Open Minds: Competition in the Library Makerspace

Sara Frey May 25, 2017

The Open Minds competition is a bi-annual innovation challenge that engages students in problem-solving and transdisciplinary thinking in the library makerspace. Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PW) school librarian Mrs. Sara Frey established Open Minds in the fall of 2016in partnership with LaSalle University which created the collegiate Open Minds program in 2014. 

Type: Active
Age: High school
Optimal size: 20+
Estimated cost: $100+
Planning time: 5+ hours
Frequency: One-time

Learning outcomes

  • Articulate their learning to peers and adults
  • Connect and collaborate with others
  • Demonstrate curiosity
  • Engage students in library makerspace programming
  • Establish an extracurricular opportunity supporting district STEAM initiatives
  • Expose students to STEAM college/career pathways
  • Foster relationships with area colleges/universities
  • Innovate
  • Inspire others in their own learning


Teaser promos were posted on the school’s digital screens, and flyers were hung. Frey distributed information to students via their school email addresses and the school’s announcement broadcast. Frey hosted four “daily challenges” to gain students’ interest in the week preceding competition. Each daily challenge took consisted of a 30 minute hands-on, team-based competition in the library’s makerspace. LaSalle University student mentors supported Frey with moderating and judging the daily challenges. Daily challenges allowed students to interact with their peers and the LaSalle University students and learn more about the Open Minds competition.

In the Open Minds competition, students are tasked with researching a problem based on one of the United Nations’ seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, then proposing a solution involving social entrepreneurship and sustainability. Teams of 2-4 students are mentored by LaSalle University students. Work sessions are scheduled during the activity period and after school in the library makerspace. Frey also coordinates a field trip for PW students to meet with LaSalle mentors in the LaSalle University library makerspace.

The competition concludes when teams present their completed proposals and prototypes at the culminating event, the “Innovation Celebration.” Teams, mentors, and community members come together to celebrate students’ efforts with a discussion about the program and projects during dinner, followed by awards and recognition.

Expenses include:

  • Materials for daily challenges (<$50)
  • Prizes for daily challenges and competition ($200 budgeted for daily challenges,  competition prizes donated)
  • Catering for Innovation Celebration (donated)


All objectives were met in the first iteration of the Open Minds program. Feedback collected from participants and volunteers via an anonymous survey yielded “Agree” or “Strongly” agree statements for each of the indicator statements. Notably, 100% of participants agreeing or strongly agreeing that Open Minds was a "fun, different way of thinking about things," supporting the learning outcomes of teens innovating and demonstrating curiosity.

While the program was overwhelmingly popular with participants, volunteers, families, and school administration, some aspects of the program were altered before it was hosted again in the spring. Rather than facilitating the competition over the course of several weeks, the spring competition was condensed into two weeks: one week for daily challenges and pre-competition activities, and one week for team work time. The shortened schedule was more manageable for program leaders and created a more exciting experience for participants. Survey data collected from students who participated in both the fall and spring competitions supported this, as students called the shorter schedule “really stressful, in a good way” and “thrilling.”

90% of the fall event participants returned to compete in the spring program, further demonstrating teens connecting and collaborating with others. Several of these students assembled teams for the spring program that included new, additional members. In survey responses from students participating for the first time in the spring event, over 75% claimed that they chose to do so because they had seen and heard about the projects done in the first event. This provided additional evidence that participants had inspired others in their own learning.

While it was clear that participants had articulated their learning to peers and adults in the program, it was this objective that provided the most room for improvement. In planning for future Open Minds competitions, Frey would elicit support from school administration to increase awareness of the “Innovation Celebration” event throughout the community as to give the students a larger, broader audience. Efforts would include strategic planning to engage the local workforce development board, government agencies, and other community organizations.

Other resources

Open Minds was featured in the August 2016 and  February 2016 issues of School Library Journal.

Post a program

Post an activity that you think will be useful to others.

Related by tag