King David Junior School Linksfield opens a makerspace

| January 23, 2020 | 0 Comments

BY RUTH ISAACSON

King David Junior School, Linksfield, Johannesburg, has created makerspace area in the library.

The aim of this project is to develop students who are creative, innovative, independent and technologically literate. This is not an ‘alternative’ way to learn. This approach to education supports a constructivist ideology
as introduced by Jean Piaget,1 who claimed that students learn best by making tangible objects and that the process needs to be a guided and collaborative effort with teacher/peer feedback. Another theory, developed by Seymour Papert,2 is based on the premise that knowledge and understanding of the world is constructed from solving a problem through observation, opportunities to experiment, and reflection on those experiences. This theory also underpinned our makerspace project.

Theoretical framework

Makerspace pedagogy, which has become known as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) (or STEAM if art is included), is an education for the 21st century and aims to produce students who are technologically literate and confidently prepared to work in multidimensional career settings. Globally respected educationalist, Tony Wagner, emphasises the need for students to graduate with the skills of
creativity and innovation, saying:3 ‘There are essential elements… [when it comes to] educating young people to become innovators: the value of hands-on projects where students have to solve a real world problem and demonstrate mastery; the importance of learning to draw on academic content from multiple disciplines to solve a problem; [and] learning to work in teams.’

Makerspace education can include a no-technology requirement, such as inventions with recycled materials, to midtechnology requirements, such as digital storytelling, to hightechnology requirements, such as Dash and Dot, Makey- Makey, Raspberry Pi, coding, robotics or green screen technology.4


Makerspace educators Steven Kurti, Debby Kurti and Laura Fleming5 believe three components will determine the success of a makerspace:
• the feel
• the guiding principles
• the spacemakers.

The ‘feel’ entails students feeling attracted and inspired to use the makerspace room. Curiosity is a deep motivator in young children. Kurti, Kurti and Fleming describe curiosity as having the potential to ‘reach deep into the soul and draw the best and most engaging aspects of our personalities. Playfulness is also an extremely important element in the engagement of learning. Students will learn through play without even
realising it.’6

Most people respond well to praise and validation of their efforts. I would argue that this is especially important in the foundation phase, when students are acquiring basic skills. The teacher’s role is to give recognition to unique solutions and one of- a-kind devices. Discussing processes and displaying products for all to see is a very effective way to celebrate the uniqueness and creativity of each student.


One key guiding principle in the makerspace is, ‘It’s OK to fail.’ A failed attempt in a makerspace is simply a first, second or third step towards success. Makerspaces need to be mistaketolerant. This message should be conveyed by signs, words and the teacher’s continuous encouragement to persevere in the face of obstacles.


Successful educational makerspaces embrace the power of collaboration. This is another principle that challenges conventional pedagogy, which discourages ‘copying’ of another person’s ideas. The best companies, engineers and researchers know what can be accomplished with teamwork when knowledge, skills and talent are integrated and combined.

The look and feel

We started our makerspace project by installing octagonal tables with hard rubber tops to facilitate group work, an exciting mural depicting great inventors, 3D printers, iPads, Spheros,7 and electric and hand tools that cut, bend and manipulate material. The walls are painted in bright colours to pique curiosity and creativity. We also included Laura Fleming’s
concept of a Take-Apart Tech Station or ‘breaker space’,8 where
technology and other classroom or household items are
provided for students to disassemble, to see what is inside and discover how it works. They can reassemble the item, or harvest its parts to remix and invent something new. What is key to success in the makerspace is that technologies are introduced one at a time, so that teachers and students are not overwhelmed. We also conducted intensive teacher training, which built on teachers’ existing knowledge of education and ensured they felt competent and confident to link their subject knowledge to STEM projects. We appointed a teacher to head up the project and timetabled an hour a week for students to engage in this learning. Both the STEM and class teachers work with the students as they facilitate the process.

Staff development

Our journey started with the training of teachers to think deeply about their current way of teaching. Our consultant, Karen, challenged teachers to construct lessons that involved the physical layout of their classrooms to facilitate group work. She encouraged teachers to play the role of a facilitator and ask questions to generate higher-order thinking. During the
training sessions, Karen grouped teachers together and asked them to construct and play. In one training session, we were required to build the tallest tower using one A4 sheet of paper. It was fascinating, on the one hand, to observe the team spirit teachers demonstrated when given the opportunity to be creative and have fun. What also emerged, however, was the response of other teachers who felt the need to destroy their efforts early in the process if they sensed their tower wasn’t going to stand.


When we reflected on the process, we were able to experience how students might respond, unless the teacher helped them understand that the tower that kept falling down was part of the design and construction process. So, rather than throwing the tower away, the group needed to find a way to support the structure.


Researchers Shari Tishman and Edward P. Clapp believe that one of the most important outcomes in makerspace learning, and one which students value most, is to develop an ‘I-can-do-that’ spirit,9 also referred to as ‘maker empowerment’, and this happens when people find solutions to problems.
Students who are ‘maker empowered’ also see the objects and systems around them as designs, things and processes that have parts, purposes and mechanisms that can be tweaked or reconstructed. Junior phase students should be encouraged to look closely at objects such as an eggbeater, a simple screw, a painting or an apple pie. Deep questioning, such as ‘Why does it work that way as opposed to other possibilities?’ will have students looking at parts/pieces/components and exploring their purposes, complexities and relationships, which may lead the students to reinvent or redesign the object.

‘Full Steam Ahead’

Our makerspace, named ‘Full Steam Ahead’, has just opened, and the enthusiasm of our pupils has been absolutely delightful. They started by learning about Thomas Edison,10 and then wiring a plug with a view to creating an electrical device. The link to other parts of the curriculum entail drawing the steps (sequencing for Grade 1), or writing an instruction sheet
(language enrichment for Grades 2 and 3) using the language of electronics.


We asked some of our students and teachers how they were experiencing this new form of learning. The students are in Grade 2 and responses ranged from ‘I learnt how to fix a plug and undo it’ to ‘I learnt about conductors and insulators’. One of our teachers said, ‘I feel so inspired and excited when I walk into the bright, stunning makerspace room, knowing that I’ll learn so many exciting facts and have hands-on experiences that
can be brought into my class.’

References:

See: https://www.verywellmind.com/piagets-stages-of-cognitive-development- 2795457

See: http://www.papert.org/See: http://www.tonywagner.com/tonys-latest-ed-week-commentarygraduating- all-students-innovation-ready-now-available/

See: https://www.makewonder.com/robots/dash/ and https://makeymakey.com and https://www.raspberrypi.org/ and https://www.thetechedvocate.org/howto- use-green-screen-technology-in-your-classroom/

See: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c1c9/1df674af209b768853efebed
8764324b4698.pdfIbid.See: https://www.sphero.com/

See: http://www.makerspaceforeducation.com/breaker-space.html

See: http://68.77.48.18/RandD/Educational%20Leadership/Building%
20Students%27%20Sense%20of%20Agency%20-%20Tishman.pdf

See: https://www.biography.com/inventor/thomas-edison

Category: Summer 2019

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