Maker Education

2015-2016 Project Highlights From ‘Iolani Lower School Makerspace

June 2, 2016 Updated June 1, 2016

'Iolani School has been running the Lower School S.T.E.MLab/FabLab/Makerspace for two years now. At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, we posted the "Top 10" things we learned our first year. As this school year comes to a close, we wanted to share our "Top 10" Project Highlights from 2015-2016:


The biggest change to our program in the Lower School Lab was the addition of mini-lessons for grades 2-6. The thought was that we would introduce a specific skill, tool or software (sometimes all 3) to each of these grade levels. Because we use the "Engineering is Elementary" program from the Science Museum-Boston with kindergarten and first grade, we began our mini-lessons with second grade. The mini-lessons pan out like this: 2nd-Scratch Jr., 3rd-Scratch & MakeyMakey 4th-3D Printing, 5th-Laser Cutting and 6th-Circuits.


During the 6th grade unit on medieval times, the science class studies the physics of the ancient catapult. As part of this year's activity, students used the design process to imagine, plan, create and improve a catapult. After researching different designs, groups of students worked together to create a prototype out of cardboard. Once that was done, students were given an introduction to Inkscape and then set off to create a digital design for their catapult. Once the design was complete, it was cut out of wood on the laser cutter and glued together. The final activity was to test the catapult and record data on your distance and accuracy.

Volcano Poems

The fourth grade English teacher decided she wanted to make their writing high-tech. We decided to have the students illustrate and share a poem they had written about volcano's using Scratch. After a quick review of how to program with Scratch, students had a list of requirements that they had to follow as they created the visual representation of their poem. During this process, students who knew more about programing in Scratch became "instructors" to their fellow classmates. In the end, there was some amazing learning and sharing that went on.

Caddie Project

At the beginning of the year, some of our third grade teachers decided they wanted to do a design thinking activity with their classes. When the children came in the first day of school, they found all their supplies in one box. This lead to a problem that needed a solution. Taking the classes through Design Thinking, they decided to imagine, plan, create and improve desk caddies to hold their stuff. First came a cardboard prototype. Then, with some help, a final version cut on the laser cutter.  

Towards the end of the year, the students went around to a few of our faculty and staff and, following Design Thinking principles, came up with a caddie idea that could help "client". After meetings to see what the client needed, the students were given an intro course to 123D Design. They made 3D renderings of their proposed caddies. These images were shared with the client for feedback. Students took the feedback and made cardboard prototypes, which were then shared with the client to receive input on possible improvements or changes. Finally, students and clients were brought together and the final caddies were given out.

Communication-Sound & Light

With our first grade classes, we use units from the "Engineering is Elementary" program from the Science Museum-Boston. We use the one unit dealing with Sound & Acoustical Engineering, and another one focusing on Light & Optical Engineering. Both of these go along with the curriculum for first grade.

In thinking about the culminating activities for this part of the curriculum, the teacher had the idea to have the students try to grasp how you can communicate with light and sound.

First we dealt with sound. Pairs of students had to create "tin can" phones with a variety of "cans" and "string", and test them to see how they worked. Next we broke the classes up into two groups and each had to come up with their own "Morse code" and try to communicate with the other group across the Lab.

For light, we had a great brainstorming session and came up with an interesting idea. With the help of one of our teachers from the Sullivan Center (who teaches electronics/robotics) we were going to have some of his students join our 1st graders and make a circuit board using a breadboard, RGB LED, 3 buttons, 3 resistors, 4 jumper wires and a battery. The problem was arranging the scheduling to get the Upper School kids join us. We couldn't make schedule work, so we went ahead and had the first graders follow directions and make their circuit. We thought their fine motor skills might hinder them from handling the small components, but surprisingly, they did a great job and all the circuits worked. The next class session we put the students in pairs and they had to come up with a "Morse code" that they would use to communicate between each other.

The students did a great job and even if we can't get the older kids to help us again next year, we are going to repeat this activity.

Afterschool Classes

This year we offered afterschool classes in both "Making" and "Circuits". One day a week for an hour and a half, those enrolled in the afterschool program came to the Lab. The making class was an introduction to everything in the Lab: 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, littleBits, MakeyMakey, Scratch, and simple circuit making. They were also introduced to the engineering design process and to Design Thinking, which would help them in their "making". Once they had a working knowledge of everything and "made" something, they were free to make whatever they wanted.

The second class was all about circuits. After being introduced to the engineering design process and Design Thinking, we started with simple circuits: copper tape, coin cell batteries and LEDs. Next we made and used conductive paint to make circuits. Then we introduced breadboards and a few different components (like resistors, jumper wires, and switches). After Christmas break "Santa" had brought us an OtherMill from The Other Machine Co. We then started designing and milling our own circuit boards. Students then could make anything they wanted (most of them had been in the "Making" class either last summer or last semester so they knew what could be done in the Lab) and add electronics.      

SEV with MakeyMakey & Scratch

For years, our 3rd grade science teacher has been doing a big unit on "Space". The students have a space night where they look at the stars through telescopes, shot off 2liter water bottle rockets and do other "outer space" activities. In class, they also do a making project using recycled materials. They have to research and design a space exploration vehicle (SEV) and then build it. The last two years, I have been going into the science lab and helping with the making part...mostly the cutting of difficult material and pieces, and some hot gluing. This year we decided to add a "high tech" component. We asked for volunteers from each class who would like to add some interaction to their SEV by using Scratch and a MakeyMakey. We had a bunch of takers and after a few extra sessions, the interactive SEVs were up and running.

Egyptian Artifacts

As part of the 6th grade unit on ancient cultures, the students were asked to research and create an artifact from ancient Egypt. Most of the 131 sixth grade students did this project at home, but about 30 decide to come into the Lab and make use of the equipment we have.  They made everything from a 3D printed Eye of Rah, to a laser cut crook & flail. One of the most impressive artifacts was a sarcophagus. The young lady that made this traced the design of the top of a sarcophagus from a picture. She also designed and drew out the sides and bottom. We took her drawings, scanned them, and sent them to the laser cutter. Once cut out, she glued them together and highlighted the etched portion in pencil.

Scratch Jr. Games

After the mini-lesson with our 2nd graders on Scratch Jr. the teacher decided they wanted to incorporate this technology into their curriculum. So at various times through out the year, they had the students "show what you know" by making a game in Scratch Jr. and having their friends play it. One game was for parts of speech and another was for math computation. Coding and assessment all in one.

Christmas Ornaments

Even though our youngest students are quiet ready to use the laser cutter, we still got them into the Lab to make something great. At Christmas time our kindergarten teachers wanted to have the students make Christmas ornaments to take home. One of the things we did was to take the students own work, scan them, laser cut them out and the students colored them with maker. Another class used "Kidpix" to create a design. We printed the design and then had the students use the app "Vectorize it" to crop and make their design a vector image. The image was emailed to the laser cutter, cut and given to the students to take home.

Final Word...For Now:

It's hard to believe this is the end of the second year for the Lower School Lab at 'Iolani. The time has flown by and as things quiet down we are really just getting started again. This summer we are once more offering a 4hours a day, 5 days a week, 6 week long coed "Design It-Make It" course for 3rd-6th graders. But that's not all, after the first 6 week session, we are having a 1 week, 6.5 hours "Design It-Make It" class for just girls and then another week for just boys.

All three of these classes will introduce the students to the engineering design process, Design Thinking, and the equipment & software we have in the Lab. We'll allow them to learn by giving them projects to make and then set them off to create projects of their own.

And before you know it, we'll be back for another year in the Lab. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to ask.

Aloha for now!

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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  • Maker Education
  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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