Meet the Innovator – Interview with Diana Rendina

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Diana Rendina, MLIS, a media specialist/school librarian at Stewart Middle Magnet School in Tampa, FL. She is passionate about school libraries being a place for students to discover, learn, grow, create, connect and collaborate. This is why the one she manages features a #makerspace!

1. How did you decide to work for a school library? Was it a casualty or did you deliberately choose to join the school environment?                                                                       I originally started out working in the public library system while I was going through college.  Soon after beginning to work on my Masters degree in Library Science, I found that I liked the idea of being able to work with students and build relationships throughout the year, having more of an instructional/mentorship role.  My mother and my grandmother were both teachers, so I think working in a school environment was a natural fit for me.

2. What is your idea of a perfect innovation ecosystem?                                                               A place where students’ time is not constricted by schedules, with a plethora of tools and materials to build with.  A place with inspiring objects, artwork and materials to get the creative juices flowing.  Comfortable furniture and whiteboards for brainstorming.  Space to spread out to work on projects.  A least one fun, whimsical and unexpected element (like a LEGO wall).

3. What kind you activities do you run at your school library?                                                The open #makerspace, which is available to all students throughout the day, has a vertical LEGO wall made out of 64 LEGO baseplates, tables to build with LEGOs and K’nex, a whiteboard wall and whiteboard tables for brainstorming.  Students will be working on projects in this area throughout the day.  We also frequently have arts and crafts activites, such as weaving, Perler bead art, and origami.  Other activities we will use with afterschool clubs, classes and small groups include: learning about electronics with Snap Circuits and littleBits, exploring our Robot Petting Zoo with Sphero, Cubelets and LEGO Mindstorms robots and coding with Code.org, Scratch and Arduinos.  We’ve also done some no-tech activities like our Cardboard Challenge, where students designed and built games out of cardboard, inspired by Caine’s Arcade

4. You seem to have been able to create such a nurturing environment at your school library. Was it difficult to achieve? Have you ever experienced any ‘loneliness’ in your effort to foster the adoption of innovative practices in your library?                                      I work with an amazing group of students and a supportive faculty, so they really help to make my job a lot easier.  From the start, I have worked to build relationships with my students.  I learn their names, get to know what their interests are.  We talk about books, movies and current events.  I don’t tolerate bullying, put-downs or gossip.  I’ve worked hard to make sure that they know that this is a safe place for them, where their ideas will be respected.  I’ve had some push-back from faculty who are used to the more traditional concept of a library as a quiet, hushed environment where students come, get books and leave, but for the most part, my staff has been very supportive.  Most of them ”get” that our students are learning and growing through the activites we have in our library.

5. What are the characteristics of innovation as understood by school librarians?Innovation gives students the opportunity to think outside the box, to find a solution to a problem that no one else has thought of before.  Innovation allows students to create and explore, to find meaning in objects that others might not even consider.

6. What do you most value in the innovation/maker environment?                                          I value the opportunity for students to express themselves creatively and use their imagination.  It can be so rare in our testing filled world of education to find an opportunity to create stories around objects.  I love it when a student will come up to me with something they’ve built and tell me the story behind it.  They range from the practical (these are solar panels for the moon) to the whimsical (this is a swingset for a mouse).

7. What is your greatest fear about the future of innovation?                                                  My greatest fear is that if we continue to emphasize rigorous testing in our schools, we will hamper our students’ ability to think creatively and our teachers’ ability to create innovative class projects.  Our time in school is so caught up in preparing for tests and taking tests, that there is little time for students to tinker and innovate.

8. What do you consider your greatest achievement as a school librarian?                      My greatest achievement at my school has been redesiging the physcial space of our library to make it more student friendly.  The library was cluttered and difficult to move around in when I got here.  The books were horribly out of date, there was so much excess furniture that you couldn’t get to all the resources, and the decor was drab and uninviting.  Over the years, I’ve cleaned out the clutter, gotten us flexible furniture through a grant, and creating a variety of spaces for students to work, study and hang out.  A huge part of this was the creation of our Makerspace, and I’m very proud of how it’s come together.

9. What innovation do you think we should start investing on to make this world a better one? I think we should be investing in a high quality education for our children.  We should provide schools with the funding that they need to hire excellent teachers and a full support staff.  We should make sure that every school has a professional librarian and a well managed library.  We should fund a variety of technology for schools, including sufficent bandwidth, so that students can be immersed in the digital skills they will need to succeed in the world.  We should focus less on testing and instead should invest in projects that will allow for opportunities for creativity and innovation in our schools.

10. What talent would you most like to have (or would you most like to steel from another innovator)? I would love to have good handwriting.  I can barely read my own handwriting unless I write slowly and deliberately – I’d love to be able to quickly jot down some notes and actually read them later.

11. If you may give an advice on innovation to the parents of your students, what would it be? Give your children the freedom to explore things that interest them.  It might seem trivial or unimportant, but if a child has a passion to learn more about a particular topic, the things they can come up with are amazing.

12. What is you currently working on/what’s latest project? I’m preparing my for school’s second Mini MakerFaire and for the Gulf Coast Maker Con in Tampa, FL.  At our Mini MakerFaire, parents and students will visit our library and get to try their hands at a variety of hands-on projects, led by my student leadership group. At Gulf Coast Makercon,  our school is in charge of the young maker’s section, where we’ll be telling visitors about the awesome projects we do in our library, as well as teaching them how to make fun, simple projects like brushbots.

___________________________________________________________________________Diana participates actively in the International Society for Technology in Education Librarians Network, American Association of School Librarians and Florida Association of Media in Education, where she serves as a member of the Sunshine State Young Readers Award committee. Diana is a blogger and frequent speaker on the Maker Education Movement. You can find her on Twitter@DianaLRendina, and at Renovated Learning