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Maker Education

Middle School Maker Journey: Students’ First Impressions of “Digital Shop”

In part three of his year-long series, Kevin Jarrett looks through his middle school students’ eyes as they discover and begin exploring their school’s new makerspace.

October 5, 2015
Photo credit: Kevin Jarrett via flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Students have their "threshold experience" as they see #NCSDigitalShop for the first time.

The big day was upon us. Hundreds of man-hours of preparation. Thousands of dollars invested in equipment and supplies. An untested, unproven design incorporating materials not usually found in schools. How would students react? Would we achieve our objective: creating a student-centered, flexible learning space that inspires creativity, curiosity, and wonder?

Hear from the students and decide for yourself:

"This new program is the highlight of my school day. It is the best class ever! My favorite part of Digital Shop class is all the projects we do. I don't think anything could make this class better. This class is perfect for my creativity!" - Laurel F., grade 5
"I think that the new program is really cool. Digital Shop is really fun and very interesting. The hands-on activities are awesome. My favorite part of Digital Shop is getting to do things that will help students design and create. It is great already." - Sarah R., grade 7
"I believe the Digital Shop with Mr. Jarrett was very fun and a good experience. I learned a lot while in his class. One of the things I learned was my own potential. Everyone has the potential to create. It's just getting the right jumpstart. My favorite part about the Digital Shop is the fact that our opinions are taken into consideration. We are able to suggest what we get to do. Digital Shop could be made even better if we had more time to experience it." - Alexa T., grade 8
"The new technology class seems fun and cool. It's going to be really fun to try all of the new things with Black Mesa (our Learning Management System) and just technology class in general. So far, my favorite part is the challenges. They are fun and educating at the same time. Technology could be even better if we spent more time in Digital Shop rather than the classroom." - Marina C., grade 8
"I think it is awesome that we are able to have this program in our school, and I think that being taught how to help the world and make it better is really fun. Seeing what other people have made to help the world is inspiring." - Ella S., grade 7

Maker Fridays: A Huge Hit!

We've dedicated Friday afternoons as open lab time for students to work on self-directed projects. They must apply for a Maker Pass and meet certain requirements:

  1. They need to propose something specific to work on or learn.
  2. They need to have no outstanding schoolwork and be willing to make up anything presented in the class they miss.
  3. The teacher whose class they are missing needs to OK the request.

Here are quotes from some applications:

"I want to program a drone to do a delivery system all over the world." - Jack L., grade 7
"Your creativity and knowledge is boundless, and I think taking Digital Shop can open your mind to so much of that creativity you never knew you had! In Digital Shop I want to learn about the new possibilities that are out there waiting to be explored. I want to create something that could change the future for the better. Studies have shown that 68 percent of students that are in school now will devote their lives to a profession that doesn't even exist yet. I want to be ready for whatever profession I choose, and I think Digital Shop can give me the tools to do just that." - Gracen C., grade 5
"I would like to learn more about modern technology, and make a robot that is voice activated." - Evan P., grade 7

20,000 Reasons to Love the Program Even More

A recording studio with the school logo as a backdrop behind the news desk, overhead lights, a mix board, and a wall with green screen
Photo Credit: Kevin Jarrett
Northfield Community Middle School’s video recording facility under construction.

Back in December 2014, our school received $20,000 from Samsung as the New Jersey state winner in their national Solve for Tomorrow contest, recognizing our work with American Legion Post #295 on the Post Crashers project. Modeled after the TV home repair show House Crashers, kids and adults from the school and community remodeled and refurbished this local facility, painting walls, landscaping, and more.

The school's video production facility, which we used to create Post Crashers, has become an integral part of our Digital Shop makerspace, because we consider video production another form of digital making. The studio now includes an anchor desk donated from FOX 29 in Philadelphia, a floor-to-ceiling green screen with multiple monitors, high-power LED lighting, and a full complement of production equipment including a NewTek Tricaster live production and streaming system. Students will be responsible for producing morning announcements and other productions throughout the school year, which we'll broadcast internally as well as on local access TV. Here’s a photo of the studio under construction:

Full STEAM Ahead

A dozen students working with pens and paper waving to the camera
Photo credit: Kevin Jarrett

With our makerspace now in full swing, excited kids are coming in daily -- and they don't want to leave! Recently, some of my eighth-grade students asked, "Can we eat our lunches in here?" Principal Glenn Robbins gave the OK, and Eighth-Grade Maker Lunch was born. So far, these students have:

  • Begun planning inventions, including a solar-powered sprinkler that communicates weather conditions so that its owner can control watering and reduce water usage
  • Discussed forming startups together
  • Shared the lip glosses they invented at Tech Trek (awesome local technology summer camp for girls)
  • Programmed a series of drones (Dash & Dot, Parrot Rolling Spider, Ollie & Sphero) to do a variety of creative things
  • Created accounts on and started designing in 3D

We're off to an incredible start. But it hasn't been completely smooth sailing! Next month, I'll reflect on our first full month of operations, including what went well and what could have been better. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

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  • Maker Education
  • Design Thinking
  • Learning Environments
  • Student Engagement
  • 6-8 Middle School

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