Activating a Digital Makerspace for Learning: a year-long process
Last week I was honored to spend time with teachers at Warrensville Heights Elementary School in their new STEAM lab. This amazing district supports STEAM across the curriculum for all grade levels and recently installed a makerspace with some digital technologies in their elementary building. Each student visits the lab for a STEAM class every other week, and now teachers are looking for more in-depth ways to use the lab within their classes.
I was happy to be a part of the planning process of this new makerspace which opened in fall of 2021, and this past week was a good opportunity to see how far they had come with their program.
The Warrensville Heights STEAM team was very thoughtful in their approach to developing a makerspace for student learning. They didn't just start with a shopping list of cool new technologies. Instead, we strategized about how the space will be used, what types of things the students should be learning in the lab, and then finally what that means for the technology itself. The team ultimately decided on 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, heat press, Makey Makeys, paper circuits, and other classroom STEM kits to supplement their plans for learning in the space. Earlier in the school year, I spent time in the new lab working with the makerspace staff to learn Scratch coding, paper circuits, 3D printing, and integrating the Makey-Makey with coding and digital fabrication technologies. It was a great introduction to these technologies, and the staff have been experimenting with them throughout the school year, learning just one step ahead of (or sometimes at the same pace as) the students.
Now that they have had almost a whole school year to work with the space and the technologies, I revisited the group, this time with classroom teachers who joined us to think more deeply about using the technology with students.
We started off developing a software workflow (this is a Chromebook school) and practiced using the Roland vinyl cutter for easy classroom projects (like making nametags for their five Sindoh 3D printers). We did some screenprinting and heat press projects which got the teachers excited about the possibilities to support their students in various celebrations and competitions. Here is a link to a lesson plan that one of the teachers developed for the 5th grade robotic team competition, using screen printing and logo design.
It was wonderful to touch base with the staff at both the beginning and the end of the school year and help them strategize about teaching and learning in the STEAM lab. I am looking forward to seeing what the amazing staff does with their new digital makerspace in the upcoming years.