November 11, 2016 — Legos, Play-Dough, Tinker Toys, Minecraft, Cardboard Arcade. Children gravitate towards making things. Yet, so much of the school day involves passive learning. Enter the Makerspace.
A little background on the Maker Movement: The Maker Movement is not principally an educational movement. In fact, Maker spaces and Maker events exist for makers of all ages, all over the world. Corporations such as Ford, Shell, and Pepsi sponsor such events, which draw engineers, artists, hackers, and a variety of other hobbies and professions.
Makers in Education: Schools are beginning to see the value in Makerspaces. Movements like Genius Hour, which draw inspiration from creative time policies at Google and other Silicon Valley tech giants, offer students free creative space for making. Makerspace even occurs in the classroom, supported by teachers that utilize Project Based Learning.
Genius Lab: Makerspace and More: Late last year, colleagues in my building approached me about the Makerspace Movement and its place in our program. Ideas seemed exciting, rich in learning opportunities, and, unfortunately, expensive and complicated. Over the summer, though, I stumbled upon a podcast from Ed Tech Chat that changed my views on Makerspaces. The podcast emphasizes the process of making, that it begins with an idea, develops into a plan, and follows with a prototype. The expensive 3D printers and scale models serve as an end of a project, not a beginning. Therefore, a makerspace may begin with paper, pencils, and cardboard. Suddenly, Makerspace seemed within reach.
This fall, we began our Makerspace in available rooms throughout our building. We found we could borrow various tech tools and toys from our county ISD. Help was solicited from all staff, parents and the students themselves. In fact, the students have proved to be equally adept in using and teaching tech skills in the Genius Lab, as we have dubbed our Makerspace.
Robots prove to be the most popular visitors in the Genius Lab. Ozobots first appeared, and students quickly proved adept at using them. They progressed from writing simple paths to making mazes, races, and games with them. They taught teachers and parents how to use the robots. Dash and Dot also made appearances, delighting students and teachers with their coding, musical, and gaming qualities.
Coding also appeals to students and adults alike. Osmo allows students as young as first grade to write simple codes with blocks. Littlebits provide both simple and complex interfaces for students to make connections, circuits and simple machines. Google Cardboard takes students out of the building, through virtual reality, to roller coasters, national parks, and underwater adventures. Students also build their own VR headsets, from pizza boxes and other scraps of cardboard.
Genius lab need not be all about tech, though. Students enjoy getting down and dirty with a variety of art supplies, such as tempera paints, watercolors, oil pastels, and paper mache. Crochet, knitting, and sewing also appear. Writing lessons also occur, as students bring in projects and assignments from various classes for collaboration and tutoring. Finally, cooking projects proved a big hit with adults and children alike. 3-2-1 cake allowed students of all ages to be the chef, while learning about ratios and measurements. Students and staff hypothesized that cake cones would make great, disposable vessels for the cakes. We quickly ran to a nearby convenience store, purchased cones, and tested the theory. It was a delicious success.
Our Genius Lab may not fit into a traditional makerspace model. Yet, this means it perfectly fits into the makerspace model, as we have made it whatever it needs to be to work for us. Everyone that experiences the Genius Lab leaves with a wonder and excitement for making something new. I, for one, am so glad that we plunged ahead into this new territory, with nothing more than a passion, a place, and a potential to see students MAKE great connections.