By David Boyce
A little over a month in existence, the Makerspace room created at Manor Hill Elementary School is already having a positive impact. Jamie Ackart, the Innovation and Learning Coach, and Principal Valerie Utecht, have seen it first-hand.
Thanks to a grant for about $6,000 from the Liberty School District Foundation, a room that was once used as a computer lab was transformed into an area where kindergarten through fifth grade students can apply what they learn in class. The room was designed in four quadrants for Exploration, Construction, Production, and Creation. The production is for video equipment, photography, and music production. Creation includes all of the hands-on crafts like sewing, gardening, and cooking. Exploration uses microscopes and robotics, and construction is for building and woodworking.
“It is not a free play area where you come in and let’s make something today,” Utecht said. “It’s not let’s make a quilt today. You come in here after studying a topic and you have lots of background knowledge on it, and now let’s apply it to that topic. It enhances what the students learned in class. They learn in a textbook, watch a video, listen to the teacher talk about it, then Makerspace allows them to explore the topic. It really helps solidify that learning piece for the student.”
Ackart saw this with a force of motion topic with second graders. She taped a string on the wall and had it slant down to the floor. The students were given an empty water bottle to put on the string.
“They used their knowledge of force and motion and more slant would make it go faster,” Ackart said. “When they put water in the water bottle, they figured out they needed a lid. As a teacher, you want to jump in and say you need a lid, but they had to see it. They are so used to someone fixing it for them. Giving them that time, not having that pressure, they finally got it, and it was quality work.”
Makerspace gives the students the opportunity to figure out problems on their own.
“One of the things Jamie has shared with me is that our students are afraid to problem solve,” Utecht said. “They are used to their teacher telling them. This experience allows them to take the initiative, and that they are in control of their learning process.”
The beauty of Makerspace is it is just as effective for a wide range of students. Ackart received an email from one mother praising what Makerspace has done for her son, who was struggling academically.
“She said, ‘I don’t know what you have done in the Makerspace, but since he has come into your classroom, that’s all he wants to do. He is so excited,’” Ackart said. “‘You have my support for whatever you need.’”
Ackart and Utecht were confident Makerspace could have this kind of impact on the students at Manor Hill. It is why they made the proposal to the Liberty School District Foundation. Makerspace was another way to incorporate the four Cs of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
“It has pushed some of our teachers to think outside the box,” Utecht said. “This is a space that really does help to transform people’s thinking and how kids can really thrive.”
Utecht is thankful to the Foundation for the things it does for the Liberty School District, like providing funds for Makerspace.
“This is happening in another building,” Utecht said. “This is not the only building receiving grants. It is phenomenal we can make this happen because of the generosity of the fundraising they do to supplement what we can do in education.”
One of the nice things about the creation of Makerspace at Manor Hill was it was a collaboration. The maintenance department was amazing, Utecht said, in helping to transform the room. Teachers and members of the community donated various items to the room, which allowed the school to save money. In addition, students from the Liberty High and Liberty North engineering classes helped with the design of the room.
“That is my favorite part about it,” Ackart said. “The community was involved. We had teachers and parents who worked on it, as well as the fine arts department, making this a space everyone could use.”
Makerspace is a new concept for teachers at Manor Hill. Teachers are still figuring out how to use it to enhance the learning process for their students.
“We have some teachers where this is second nature to them, and we have some teachers who need to see more of it and collaborate with others,” Utecht said. “The biggest balance is for us to decide when is this appropriate.”
As the innovation and learning coach, it is Ackart’s job to help implement Makerspace and make it work. So far, Ackart said, the students love it.
“The teachers still need more support on how often do they come in and how to use it, because we are still changing that mindset that when kids are in here, having fun and taking things apart, they are actually learning,” Ackart said. “The teachers know that, and they love the engagement and how excited the kids are. Through coaching, I feel a lot of teachers who aren’t as comfortable with it, will become more comfortable with it.”
The ultimate goal with Makerspace, Utecht concluded, is to make learning better and more engaging.