Edutech for Teachers

Cool Tools for the 21st Century Classroom

Reinventing Education with Makerspaces

April26

Last summer my good friend, colleague and our elementary principal, Dr. Terri Harpster, and I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Pittsburgh FabLab hosted by Dr. Todd Keruskin and the Elizabeth Forward School District. This four day event exposed us to the super popular maker movement sweeping our country and more importantly, inspired us to reinvent learning for the students in our district.

Upon our return from this experience, we developed a blueprint to transform some of our existing spaces into modern-day learning areas that encourage students to become makers, inventors, coders and responsible digital citizens. And then we actually worked with a number of individuals—the B-A School Board, administration, the BASD Foundation, community members, teachers and students—to make the vision become a reality!

This is our story…

Getting into the Zone

The concept of makerspaces has been around for quite some time. However, within the past few years educators have realized the potential of the Maker Movement in revolutionizing education—to move from consumption of information to creation and then transforming knowledge into action.

If we want our students to have 21st Century career awareness and opportunities, they need to have authentic experiences that allow them to critically think, create, collaborate, and communicate.

One of the most effective ways for students to develop these skills is to provide them with a space to imagine, plan and “make” with their peers.

Welcome to the Imagination Zone, the new makerspace located at Myers Elementary School, a room where students can explore interests and learn to use a variety of repurposed materials and tools, both physical and digital, to develop innovative projects.  This low-tech place also contains Little Bits kits and Osmo robots which give students the chance to learn circuitry and computer programming skills through hands-on activities.

Since its inception at the start of the 2016-17 school year, K-4 students at Myers have designed and created a number of projects that include state floats, dog houses, boats, windmills, parachutes and a Sioux Native American village.  All of these tasks are part of Pennsylvania Common Core standards-aligned units; however, instead of taking a test, students are demonstrating their knowledge by creating museum artifacts and solving problems, which requires the use of higher order thinking skills.

Scenes from our recent ribbon cutting ceremony in which groups of elementary students demonstrated their makerspace knowledge and skills with our School Board, parents and other community members…

Media Center Makeover

Project Reimagine provides the same functions as a library but with a modern twist intended to encourage digital citizenship and more informal avenues of learning.  Our recent makeover included…

  • Café – A place where students can purchase drinks and snacks; Managed by our Life Skills and Autistic Support Classroom teachers and students as well as other members of the student body
  • Book Lounge – A place for collaboration and social interaction.
  • A Student Help Desk – Members of the high school’s SWAT Team (Students Working to Advance Technology) assist teachers and students with use of the iPads, troubleshoot issues and develop digital projects to highlight school activities. Students are currently building and programming a tabletop arcade game for the media center.
  • The addition of contemporary furniture and a splash of vibrant colors to promote creativity.

Project Reimagine opened at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

Tinkering Forward

In order to continue providing students with real-life, engaging, authentic and lifelong learning experiences, plans are being formulated to open a second makerspace at Myers during the 2017-18 school year.  This area will include high-tech equipment such as laser and vinyl cutters, 3D printers and additional robotic programs.

Proposed changes to the existing middle/high school media center for the 2017-18 school year include:

  • Revamp the section of the media center which currently houses reference books into a makerspace for middle school students, one that is similar to the Imagination Zone at Myers Elementary

This area will include low-tech and high-tech equipment that provides students with the opportunity to experiment with 3D printers, robotics, circuitry, computer programming and gaming software/hardware.

  • Convert the library classroom into a TV/Movie Production Studio

This room will be used to broadcast the high school and middle school announcements each morning. This space will also be utilized for the filming of curricular-related videos and presentations as well as the recording of podcasts, music and audio for multimedia projects. Green screen technology will also be leveraged in this area. Plans to incorporate STEM Labs and the Escape Room concept into these areas are being made as well.

  • Add additional TVs to display current events, replays of sporting events, concerts and other school activities (similar to a digital billboard containing school news, info, etc.)
  • Add study carousels and charging stations to the existing areas
  • Update the current computer lab area with new furniture
  • Extend the new ceiling, flooring and paint colors to match the remainder of the media center

Stay tuned to see where our next maker ed-venture leads us!

In the meantime, check out some of the wicked cool activities our elementary students have completed in the Imagination Zone with the assistance of my high school Tech Club/independent study students.

Ms. Longo’s class learning about circuitry via Little Bits challenges…

Ms. Longo’s students building a dog house for Chadwick, their stuffed class pet…

The final product…

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