Plugged In

Local schools get the tools they need to share the power of Maker Spaces

Thursday, July 26, 2018
Posted by
Sarah Imholte

Research has shown us that kids who have positive experiences with science at a young age are far more likely to pursue a science-related career. And we know that kids are natural scientists who observe the world around them and seek to answer their questions by tinkering, trial and error, and play. It makes sense, then, that giving our students the tools and the space they need to experiment and create – or “make” – stands to benefit all of us.

Museums around the country are seeing the power of fostering a “making” mentality in even their youngest visitors. In 2015, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (CMP) collaborated with Kickstarter, the online crowdfunding platform, to develop a model that uses crowdfunding as a way to raise community awareness, support, and funding to integrate making into schools.

Their success inspired CMP to collaborate with Maker Education Initiative and Google to take the effort nationwide, giving educators the knowledge they need to advocate for maker spaces in their own schools. They selected the Science Museum as one of five museum hubs for the Making Spaces Project, and with that, a whole new world opened up to a group of local educators who share our passion for the power of maker education.

Kicking off in October 2017, the Making Spaces project brought educators from five local schools to the Science Museum to receive professional development and tools to jumpstart the integration of maker education in their classrooms. Science Museum staff and educators who represented all different disciplines within the participating schools worked together to establish their vision for bringing making into their classroom spaces, as well as their plan to make that vision a reality through crowdfunding.

“Some of the educators were starting from scratch, and some of them were looking for ways to make the most of their existing resources,” says Science Museum exhibit developer Thai Chang, one of the managers for the Making Spaces project. “Together, we developed project goals and the strategies and milestones that would help us reach them.” Adds Aki Shibata, co-manager of the project, “The educators loved getting hands-on to build skills like coding and circuitry – skills that they can now share with their students in their maker education programs.”

“Then, we considered our audiences and the best ways to appeal to them,” continues Chang. “The project was cool because our participants became part of a new network of educators with similar passions. They came up with new ways to create community awareness for less traditional opportunities for learning.”

As of today, the five participating schools have raised over $65,000 collectively to put towards the creation of their making spaces. Some of them, like Justice Page Middle School in Minneapolis, created a GoFundMe site and appealed to the community with a video about their dreams for their up-and-coming space. (You can follow JPMS’s STEAM program – and check out the innovative ways they use their Making Space – on Twitter.) Others, like Laura Jeffrey Academy in Saint Paul, devoted funds raised during their spring fundraising gala to building their making space.

Saint Paul’s Obama Elementary has a crowdfunding campaign underway now to support and enrich their existing maker space. The educators who participated in the Science Museum’s Making Spaces project teamed up to create a video that tells their story. In it, assistant principal Jill Knudson says, “This has been the first year of our maker space, and it has been amazing. I have seen scholars practice their skills of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. Overall, it has had an extremely positive impact on student life.”

Obama’s Maker Space serves students of all ages. Fifth grade teacher Maria Roth says her students used the space for science and engineering exploration, language arts, and technology this past year. She says that the students always looked forward to the time they spent in the space – working on design projects, doing robotics, even using Scratch software to supplement their biography projects. It is intentionally designed to foster independent learning – a skill that will serve students well in their education and well beyond.

Tom Cozzolino, coordinator of Obama’s maker space, hopes that their crowdfunding project will help the space grow. Money raised will go towards purchasing new supplies and replenishing supplies that are in great demand, training new staff to maximize use of the space for all kinds of learning initiatives, and building partnerships with neighborhood communities to help launch it into an era of self-sustainability.

Congratulations to the schools that participated in the 2017-2018 Making Spaces project. We look forward to seeing how these spaces grow to meet the needs of the next generation of innovators!

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