By Sue Moore
Walking into a classroom at Indian Lake Elementary School after most of the kids are gone for the day, visitors would be surprised to find a room full of bright-eyed students, buzzing all over the place, building and destroying at the same time.
These kids are in the newest “makerspace” an after-school club for innovative thinking which involves science and math for students from first through fifth grades. They have all kinds of equipment to tinker with, to make whatever their imagination can conjure up on a given day.
Makerspace is a movement in the U.S. for people of all ages, according to Don Puckett, volunteer coordinator of the program at Indian Lake. He is the information technology person for the Vicksburg school system and attended a conference in Lansing last year about this innovative idea. He was quick to pounce upon it for Vicksburg schools. With the help of Principal Ruth Hook, who wrote the grant application, his idea was awarded $3,744 from the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation to purchase the crazy quilt of equipment that populates the classroom.
“The implementation of a makerspace lab will provide K-5 students at Indian Lake the opportunity to explore math and science concepts above and beyond what is available in their classrooms. It will provide the opportunity to learn problem-solving and critical thinking skills as they work on projects, and present to each other in a lab setting,” wrote Hook in her grant application.
The most expensive purchase was a 3D printer, so the kids can actually see their ideas grow into reality. They design on their iPads, then send their work to the 3D printer which whips out their project in an actual replica they can touch and show off to their friends in class or even take home to Mom. Owen Moberly made a vase for his mom’s lilacs that he was eager to show off.
This makerspace trend in the ed tech world is catching on for children and adults alike. It is defined as a physical place where students can create real-world products and projects using real-world tools. It is meant to be a shared workspace featuring innovative tools that are not typically available outside of school. Makerspaces at their ideal are inhabited by a community of student tinkerers, inventors, creators and “do it yourselfers,” according to an article in the Massachusetts Cue newsletter.
In some ways it also mirrors what is happening at the high school level with Project Lead the Way out of Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency (KRESA) and in Vicksburg under the tutelage of Greg Mills the Industrial Arts instructor. The maker movement is driving innovation in manufacturing, engineering, industrial design, hardware technology and education in his classroom. There is also a group forming in Kalamazoo for adults who want to participate in a makerspace.
These student tinkerers at their best are guided by natural inquiry and self-directed learning. Making can be tied to different content areas, though makerspaces themselves are informal in nature. Students use problem-solving and diagnostic skills to come up with creative solutions. Educators who are involved guide from the sidelines, encouraging independent learning and creativity. Puckett said he is only in the classroom to allow the kids to make most anything they want. He doesn’t put any restrictions on their imagination, thus the large variety of projects going on the one day a week that the students meet. Thirty students signed up for the initial class, Puckett reported, after an invitation was sent home to students earlier in the spring. They seem giddy with their achievements in such a short time.