When you hear the phrase "makerspace," you can probably take a guess at what it all means. It’s space where you make things, but it’s not quite your parents’ workshop class. Yeah, there are tools and a workbench, but there’s also a lot of high-tech gear - and it’s all recently come to Midway Independent School district.
Inside the library at Speegleville Elementary, about 15 kindergartners gather around a table for an activity. The children are working against a backdrop of familiar library fixtures: a collection of World Book Encyclopedias, A to Z, reading nooks, and a 3-D printer.
That’s right, a 3-D printer.
There's also a wooden workbench filled with tools like hammers, screwdrivers and pliers, and don’t forget the tub full of kid-friendly wires and circuits. These hands-on materials are popping up in school and community libraries across the country as the so-called makerspace movement takes hold. Christie Hancock, a teacher and librarian at Speegleville who applied for a $4,000 grant to create the makerspace, explains.
“Makerspaces is kind of a maker-movement, where people are making things with their hands," Hancock says. "Especially in schools, it’s a great way for kids to actually learn what’s going on rather than someone telling them how it’s working, they get to make it work themselves. They remember it better, it becomes apart of their learning.”
Makerspaces, Hancock adds, are also a way to encourage more of a do-it-yourself ethos, where children teach themselves, learning through trial and error. Apart from location at Speegleville’s library, Midway ISD is currently renovating other spaces on its campuses. This includes a $10,000 maker-type space called a Collaboration Station at Woodgate Intermediate School and a $325,000 renovation of Midway Middle School’s library, which will also see the creation of a makerspace. The funding for these projects has been fueled by some of the $1.4 million remaining from a nearly $35 million bond bond voters passed in 2013. Seth Hansen is the executive director of technology for Midway ISD. He says these spaces – like the one at Speegleville and the active learning space at Midway Intermediate – is a supplement to traditional, classroom education.
“They really challenge our kids to think in, maybe, more non-traditional ways about how to build things, how to make things," Hansen says. "There’s a huge focus right now in the United States on S.T.E.M. education – science, technology, engineering and math – and makerspaces really meet that need and they deliver a lot of materials and opportunities for our students learn to be creative and to really make. That’s what the whole goal of that is."
Back at Speegleville Elementary, students are doing just that.
5-year-old Brianne Gleaves and Jadarian Evans are working together to figure out just how circuits work. It’s the day’s assignment and they’re working with kid-friendly circuits called Little Bits. The students have connected a blue “bit”, a battery-source with a green bit, an output module. When connected, the battery powers a little fan on the green component and causes it to spin. As the students continue to build and tinkering with how it all works, you can see the literal and figurative gears beginning to move. Gleaves relates the day’s assignment with some familiar items she uses at school and at home.
“Electricity can transform to stuff like the T.V.’s, the computers in our computer lab, and mommy and daddy’s computer cause we have 2 computers at home again," Gleaves says.
Although these makerspaces look and sound a bit different from the conventional library – where a sign encouraging students to be “quiet” might be posted – they foster and encourage creativity and learning all the same. That’s according to research from the University of Oklahoma, which recently studied a specific makerspace site in the state. Students at this location – like the one at Speegleville and across Midway ISD – work outside the traditional education model, where teachers and textbooks instruct them. Here in this space, students really do make their own solutions.