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Maker Education

10 Things Learned During the First Year at a Lower School Makerspace

November 17, 2015 Updated November 16, 2015

In August of 2014, 'Iolani School in Honolulu, Hawaii opened their Lower School (kdg-6th grade) makerspace. The following are the "Top 10" things learned during the first year of the Lab's operation.

#10...The laser cutter is the workhorse of the Lab

If you can only buy one machine for a space like this, get a laser cutter. There wasn't a week that went by that the hum of the laser and the roar of the vent wasn't heard in the Lab. From kindergarten garden stakes, to 2nd graders making name tags, to 6th graders creating catapults, to gifts made for our retirees, our Epilog Mini vectored and rastored it's way through wood and cardboard.

#9...Look for and teach the "Teachable-Moment"

Are 2nd graders too young to create in 3D? Nope. We had two 2nd graders decide they wanted to make something on the 3D printer so with very little help, they did. More then once as a matter of fact.

First I had them draw a picture of what they wanted to make. Then we talked about how they would create it using standard shapes. After that, they made prototypes with playdough. Next, I set them up with 123D Design and told them to play around. Before I knew it, they were ready to print. One of them even learned how to use the 3D scanner to print something they made out of clay.

We also had a class of 2nd graders making pedestals for statues they created. Some of them wanted to make circles but had never used a compass. One mini-lesson later they knew about radius, diameter, and they were making circles everywhere.

#8...Kids love to make stuff

There is never enough time for a kid to complete a project in one class period. They love to make stuff and are so focused and on task. Seldom did a student come in one time, make something, and leave. They came in multiple recess periods or during study halls. And it doesn't matter what material they were using. We had kindergarteners making towers out of plastic straws, third graders making buttons for the business they created in their "mini-society" on the laser cutter, second graders building all sorts of things out of cardboard. If you put stuff out...they will build.

#7...Teachers have great ideas

During the first year of the Lab, I wasn't sure how the teachers were going to make use of the space. After a hands-on visit to the Lab during our professional development day in August, and a quick visit to the Lab with their class the first few weeks of school, our teachers got creative. Every grade made use of the Lab last year...some for multiple projects.

We also have teachers doing "making" projects in their classes for year. Our Kdg-3rd grade science teacher has her 3rd graders design and create spacecraft at the end of their space unit. This year we are going to encourage them to try to incorporate MakeyMakey's into their designs.

#6...Get out and learn from others

Before the Lab was even set up, I was sent off to some great learning experiences. "Design, Do, Discover" run by Castilleja School (CA), and "Constructing Modern Knowledge" held in Manchester, NH, were amazing. I would encourage anyone (classroom teacher, S.T.E.M. teacher, administrator) to attend both these. I got so many ideas and made some amazing contacts...the success of the first year of this Lab is in part to these two events.

This past fall I attended FabLearn 2015 and plan on going back there every year. It's an amazing conference held at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education. I also need to recommend getting out and seeing other Labs. You can learn so much from seeing what other spaces have done.

#5...You gotta have friends

The S.T.E.M./FabLab/MakerSpace world is still young and a fairly small community. The best networking group for me is "Resources for K-12 Fab Labs and Makerspaces ( This is an amazing collection of professionals posting, questioning, answering and sharing on any and every topic of interest to school Fab Labs and Makerspaces.

#4...Share what you know

As teachers, we sometimes stay to ourselves in our own classrooms and seldom share our ideas with anyone other then our grade level team. If you're part of "Maker Movement" in schools, that doesn't work. Since we opened our Lab over a year ago, we have had a constant stream of teachers, administrators and students from other schools come through our doors wanting to know what we are doing. I have also taken "The show on the road" and have been honored to present at the National Science Teachers Association S.T.E.M. Forum, FabLearn 2015, and various professional development sessions here on Oahu.

I know we don't have all the answers, but I have found that sharing our journey with others has been appreciated by everyone I have spoken to. 

#3...F.A.I.L. is not a 4-letter word

"First Attempt In Learning" = F.A.I.L. I have a number of quotes on the door into the Lab. As the students enter in they can read them and it sets the tone for what's going to happen behind the door. Some of my favorites are:

"I have not failed 10,000 times...I've successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work." -- Thomas A. Edison

"I've heard tell that what you imagine sometimes comes true." -- Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original." -- Sir Ken Robinson

"Imagination is more important the knowledge." -- Albert Einstein

"If we teach today's students like we taught yesterdays, we rob them of tomorrow." -- John Dewey

#2...Change happens

Since we began a year ago we have made some changes and additions to what goes on in the Lab. This past summer, we offered three different summer school classes. One was a 6 week, half day program to introduce 3rd-6th grade students to everything in the Lab (this class filled up in the first hour registration). The other two classes were 1 week, all day but we made them gender specific. We had boys week one, and girls week two. We ended up with our girls class filled with 14 ladies and our boys had 10.

Another change was to our schedule. The first year, I had 3 specific grades/topics to teach (kindergarten, first and fourth grades). This school year, the schedule for the Lab is wide open...teachers are encouraged to sign up for days and times that fit in with projects they have going on in their classrooms.

The last thing that changed for the 2015-2016 school year was that we are offering grade specific mini-sessions. Teachers will sign up for a 90min session on a topic specifically aimed to help their students better use the Lab during the year as they come up with project ideas. Based on the projects that each grade did this past year, these are the concepts we are offering:

   2nd grade: Scratch Jr on the iPad

   3rd grade: MaKey MaKey & Scratch

   4th grade: Laser cutter & Inkscape

   5th grade: 3D printer & 123D Design

   6th grade: Circuits

#1...I am so blessed to be here

I know I said these 10 things were not in any order, but "The #1 thing learned from a first year S.T.E.M./FabLab/MakerSpace" is...'Iolani is a unique place. There are very few schools that I know of that are like it. The history, the tradition, the alumni, the parents, the kids, the staff and the administration are all amazing.

"Students take risks when teachers take risks. Teachers take risks when school leaders take risks." -- Brad Currie.

Iolani has taken a risk by investing in the maker movement in education. Not just at the Lower School but in our Upper School with the Sullivan Center for Innovation and Learning (take a look at this The support and encouragement that comes down from the "Top" is empowering. I am very blessed to be here.

I hope you find this posting helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please post them here.  

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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