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Schools embrace makerspaces and parents can, too

February 7, 2017 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

My seven-year-old loves tape.

I have gotten into the habit of buying a roll, or two (OK, sometimes three), whenever I’m at the store.

He has created cars out of wooden blocks, a bridge stretching from the back of a living room chair to a nearby desk and a small cardboard house for his Lego action figures, each held together with a patchwork of varying lengths of tape.

He also loves scissors and glue and markers and stickers.

He is a “maker.”

“Making means learning through trial and error, through practical application, and through hands-on experience in a social environment,” according to the Makerspace Resources Task Force of the Young Adult Library Services Association.

More and more schools are creating makerspaces in their buildings so they can offer opportunities for students to stretch their imaginations and enhance the learning that’s taking place in the traditional classroom.

“This idea of a collaborative studio space for creative endeavors has caught hold in education, where the informal combination of lab, shop, and conference room form a compelling argument for learning through hands-on exploration,” according to EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit focusing on information technology and higher education.

Missy Beyel, a school librarian at the Port Byron Central School District in Cayuga County, recently worked with the district’s technology director, Wenwei Hsu, to create a makerspace for A.A. Gates Elementary School students. In September and October, a vacant room was converted into a space with stations that students in grades 1-6 now rotate through during their library periods. The school staggered introducing grade levels to the makerspace and plans to introduce kindergarten students to it this spring.

The district purchased kits that target science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, such as littleBits electronics and K’Nex building sets, which students use to either solve a directive from Mrs. Beyel or work on their own independent idea and solution, she said. Because the students are working at stations with their peers, they are honing their communication and collaboration skills, in addition to developing problem-solving skills and creativity. Makerspaces are known for cultivating both soft and hard skills, which is part of their appeal.

“It just gets their minds working in the right direction,” Mrs. Beyel said.

And that direction is one that employers are seeking out in potential new employees, said Linda Fasano, a librarian with the Schalmont Central School District, which includes parts of Schenectady, Albany and Montgomery counties.

“They have to be the best of the best in being entrepreneurial,” Ms. Fasano said, who oversees a makerspace in the Schalmont Middle School library.

Employers considering new college graduates for job openings are looking for leaders who can work as part of a team and communicate effectively, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2015 report. These skills were followed by written communication skills, problem-solving skills, a strong work ethic and analytical/quantitative skills.

These are the types of skills that Ms. Fasano said makerspaces allow students to cultivate. Makerspaces encourage students to be curious and use their hands and minds to problem solve and create. They can be a dedicated room with high-end equipment, like 3D printers and laser cutters, or a drawer chock full of potential: tape, glue, scissors, yarn, cardboard and balloons.

“Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fixed rooms or structures, and some are temporary. Whether a Makerspace contains thousands of dollars worth of equipment, or is simply a cart full of tools, the goal of a Makerspace is to facilitate making,” according to the Makerspace Resources Task Force of the Young Adult Library Services Association.

Parents can create their own makerspaces at home. They might have all the ingredients already and not even realize it.

“You don’t have to go out and buy a 3D printer,” Ms. Fasano said. “A lot of times you have stuff around the house.”

Mrs. Beyel has asked staff members to save items such as empty soda bottles and paper towel rolls that students use at an art station, which includes buttons and small fuzzy pom-poms. At the deconstruction station, students are supervised while using simple tools like screwdrivers and hammers to take things apart and figure out how to put them back together. Legos are a favorite among many students and are often incorporated into school makerspaces. Ms. Fasano issues a different Lego challenge each week to spark her students’ creativity and problem-solving skills.

I’m realizing that much of my house is currently a makerspace. We already have Legos, blocks, pipe cleaners, fuzzy pom-poms, a glue gun, aluminum foil, bendable wire and multiple containers of markers, crayons, colored pencils and paints. Oh, and random pieces of cardboard.

I just need to carve out a dedicated space in our home to gather it all together and allow my children to explore the endless possibilities of their imagination.

Note: I draw the line at grease-soaked pizza boxes, which recently caused my youngest to grumble as he carried an empty box to the recycling bin: “I just don’t understand why we are getting rid of perfectly good cardboard.”

Want to create a makerspace?

Here are some suggestions of what you could use to set up a makerspace at home.

Cardboard
Pipe cleaners
Balloons
Markers
Paint
Glue guns
Textiles
Hot wheels
Old tennis balls
Snap circuits
Robotics kits
Source: Winter 2017 DA Special Report: Makerspaces, District Administration


Nancy Cole is a public information specialist and grant writer for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Onondaga County with her second- and fourth-grade sons and is challenged by keeping enough tape in her home for uses outside of “making.”

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