Makers on the Move
Michele Archer has an anecdote about an professor she once met at a local university.
The professor told Archer about college students at ease working with electronic devices but flummoxed when asked to use a hammer.
It is just such a fissure a Makerspace can help close.
Archer, director of the Makerspace program at The Swain School, Salisbury Township, is among many area educators interested in making the Makerspace experience a common one.
“We teach them how to work and how to learn,” Archer said of efforts in The Imaginate Center, the Makerspace at The Swain School.
Julia Dweck, gifted specialist at Willow Lane Elementary School, echoes Archer highlighting a growing “Maker Movement” in kindergarten through 12th grade education. The hands-on focus of Makerspace programs “aligns naturally with the way children learn,” Dweck said.
A Makerspace can be as small as a few shelves in a classroom to as large as a section of the school library as Lower Macungie Middle School is en route to illustrating.
Dr. Susan Noack devotes a corner of her science classroom at LMMS to Makerspace work. Students have built cities of recycled materials, fashioned jewelry and constructed puppets. Efforts have begun at the school to ready an area of the library to welcome students to make and create. Organizers plan to include a Lego wall in the space and resource materials are starting to line the shelves.
“It’s kind of endless in terms of opportunity,” Noack said.
Such spaces are being nurtured at various levels of education and in the business world.
The University of Michigan, Case Western Reserve University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among institutions of undergraduate and advanced education where Makerspaces thrive in stand-alone institutes and centers with names such as CWRU’s “think[box],” a nod to the expression “think outside the box.”
And the tent pegs of the Makerspace movement surface in professions from academia to technology to healthcare.
In the UTMB John Sealy Hospital in Texas health care providers, specifically nurses, use the MakerHealth Space on a patient floor at the hospital to tweak, develop or delve into new ways of medical care.
However, a smaller start can have a big impact as well.
At Salisbury Middle School Matthew Tobias, who teaches seventh grade social studies, is nurturing a Makerspace in his former classroom. Donations are welcome and can be anything and everything from tools such as wire cutters, screwdrivers, scissors and Popsicle sticks to a soldering gun, coping saw and paper towel rolls. A kit to build a roller coaster, a broken electronic keyboard and kits for race cars with no instructions beyond the picture on the box are among items already received. Tobias’s wish list also includes art supplies.
“It’s surprising what’s in attics or in garages [and] unused,” Tobias said.
Right now the space is open for students to use before and after school and during ninth period free time. Tobias is hopeful the fledging space will soon be used by teachers in other classes and in intensive programs during the summer.
“It’s going to become a culture of the school,” Tobias said of the space.
Those in the Maker Movement often point to the growth in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs as the origin point. Such programs encourage students to solve problems, preferably with the help of others, and see the value in diverse ideas to reach a solution. Makerspaces encourage collaboration, trial and error and learning from mistakes. Students are encouraged to follow their own ideas.
“I admire their lack of fear,” Dr. Anthony Moyer, principal of Willow Lane Elementary School, said of students at the school who create in the Makerspace. “That’s our future. We want to produce creative, innovative thinkers.”
Heather Slatoff, who teaches at LMMS, has a student who is developing a line of re-purposed clothing, a idea nurtured in part in a school environment where students are encouraged to try new things.
“Their passion needs to drive this,” Slatoff said of students.
And students have passion.
In The Imaginate Center at The Swain School on a recent warm-for-early-spring afternoon students were reluctant to take recess because they wanted to work on marble slides.
Abby Gerdeman, of Allentown and Anjett Torres, of Fountain Hill, made a towering structure of paper towel tubes and Popsicle sticks featuring multiple tunnels for marbles to roll through. They were enthusiastic about their invention and when asked what they enjoyed most about the project responded “That we get to do whatever we want.”
Teachers are more facilitators or guides than the traditional focus of the classroom in the maker movement, according to Dweck. Students take the lead.
“Here we have to step back and provide them with the tools and opportunities,” Moyer said.
A student-made sign in The Imaginate Center may best illustrate the Maker sentiment. It reads:
“Welcome to the Makerspace where nobody wants to leave.”