Making the Most of Makerspaces: Teachers Explore Practical Ways to Bring the Maker Movement to Life in Their Classrooms
What makes a Makerspace? Makerspaces are creative, do-it-yourself spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. Makerspaces and the idea of such exploration stations in schools are popping up throughout the region. After attending the Model Schools Conference in Atlanta, Georgia at the close of the 2014-2015 school year, many teachers throughout the region have been inspired by the Maker Movement, seeking to bring such ideals of creativity and innovation into their classrooms and schools.
One such school is Olean, who has a pair of second grade teachers kicking off a space in their own classroom with the hope of extending it to the whole of East View Elementary teachers and students. While the ideas are very much in the evolution phase, they are reaching out to learn all the resources that can bring their makerspace to life. The students started off with an exploration of robotics, where students are interacting with bee bots and learning directionality as an initial understanding of computer programming and coding.
Prior to the start of the ’15-’16 school year, Laurie Bushnell and Tracy Keller of Olean fame joined with CABOCES to explore practical resources for making the most of their maker space. In tinkering with duct tape, and in playing with straws and marshmallows, they saw the practical use of household materials as the starting point for making in the classroom. From there, they explored Cubelets, Bee Bots, Makey-Makeys, and more. .
Who has the time? Makerspaces seem like they could just be another thing to add on to the plates of our teachers, but they can be innovative spaces open before or after school, or used in special areas for extended learning opportunities. Despite when or where they may be created or used, they are popping up all over the region.
Looking for more information? Consult some of the following resources to get some ideas as to how you can work to develop a makerspace in your school:
By: Lauren Stuff, CA BOCES
After school on Thursday afternoons, Pioneer Middle School LMC is the place to be. It is here that anywhere from 20-25 students in grades 5-8 gather for Maker Club under the guidance of librarian Maria Muhlbauer and teacher Gio LoBianco. The idea for a library makerspace is one that had been brewing for a couple years, and in November of this school year, Ms. Muhlbauer and Mr. LoBianco officially began recreating a section of the library into Pioneer’s own makerspace.
The concept of a makerspace is really quite simple: designate an area where students can gather to create, invent, learn, and teach others about something they are good at doing. This idea complements the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) initiatives currently underway at Pioneer, and the space allows students to work with computer programming, robotics, crafts, drawing, origami, etc. According to the Middle School Library blog, accessible at pioneermiddlelibrary.blogspot.com, the space is stocked with a wide variety of materials, including Raspberry Pi programming kids, solar robotic kits, mousebots, spinbots, squishy circuits, Makey Makey kits. District employees and community members generously donated craft supplies such as duct tape, origami paper, Legos, and more to help get the Maker Club up and running this year.
Maker Club officially kicked off with its first meeting on January 8 with 18 students attending. After an introduction to the concept and goals of Maker Club and talk of acceptable and unacceptable activities during the meeting times, students got busy creating with Legos, crafting with duct tape, weaving with plastic bands, and coding with programs such as Scratch. More recently, students have been participating in a “Robot Finch Loan Program” through BirdBrain Technologies, where students learn how to program the finches.
Looking ahead to next year, Ms. Muhlbauer, Mr. LoBianco, and teacher Ms. Brenda McKenzie applied for and were awarded a grant worth approximately $2,600 from National Grid to further support STEM initiatives at schools within the Cattaraugus Allegany BOCES region. Grant money will fund the purchase of Dash & Dot robotics kits and iPads for programming them. The app will allow students to sharpen their creative and critical thinking skills while using concepts and information learned in class to help them find solutions to complex problems.
New students are always welcome at Maker Club and can attend one, many, or all meetings. This is a great opportunity for students to explore activities that are of interest to them, all while learning lifelong skills and maybe – just maybe – sparking an interest that will lead them to a fulfilling career someday!
By: Amy Windus, CA BOCES and Pioneer Central School