of ways, had to build things from scratch, but it doesn’t sound like to the same degree that you had to. So could you talk about an example of a project that you did your very first teach you’re teaching, whether it be a really high quality project that you’re still doing today, or it could also be an example of a project that completely failed and made you learn a lot?
Spencer Sharp (11:57):
I’ll do both because, I mean, I think there’s some beauty in both those things. So I guess like my first project that really stood out to me was when we my, I think it was fourth grade or fifth grade, it might’ve been both. We did a catapult competition. So we talked about all the forms of energy, how we can create more energy to basically fling this ping pong ball across the room. And it was just such high level talk. I heard so many kids just using vocab words and their everyday language after that, about energy and force and motion and all that kind of stuff. And it was great because the teachers were like, they’re just using this language. Like how did you get them to do it? And I’m like, I didn’t do anything. I just gave them a problem.
Spencer Sharp (12:37):
We had Popsicle sticks at the time we had poplins and rubber bands and we just built like little ones. And we just talked about, well, how could we increase it? How could we make the ball go farther? Is there a certain point? The ball will no longer go farther because of the only the amount of potential to kinetic energy it has and things like that. And it was just one of those lessons I do every year. And the kids are always blown away. I think this year, even I posted a video on my Instagram of a girl who flipped the ball and because of COVID we were spread out, but she somehow flipped it all the way to this back table with this boy. And he was like, and he was like blown away that it like almost hit him. And even in my first year, my principal walked in and it was like, ping pong balls are going everywhere.
Spencer Sharp (13:17):
And like the old teacher and me, or like what I would normally see like a teacher do, I’m like, Oh my gosh, I’m going to get in trouble. And she was like, this is awesome. Like, this is what I wanted out of this program. So that made me be like, okay, I’m doing this right. And it made me feel really good, but like on the other end there was plenty of projects I would try and they wouldn’t succeed the first time or they wouldn’t look good, but like the kids, I tell the kids all the time, I said, I make all these lesson plans myself, in my spare time, before school, early mornings or late at night. And I say, sometimes we do a lesson and Mr. Sharp, doesn’t do a good job. It’s just that simple.
Spencer Sharp (13:51):
Like I always try to preach to them. You’re going to fail in life. If you don’t fail, you’re not learning anything. So I’m like, there’s plenty of lessons that I go to teach. And I fail all the time. Like I know the first year when I went to teach about kites, I was having my first graders build kites. And I just, I did a little bit too much as far as density of curriculum where it seemed like we were doing more of like the define the problem other than the hands-on stuff. And I didn’t really like that as much. And then the end products didn’t really turn out as well. And they didn’t understand the concepts of wind how to like, catch the wind with the kite and what that kind of looks like. And I even, I mean, I give that example to kids all the time.
Spencer Sharp (14:33):
‘Cause I said, that was something I thought would go well, I was disappointed and that’s human nature, but I said, what can I change? And then the next year I went back and tried it again. So I think when you’re doing STEM, especially if you’re writing your own curriculum, there’s going to be lessons. You’re like, Oh, that’s a really good idea. And then you go to try it. And what it looks like in your head versus what the kids get doesn’t necessarily work. I mean, it happens to me. I feel like all the time, cause I’m always trying new lessons. Even last week, I’d try to do like a life jacket for Barbie. And my one group of kids really understood it and we did a jam board and answered all these questions and it was so much fun.
Spencer Sharp (15:09):
And then the next group came in and it was like over their head. And I was like, Oh my gosh, what do I need to change in order for these kids to understand? I think that’s kind of the fun part about STEM. Curriculum can look so different for everybody. And you have a teachers pay teachers store and you know how it is. Like sometimes people will be like, my students really enjoy this or they didn’t understand it to this extent. And I’m like, that’s kind of the fun part about STEM. I might give you a lesson and your students might take it a whole nother direction than the way my students took it. And I think that’s, what’s powerful about STEM is the kids kind of lead that conversation and what that looks like.
I love that you just said that. I completely agree. I think what’s so cool about being a STEM teacher is that my classroom feels very student centered. I feel like I’m just a facilitator and the kids are really driving the learning. And so that’s neat to hear that that’s something that you have in common as well.
Spencer Sharp (16:00):
Have you ever like went to teach a lesson and you kind of have to prepare what you’re going to talk about with like the define the problem part and then they go a whole nother direction and you’re like, honestly, I don’t really know the answer to that. Like sometimes I’m like, I don’t know the answer to that. I’m like, we can look it up and then we kind of get in like a little space where we’re doing research and stuff. Has that happened to you
All the time. You’ve also pointed out now two things that I feel like really resonate with me first talking about experiences where you failed with your students. That’s something that I’ve tried to get really better at in the past year, especially is being really honest with students. Like adults make mistakes, too. Adults fail as well. Like sometimes my lessons don’t go as planned and that’s a really great opportunity for me to learn. And I think when students see that kids feel that way or, sorry, sorry. When students see that adults have that experience as well, it makes them feel more comfortable failing safely in your classroom. So that’s something that you pointed out that I that I really resonate with. What was the second thing that you just said?
Spencer Sharp (17:05):
The second thing was how, like, they’ll say like you, you have a lesson plan and you’re going to go this direction and then they go this way. I don’t know about it. I think, I mean, when you act like, I mean, you’re like, Hey, I don’t know about that. Kids are like, Oh my gosh, like teachers don’t know everything. It’s like, no, like, every day is a learning opportunity for all of us. And I think they like really appreciate that. And I mean, the one time I remember we were doing shelters and I wanted to talk about like different forms of extreme weather. Well, they never heard, or they never seen in their lifetime in Indiana, which is a big deal. They never, they never, I’ve never seen a blizzard and I’m like, Oh, I’ve seen one. And they’re like, well, what defines a blizzard? And I’m like, honestly, I don’t know what meets the requirements. I know it’s so many inches of snow with a certain kind of wind. And they were like, well, let’s look it. And I’m like, yeah, let’s do it. Like, I don’t know the answer. And they were like, stunned that I didn’t know it. And I’m like, your homeroom teachers might not tell you this, but they don’t know everything like, sorry, but they don’t.
Yeah. I love that. Aa few episodes ago, actually, it was probably probably about 10 episodes ago at this point. But I recorded with Sarah Love who is a TK teacher and she posed this really amazing question to me that I’ve started to pose to students. That’s completely shifted the way I’ve had these conversations with students and she will probe students. When they ask her a question, she’ll often say, how do you think we can find out? And I think that that being really intentional with that language is such a great way to help students realize that they can be authors of their own learning and that they can go out there and practice their research skills and that we can do some sort of co-learning where it’s an investigative experience for everyone. So I really liked the intentionality of that language. And so that’s something that I really tried to get better at in my classroom this year as well.
Spencer Sharp (18:56):
I like that. And I think being intentional about what, the way you word questions and facilitate to the kids is so important. The kids get mad at me a lot because I’ll be like, I never tell them the answer. They’re like, just tell me the answer. And I’m like, that would take the enjoyment out of learning. I say that to them all the time. And like, what do you mean by that, Mike, if I told you the answer more than likely, you’re probably going to get, forget it tomorrow. I was like, if you discover it on your own, you’re going to remember it randomly like 10 years later. And I’m like, trust me. Like there’s times I randomly think about a teacher where they were like, Hey, what about this? And then I’m like, Oh, I discovered on my own through a cool project, you know? And I think about like that random project that happened, versus just the teacher being like, that doesn’t necessarily resonate or help with that long-term learning with students. So I think that’s super important the way we word things to kids.
Hmm. Yeah. I completely agree. So you’ve mentioned, you’ve mentioned throughout our conversation so far some examples of some skills that you hope students get in your classroom. You’ve talked about helping students become lifelong learners. I think you were just kind of hinting at that. Just now you’ve talked about wanting students to develop these 21st century skills, these skills that are going to be applicable for the jobs that students might have one day. Could you elaborate a little bit more on some of these skills that you hope students will be learning in your classroom?
Spencer Sharp (20:14):
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, I think along with the skills, every person that I really kind of talk to when there’s that always, that person that they’re not sure if they want to use STEM. Cause they’re like, well, what are they going to learn? What kind of skills are they going to learn? What can I take to my school board? Or, whoever to get this ball rolling as far as using STEM in my classroom. And I think one of the most important things that my administrators love to hear is those application skills, like in the classroom, they’re learning so much content, but how can they apply it to a world real world problem? And I think, those 21st century skills like applying your knowledge, critical thinking, problem solving, even collaborative learning are so important now more than ever.
Spencer Sharp (20:59):
I think it was last year, I read a stat that there was like, I think it might’ve been 10, 10 or 15,000 more jobs in computer programming or computers altogether. So I’m like, why are we not teaching skills around those problem solving of different computer problems or programming or whatever it might be. It’s those skills are super important between problem solving, critical thinking collaborative and even analyzing your work, I think is another big one that my students would say, they learn a lot of in my room and, sometimes they don’t realize they’re learning those different 21st century skills or whatever skills you want to call them, but they’re learning them. They just don’t realize it. And especially when there’s one group that’s arguing and they’re not happy with each other.
Spencer Sharp (21:46):
And then they’re like, Oh, we could do this. And they kind of figure it out. I’m like, well, you just use collaborative skills to set your differences aside and come up with a problem. So then didn’t even then you did some problem solving skills. And a lot of times they don’t realize it. And I think that’s kind of the cool part about it is, it’s not something I’m explicitly saying today. You will be thinking critically about this they just kind of do it. Cause I’ll say here’s the problem at hand and we’ll kind of learn together about it. And then it’s like, wow, they learned all those skills without me saying, Hey, you’re learning these skills. And I think that’s kinda the cool part or, effective way to approach those skills too.
I love having STEM teachers on the show because everything you just said, I was like, just as you were saying, and I was like, Oh, I’m going to say this next. And it was like, Nope, you said it. So I, again, completely agree with what you’re saying. I think something that’s really cool about being a STEM teacher is that STEM classes really fun. Yeah. Like it’s so much fun for the teacher. It’s so much fun for the students that sometimes they don’t realize that they’re learning all these skills. I mean, of course, as the teacher, you can name like, Oh, you’re using your collaboration skills right now, or you’re using your communication skills, but it’s really neat that those skills are almost happening and students are developing those skills and not realizing it. I think that that’s where learning can be so fun for students is that they’re excited to collaborate.
They’re excited to practice communicating with each other. And as you’re talking about, thinking about students in the real world, those are all skills that they’re going to be using. And so it’s neat that those are skills that you’re helping students develop in your classroom while they’re in this really safe environment. They’re so young. Obviously you teach elementary students just like I do, but it’s, it’s a great way to set them up. So that one day when they are in the real world, they’ve had all these real experiences in your classroom that are going to make them thrive in whatever career path they end up pursuing one day.
Spencer Sharp (23:41):
I think it’s, it’s always funny, especially since you said it like that, that the kids, they have so much fun. I even had a student and I love telling the story that he told his mom, his mom was telling me through an email that he didn’t think Mr. Sharp was actually a teacher cause he was having way too much fun and he has way too much on his class. There’s no way he’s a teacher. And I was like, that just cracks me up. But it’s, it’s true. They’re having that amount of, I would say fun and like fun through a problem that they’re like, I actually want to solve this. And there’s a little bit of that behind every STEM lesson to the point where they’re like, this doesn’t really seem like a teacher, and Naomi always says that some teachers are like cool aunts and uncles.
Spencer Sharp (24:17):
And I always like stealing that cause I’m like, we kind of are, we do a little, I mean a lot more facilitating and we kind of flip that classroom around and the kids really see it as like an opportunity, which I think is like a game changer for curriculum for me. And that’s what I always tell people is like you’re flipping the script and making it something that they want to come to school about. You’re not going to have kids down or not doing something. Like I have kids that get so excited in my room and my T and T their classroom teachers. Like I never see them get excited and I’m like, I see them get excited every day, you know? So I think it’s a cool opportunity as people that get to do that all day, get to see that excitement behind kids. For sure.
I also love that kids who you hear are thriving in the regular classroom… I appreciate getting to see those kids struggle in my classroom a little bit too. Like obviously, I am here to support those students, but I think it’s important for students to learn that school can be hard even for the kid who typically thrives in a conventional classroom setting as well. So I think the reverse can be true too.
Spencer Sharp (25:17):
Yeah. And that’s something too, like, I don’t talk about as much as I wish I did too, because I have had kids like that, that they were just like, tell me, like I said earlier, kind of tell me that answer kind of kid. I just want to get it right. Cause they’re so used to be imperfect. And I always say, that’s not what this class is about. Like you’re not coming to this class for that reason. And to see them kind of develop those skills just a little bit different and struggle a little bit, I think, I think is good. And I think longterm, those kids are like, wow, that really was effective for me. And being in there was a good use of my time.
Mm, definitely. So I want to switch gears a tiny bit because you are the maker-space expert in my mind. You are posting so much online about makerspaces. You have some really great blog posts about it. I really have enjoyed following you and learning about your experience with Makerspace. I know you’re also, I’m pretty sure developing maker-space curriculum now for a ton of schools in Indiana, right?
Spencer Sharp (26:12):
There’s a us company it’s called 1st Makerspace and they kind of reached out to me and said, Hey, would you want to develop some curriculum for us around Makerspace? And I was like, absolutely. Like, that sounds like a dream come true. That’s always been my dream. So I was super pumped when they did it because I’m like, this is a very cool opportunity for a lot of schools to get curriculum. And like my biggest thing is I want to make it easy to use. I want to make it hands-on. I just feel like a lot of the stuff you buy from what I would say, like quote unquote, the big companies is so worksheet-oriented and I hate that. Cause I don’t, I don’t think that’s what it’s about. I’m hoping I can kind of change that and flip the script with first Makerspace. So I’m excited about that opportunity for sure.
That’s amazing. Well, you’ve definitely already been flipping the script. I mean, like I said, everything you’ve been doing over the past year has been really incredible and inspirational to me as a STEM teacher and maker spaces. There’s been a buzz about maker spaces for kind of a while. They’re not an entirely new concept. I mean, people have been talking about them in education for awhile, but there’s a lot of hype around them, in my opinion. I don’t know if you agree with that, but I think that there’s been a lot of hype. I think this is true with anything with hype. There’s been a lot of myths around maker spaces and these are really fascinating to me because I’m, as you know, obsessed with makerspaces, I think they’re incredible. You clearly are too. So I basically put together a list of a couple of different myths that I would love it. If you could talk about these and possibly debunk them, if you think they are myths or tell me why the myths are actually reality. So the first one is that maker spaces only exist in STEM classrooms.
Spencer Sharp (27:46):
So I, yeah, I would say that’s, that’s a big time myth. Just as far as like, even in my STEM classroom, I didn’t, I mean, I use Makerspace all the time and maker-space concepts, but I have teachers that come to me and they’re like, I kind of want to make a space that is a Makerspace, like in my room somewhere. And it doesn’t have to be a full room. Like I know people that they do like a maker-space corner and that’s, they use that as like a special in their class. As far as just a little bit of time. And I think creating that space in your classroom, lets the kids know like, this is a space where I can be creative and not necessarily, I only get 45 minutes a week of STEM. I can be creative in other places.
Spencer Sharp (28:27):
Not only that, but like statistics have shown when kids are comfortable in an environment like that they’re going to thrive in their other subjects, they’re going to be more comfortable. So I think actually it would be even the opposite of that. Myth putting Makerspace in your classroom would help with all kinds of learning with your students. And it’s very easy to just put a little corner and putmaker-space across the top and put some materials there. And maybe you do some what I would call like leads a makerspace or makerspace corner, that’s organized where you kind of give them a small problem and they go about it in their own way. Or maybe it’s open-ended I’ve done both and I’ve seen positives and negatives of both for sure.
Hmm. Awesome. Thank you. I think my hope for makerspaces is that eventually every classroom all across the world has a space in it and that STEM is no longer its own subject and is instead implemented in every homeroom classroom. Now, if my principal’s listening, I don’t want to lose my job. So please keep STEM class forever. [laughs] But my hope is that STEM class and maker spaces become more embedded into the classroom because I think you’re totally right. There’s so many really great opportunities for students to be creative in the classroom. And of course, homeroom classroom teachers are so creative. There are classroom teachers who are by far more creative than I am, but that’s definitely my hope is that that’s something that becomes more integrated into other subject areas other than just STEM.
Spencer Sharp (30:02):
Right. And I, and I definitely think you see a lot of schools kind of pushing that way. And I even, I kind of joke with my principals, same thing you were saying because a lot of schools in Indiana are now doing it where they hire a STEM curriculum developer. So that person basically works with teachers on getting that, instruction in their classroom and getting it more than 45 minutes a day. So how can that, STEM or maker space, how can that be integrated into our history time or how can that be integrated into our reading and stuff. But then that then if we get into that conversation, we’re also getting into PBL and everything else. And I don’t want to get off topic too much. So
It’s also interdisciplinary though, right? I mean being a STEM teacher is the title STEM is about as interdisciplinary as it gets four or five, depending on STEM or steam subject areas all in one. So so the next myth I think is kind of related a little bit to what you were saying about maker. You can have a maker-space corner, it doesn’t have to be a full room. So the next myth is maker spaces are high tech and expensive.
Spencer Sharp (31:09):
Yeah. That’s I mean, that’s something I hear all the time about STEM as well and maker-space and all, I mean, everything that’s new to people like that, they always just assume, well, I saw this company and I have to spend X amount of dollars and that’s not necessarily true. I mean, every year I’ll send out a letter for maker-space items and STEM items. And I’ll just say, Hey, if you could donate paper, towel rolls, no cards, whatever it might be, we would greatly appreciate it, appreciate it. And we can use them and most people just throw them away. And then all year I have kids bringing me all kinds of stuff. And I mean, that’s how I, I’ve always kind of funded my programs. I don’t spend a lot of money on materials. I don’t think you need to. And robots are cool and different STEM tools are cool.
Spencer Sharp (31:49):
Like I have some of them, but they’re not necessarily needed. I would say you don’t necessarily need them at all. I mean, everything that is in maker-space can be used from stuff you have around home. I mean, that’s just the, I mean, that’s just something that I’ve always believed. Definitely. So I would definitely say that this is a myth just because for me, I think you can do things very affordable. And I think the kids enjoy that more. It’s like I built something out. Like we do cardboard shoes at my school where it’s like one of the Makerspace prompts they have, and they actually work with kids in New York. I’m building these shoes and they collaborate with them via zoom. And when they do it, they like love it. And they’re like, I built a shoe out of cardboard and like, it actually fits my foot and they wear it around and I give them extra credit if it makes it a full day at school, which is always funny to see all the kids wearing the cardboard shoes. So I think it’s like very doable. I think it’s one of those things that like people believe this. And then in their head that’s kind of like their escape, like, Oh, I don’t need to worry about it cause it’s going to be expensive. Well, that’s not necessarily true. You can do it very, very cheap.
I love the cardboard shoe project that you, that you do with students. Listeners. I’m going to have obviously a link to Spencer’s website in the show notes, but on the homepage of his website, he has this picture of himself in a pile of cardboard holding a cardboard shoe. And to me it is the most, the most STEM teacher photo I’ve ever seen. I love it so much. This project is re sounds really cool. I also love that your students wear the shoes around the school. I think that’s really fun.
Spencer Sharp (33:21):
I actually made the project free on my website just because I work with some other people with it. And it’s one project. We actually took a step further last year and we sold the shoes online and we raised money for schools in Africa. But that shoe I was holding. The funny part about it is that girl she worked, Oh, probably the one week in total, probably like 20 to 30 hours of like non STEM time that she had working on that shoe. Cause she’s like, I want it to look as realistic as possible. And when people see that picture, they always think it’s just a shoe that I hear. Why you holding the shoe up? I’m like, it’s a cardboard shoe. Like someone made it like that’s not made out of a cardboard. I’m like, I swear it is like, people don’t ever believe me that it’s like a shoe made out of cardboard. I’m like, I promise it is like, I’m not lying.
I can’t believe a student made that shoe in my brain. It just had always been, Oh, that’s an example that he made for his class. That’s amazing. It’s a really high quality looking shoe. I would probably buy it if I saw it at the store
Spencer Sharp (34:16):
And she was pumped. And the funny part was I told her, I, I get sold. She goes, yeah, it’s a bid system. She goes, I outbid at the person that was buying it cause she wanted her own shoes. So she turned around and like had her parents buy the shoe and I’m like, it’s cool that we raised money, but I feel bad that you had to do that. But she was like, no, we wanted to, you talked about the cause and helping kids go to school in Africa and how important it was and how fortunate we are and check I wanted to do it. And I really wanted my shoes. So she’s like, it was like a double thing. So it always makes me laugh talking about that project.
That’s awesome. I don’t know if this is a part of your project, but I had recently learned a fact about how shoot, the creation of shoes is actually really bad for the environment
Spencer Sharp (34:55):
Next year. I want to do that because the guy I do it with New York, we actually talked about that quite a bit. Because now they have like for 3d printers, you can print out a model of a shoe that is reusable. So I guess reusable, usable for like other things you can do as well as it stretches out. So it can fit. Like, I think it was like a, three-year old up until like an average 16 year old. So you like the lifespan of the shoes a lot longer and it’s like real durable and I’m like, that’s kind of cool because yeah, we were talking about like the effects on the environment. And I had no idea personally. I was like, wow, that kind of blew my mind. Like some of those things you don’t think of. And then when you hear about it, you’re like, that’s something I could add to my lesson.
Yeah, definitely. So I was going to say that because since I’m in Southern California, my students care so much about the environment. They’re always talking about how to save the planet and how much they love animals. And I’m sure loving animals is probably a consistent theme in most elementary classrooms. But I, that would be a neat, a neat way to, to explore doing that activity one day. For sure. Yep. So the next myth, this is the last one is myth. Number three is makerspaces are just playing with cool stuff. They’re just fluff.
Spencer Sharp (36:08):
So, my kids would tell you, this is the truth because they feel like they’re playing a lot, but kind of like a STEM lesson. Kids will say I played in STEM, but really I feel like having that hands-on connection, the hand to mind thing is what I always tell the kids you learn so much from that, you learn a lot from building testing your build for whatever problem it’s solving. And saying like, how can I improve this engineers do that all the time. And I wouldn’t say they’re playing and they’re fluff and it’s not necessarily fluff. I would say, I would say that the learning they do there is going to stay with them for a very long time, even this year. I did a very open maker-space, so it was like, Hey, there’s these stations, there’s some different problems you can solve.
Spencer Sharp (36:49):
Go, go after and try it. And I even had like a student build with a MakeyMakey, a full on interactive controller to get kids moving while playing Mario. And then he built Mario on scratch. So he learned how to program using block program at that time. And learned order of operations. He also learned about variables through programming. I mean, he learned about electricity to set up his controller in a safe environment and how electricity works. I mean, he learned a lot, but he would tell you, he played played for a week. But the reality is he learned probably more in that time span than he probably has on a very long time, just because he was so responsible for his learning. And that’s what I love about maker-space it puts the kids in charge of their learning, they get to kind of say, here’s what I’m going to learn.
Spencer Sharp (37:34):
And then they go after it and to see a kid go after something that they’re passionate about. It’s like, wow, like, why don’t we do more of this? You know? But it’s, it’s also very hard because we have to follow standards and different forms of curriculum, but when kids get pushed kind of towards it and they don’t know it it’s super effective like that. And I definitely love doing that this year. And I wrote a blog post all about it too, just cause I was like, it was cool to see how kids were affected by just seeing them where they would go and, and what they would learn and what they took away from it. So I would say that that’s a myth just because you can learn a lot from a maker-space without really knowing it.
Hmm. Yeah. That’s another really great example of student centered learning. And I liked that you gave the example of kids thinking that they might say that it’s true, that it is just cool stuff and fluff. I have a kind of a funny story where I got a parent email from a kindergarten parent last year who… Amazing parent, amazing family child. The kid went home from school one day and the parents said, what did you do today? Said, Oh, I played and did all this fun stuff during STEM class and you know, kindergarten parents, first time their kids at school completely normal. I got an email from the parent asking me like, what if my kid do in your classroom today? Because it sounded like they didn’t do a lot of learning. And I was like, no, the kids are having so much fun.
And I took it as a compliment, right. Because I want kids to have so much fun in my classroom that they don’t always feel like they’re learning. So that’s I think a funny example of how sometimes kids in STEM class do think that they’re having so much fun and they’re doing all this cool stuff and not really realizing that they are learning these standards that you’re talking about. Everything I do in my classroom is very much rooted in standards. I mean, it has to be, and I want it to be, it’s important to me that students are getting these standards. But it’s just, it’s just funny that kids don’t always realize that.
Spencer Sharp (39:32):
And it’s funny cause like, I, I feel like I get that from time to time. And we have like parents that sometimes sub like there’s a couple of different parents and they’re like, do they just like play around in your room? And I’m like, if you, if you talk to your kid, they would say yes, but if you talk to me, you’re going to get a long spiel and they would just laugh about it. Cause I’m like, yeah, like that’s just kinda how it goes. When you do so much hands-on stuff, especially like with my kindergartners, like you probably do like a lot of movement. Like I’ll do like a lot of stations and they’re moving from here to there and doing like all kinds of stuff with different manipulatives. And that’s what they’re always like, well, it was so much fun playing in STEM today. And in my head I’m like, they’re going to go home and tell their parents that, like basically what you just said. And then I’m like, but I can explain and justify what we were learning and how important it was. So that’s always, it’s always nice to hear that even though most teachers wouldn’t take as a compliment, a STEM teacher, like yeah, we know where that fund, like we know where that
I love that. So I have one last question for you. Thanks for, thanks for leaning into my myth activity.
Spencer Sharp (40:31):
No, that was fun. I, I love Makerspace. And that was like, I mean, I’ve heard some of those before, but just like, some of them, I didn’t, so I’m like, wow, that’s kind of cool. And that’s, I think that’s one of the fun parts about being aligned is you get to talk to people about these different things. And I get people sometimes they’ll be like, well, I don’t want to do STEM because of this. And it’s usually like a myth and I’m like, well, that’s not necessarily true. So I think having these conversations like this is going to be super insightful for teachers. For sure.
Yeah, definitely. So I have one last question and if there’s a teacher who’s listening right now, maybe they don’t have a Makerspace in their classroom. Maybe there’s no maker-space at their school. What initial steps do you recommend that they take to create one? If they’re looking to create one?
Spencer Sharp (41:15):
So I like to start very simple with this. Cause I used to have like something on my website people could download that was like five steps to starting a STEM program. And really I should go back and change it. Cause I think the number one thing I should have done right away, which I put this like a step three was reaching out to parents and getting a lot of like community support. As far as like, Hey, here’s what STEM is explaining what it is because when they went to school, STEM that there was no STEM, I mean more than likely and kind of explaining what it is, what you need as far as materials. And I think right there is a great starting point. Cause I know, like I had so many parents be like, Oh, I just love what you’re doing.
Spencer Sharp (41:55):
I think it’s super important. And I’ve even had people come to me too before and be like, I think it’s really cool what you’re doing. I want to help, like from a financial standpoint. And I’m like, wow, that’s really powerful. For someone who doesn’t have a huge budget budget and if a teacher like that is starting out, you don’t have a budget for it. So to get that support where you can get different items and stuff, I think is the number one step. And from there, it’s just coming up with a simple problem that your students are passionate about. I know the one year our school, we had a funding issue with getting some different furniture. So I was like, Hey, that’s a STEM problem. Right? They’re like, we don’t have enough money to make furniture. Can we make environmental friendly furniture?
Spencer Sharp (42:34):
So my kids were building out of like old recyclable water bottles, recyclable cardboard. We are building like chairs, bookshelves, and the school was using them like in their classrooms. So it was like one of those things too. Like I think when you do that, other teachers will see the value in it. They’ll see like, wow, that wasn’t expensive. Like I thought, and then we’ll kind of debunk some of those myths and in will help kind of get you started saying, wow, like every time I hear there’s a problem in our school, why can’t I pose that problem to our students?
Those are two really great ideas. I have all these creative juices flowing in my brain now. So thank you for sharing those specifically. I love the idea of getting the community involved. That’s something that I’ve been kind of playing around with in my, in my brain lately. And this is not a fully flushed out idea, but we have so many experts in our community, right. I live in a pretty big city and there are parents who are, we have parents who are electricians. We have parents who are engineers. We have, we have people who live really close by our school who are probably experts and have STEM professions. And I don’t think I utilized that to my advantage enough. I don’t think I’ve done enough reaching out. I’m talking so much about wanting my learning to be real-world learning where students are connecting with experts, but I’m not sure how much of that I’m actually doing. And I like that idea of reaching out to people in the community. It’s something that hearing it. I’m like, Oh, of course that’s so simple yet feels like it could have a really big impact. So I really liked that idea.
Spencer Sharp (44:06):
Yeah. And even like something I’m working on right now, and I haven’t really talked about it, a bunch is like creating almost like community partners. You know? So these companies, I hear all the time, especially where I live, which I live out in the middle of nowhere. As far as in Indiana, which is great, but there’s a lot of companies that you’re like, we want workers that can do problem solving. I’m like, that’s exactly what I teach. Can we partner up? So give us problems. They bring people in to talk to the kids about being an electrician, all these different jobs. And in return they kind of partner with our school. So it’s a, it’s an, it’s a way for them to get more employees that they think are effective and kinda start helping them and guiding them in the right way.
Spencer Sharp (44:49):
And then also those companies were like, we would love to help support your program any way we can, whether it be financially or maybe they give me a cardboard or whatever. So that’s something I’m working on right now, actually with my school too. So that’s kind of like the beginning stages for me of like building that community relationship. But I think it’s super important. It’s like you said, like it’s something my first couple years I like thought about like, I should do something more with that. And I thought about it and I was like, why not partner up with these community or these different companies and build community, you know? So when kids graduate, they can say, Hey, I remember when this electrician came and talked from this company, I would love to do an internship with them and get in with that company. I think it’s a super effective way to teach STEM. And I think it would be really cool to see, but yeah, especially in Los Angeles you would have like like some really cool opportunities with parents and nearby companies. For sure.
Yeah. I think, I mean, I think that’s true of so many different neighborhoods. There’s so many ways that you can be really creative about reaching out to the community. So thank you for giving me that idea. I’m sure listeners are excited too. But that’s something I’m gonna maybe think about this afternoon and figure out if I can try and get some community involvement before the school year ends. So thanks for that. No problem. All right. So this is actually my last question. You’re awesome. I think you’re so cool. I loved getting to know you online. I really appreciated our conversation today. How and where can listeners find you?
Spencer Sharp (46:15):
Yeah. Well, thanks for having me. I’m so excited when you DM’d me, my wife can confirm that I was like super pumped. I was like, I will like, this is a podcast I listened to in my car anyways. So that was like, Oh, I’m super excited. I’ve known you from the beginning. So it it’s been a pleasure getting to talk to you today, but you can find me at sharp, the builder across everything. So Instagram, I’m sure if the builder Facebook, Twitter, my website Stripe, the builder. I actually just got my website redone, which I was super pumped about. I want to do all the programming myself, but I just don’t have enough time right now with a lot of the projects I’m working on. So I got also hard. I was like, I know it enough, but like I know enough that it would take me like six months and I’m like, someone else could do it like in a month are less on like, I’m going to hand this project over.
Spencer Sharp (46:59):
So on Sharp the Builder, I have my shop up there. I have a blog post. I upload some videos and then I’m on teachers pay teachers as well. And a little sneak peek. Me and Naomi are actually working with this company. It’s kind of like teachers pay teachers. But they’re based out of Australia and they have instead of buying like resources, you can buy different PD programs that can go towards your license. So we will upload videos of us talking about STEM and then that can towards your license. Plus you get to learn about all the different hacks we use in STEM and with that you get like lesson plans and different stuff. So I’m really excited about doing that as well. Just I think it will be something that’s cool. I’m always trying to figure out new creative ways just to meet more people and meet new friends for sure. ‘Cause it leads to cool opportunities like this, which is always fun because it blow my parents away. Cause my parents are terrible at technology to know I’m talking to someone from Los Angeles, maybe be like, why are you talking to someone? And I’m like, yeah, like I know people from all over the place. So it was so much fun being on here. And I definitely look forward to seeing what you do in the future as well. So I’m excited.