Dedicated maker spaces in local schools

Fun Friday: Back-to-school Maker Edition!

Dedicated maker spaces in local schools

The brand new B.C. curriculum has Glenmerry students learning 21st century skills in applied technologies, such as coding and robotics, in their designated makerspace. Elsewhere in the Kootenay Columbia district, Fruitvale Elementary School also has a makerspace classroom that includes its own 3D printer.

As summer winds down we’re all starting to think about the getting ready for back-to-school and wondering where the heck summer went!

Yup, it went fast! But… let’s not get too bummed out.

There’s actually reason to be excited about going back. Thankfully, school isn’t simply about the three Rs anymore. Around the country, province, and regionally, we’re seeing the Maker Movement take hold, not just in our communities with the advent of more and more makerspaces, but in our schools.

Earlier this year, the new BC curriculum expanded to include not only learning in coding and robotics, but also designated maker spaces in the classroom.

These spaces encourage creative, education freedom. Makerspaces are now being recognized for their teaching potential, being integrated into K-12 schools and libraries. Makerspaces foster and drive the desire for young technology and hands-on DIY enthusiasts to take innovation into their own hands. When students are given the opportunity to work, hands-on, with a variety of materials, they learn by doing instead of merely listening or reading.

This approach provides a practical and far more memorable way of learning a new skill or subject matter. This experience not only allows the child to learn something new through their own problem-solving, but it’s also often far more rewarding.

Inspired by hacker culture, makerspaces provide creative learning and innovation opportunities made possible with a supply of equipment, materials and resources for making a range of projects, tech-oriented and otherwise, in any work space, classroom, or community centre.

In these settings, making can range from a digital media lab, supporting multimedia creation and 3-D printing to multidisciplinary inventing, combining mechanics and electronics with social studies and music. Taking it down a notch, it can also be a space to introduce simple engineering concepts through building projects with items such as popsicle sticks and legos. A makerspace doesn’t have to be complicated for the learning opportunities vast and varied.

Glenmerry and Fruitvale elementary schools designate makerspaces in the classroom

Early 2018 saw two local elementary schools embrace the Maker Movement, promoting a foundation in Applied Design, Skills and Technology, or ADST.

ADST basics can be introduced in Kindergarten and evolve with the child and their interests up through the elementary grades and amped up through high school.

Referring to the spaces as Open Source Lab, Glenmerry and Fruitvale elementary schools, in School District 20,  begin instruction as early as Grade 1.

“It is a class, like math, science and social studies,” explains Mike Page, a Grade 5 Glenmerry teacher. “The best part about this is cross-curricular, (meaning) we can teach math, science, art, music, anything, through our makerspace.”

These spaces will include introductions to coding, robotics, virtual and augmented reality, 3D design and 3D printing.

As an example of the range of maker eduction, the Grade 1 class joined Page’s students in a project that incorporated learning both outdoors as well as in.

“We went outside and looked at snowflakes,” he explained. “Then we read a book about how everyone is an individual just like every snowflake is individual or different, and then the grade one students drew a snowflake that resembled them.”

The Grade 5 class took each unique snowflake drawing, designed it three-dimensionally and then printed the 3D image for the younger students.

“That led to learning about science, surface texture, surface tension and so on,” said Page.

This education approach is identified as interdisciplinary or cross-curricular teaching, applying knowledge, principles and/or values to more than one academic discipline simultaneously.

“It’s their favourite part of the day,” said Page. “The students don’t know they are learning, and you’ll see these ‘aha’ moments … it’s about facing a challenge, not being able to do it, and saying ‘I can’ rather than ‘I can’t.’”

As a result, students learn “growth mindset,” or the belief that basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work, ideally fostering a love of learning as well as resilience.

“It’s hard, kids fail everyday but then they learn and they grow and they get better, ” Page said. “And this is through something fun, you watch the kids struggle and fail, then improve.”

This is a fundamental to the makerspace experience: trial and error, hands-on learning, and success through a variety of failures!

MIDAS was happy to play a role this new local evolution in youth education.

“We would not be here without MIDAS,” said Page. “They are great at teaching teachers, and getting us engaged.”

An integral part of makerspace learning involves “STREAM,” a concept Page says they swiped from MIDAS Lab Director Brad Pommen.

It refers to Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Artisan and Makers, Pommen explained.

“Students are disconnected from the origins of objects they use everyday, from iPhones to 3D printers, resources are difficult to navigate and find guidance,” he said.

“Having a base in my STREAM curriculum ultimately opens up their world and provides them confidence to build, learn and share their ideas.”

Concepts overlap and create linkages that facilitate education across all classroom subjects.

“Learning how to build, program and compete a robot (in RoboGames) combines programming technologies,” Pommen added. “Robotics introduces logic, engineering speaks to the design aspects, and maker is putting the whole physical package together, with 3D printing for example.”

This evolution in education, particularly at the primary level, is a great reason to get excited about the new school year. Hands-on, exploration, investigation, building, fabrication, coding rather than simply consuming – and yes, even the failures – are where the deep lessons and inspiration live.

What a great time to go back-to-school!