As award-winning writer and tv producer Shonda Rimes said to the 2014 graduating class of Dartmouth College, “Be a doer, not a dreamer,” I’m a doer. I like solutions. I like decisions. I like to make decisions and try solutions and if they don’t work, I like to try a new solution. I like to help other people make decisions and find solutions, and when I found myself “taking a break” from the only career I had ever known (teaching students with mild, moderate, and intensive disabilities), I had to DO something. I found myself in a job that I found lackluster; something about doing the same reading interventions over and over with little technology integration didn’t thrill me. While I have found ways to make it more entertaining for students, I still find the process a little dry. I needed to DO something else. I needed to DO something else that could integrate all students, all types of learners and DOers into the school community.
What I started DOING with my professional (and personal) learning network blossomed into a movement at Highland Drive Elementary School (grades K-3) in Brecksville, Ohio that I had never planned for or imagined. Six to ten educators hanging out on the weekend at a community woodworking shop in the city moved to a “club” during lunch and recess time which then transformed into the Highland Drive makerspace (aka “the STEAM room”); an entire classroom space complete with a mini library of “makers” books like Ish by Peter H. Reynolds, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Gary Rubinstein, Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, and the Smithsonian Maker Lab by Jack Challoner.
Thanks to donations from parents and staff, a grant from the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools Foundation, and an additional grant from a group called the GPD Employee’s Foundation (an organization that provides grant money to Northeast and Central Ohio as well as Atlanta, Indianapolis, Louisville, Phoenix, and Seattle), our makerspace boasts three desktop computers, access to 14 iPads (shared with the Reading Intervention program), 15 LEGO Education WeDo Kits and accompanying software, scrapbook paper, pipe cleaners, scissors, glue, googly eyes, a LEGO wall, and more!
The makerspace is used for every Thursday and Friday at lunch and recess for “Makers’ Club.” With help from my reading co-teacher Sharon Wiesler, second and third grade students are invited to the makerspace to work on a “challenge” or “project” each week during their lunch and recess times. They follow the design process and start by identifying a problem. They then take time to brainstorm and plan, create, and then evaluate what they’ve created. The room is also open for teachers to sign up to bring their Kindergarten, first, second, or third grade classes in to complete science experiments or complete the “Project of the Week” on a daily basis. With every project, we try to make sure that students are engaging in the design process while also learning how to share, collaborate, and solve problems with other students.
Projects have varied so far, in length and intensity, but have been largely successful. Problems we have worked to solve and projects we’ve done this year have included:
- Using marshmallows and toothpicks, design and build a phone stand for the teacher’s cell phone that is at least 6 inches tall and will hold it up off the table for at least 10 seconds.
- The weather is changing (discussion on seasons). What happens to the animals when the weather gets colder in Northeast Ohio? What can we do to help? (Bird feeders and houses were created and placed in our “Highland Island,” an animal and plant sanctuary at our school.)
- Plan for and create LEGO “robots” using the WeDo kits and software
- Using the available materials (cups, cotton balls, straws, pipe cleaners, string, tape, glue, and a few other items), create a carrier for a ping pong ball that will carry it down the zip line (fishing line) in 4 seconds or less.
- Learn to use hammers and screwdrivers along with other basic tools.
- Create “Sticky Slime” that hardens quickly, but softens again based on heat from your hands.
- Using ten straws and ten inches of plastic wrap, can you build a boat that can hold 25 pennies without sinking for X number of seconds?
In the fall, the makerspace teamed with the Kindergarten teachers at our school to plan “pumpkin investigations” that were then modified for each grade level to complete during the week before Halloween. Students were able to describe the pumpkins, use synonyms, measure the pumpkins using standard and nonstandard measures, determine if the pumpkins would sink or float, estimate the weight and then weigh the pumpkins, touch the insides of the pumpkins and count seeds, sketch different kinds of pumpkins, smell the pumpkins AND even taste the roasted seeds of the pumpkins. There were lots of sensory opportunities built in and even the students with moderate-intensive special needs took a trip to the makerspace for this adventure; exactly the purpose of this “multi-purpose” space. Just as Lisha Kraft states in her article “The Way We Talk About Education Today Reflects Growth of the Maker Mindset” in Make Magazine on Oct. 17th, 2016, “As more and more educators see the limitations often set by a typical worksheet, and they utilize such strategies as, project-based learning, differentiated instruction, inquiry-based instruction, collaborative learning, and student-centered instruction, educational barriers will continue to crumble and disappear.”
While I continue to take a break from teaching students with mild, moderate, and intensive special needs, Mrs. Wiesler and I encourage ALL students to both read and DO something every day. Using the mindset “Create more than you consume,” we encourage students to use simple and recyclable materials to create while finding their own passions for learning.