George Lucas Educational Foundation
Maker Education

How We Use Our Makerspace: 'Iolani Lower School

April 4, 2016         Updated March 31, 2016

I have heard a lot of discussions lately about how makerspaces are used in schools. There are stand-alone spaces...rooms/labs set aside just for making. Some schools have put makerspace technology in their libraries. There are also schools who have put a piece of makerspace technology (like a 3D printer) in a singular classroom, and it's used mainly by that class. 

It seems like the majority of these school makerspaces are run as a "special" class...like art or music. Depending on the grade, students come to the space and work on a given challenge from the teacher in charge. A lot of these schools also run "club" programs for smaller groups of students to come to the space during or after school to work on individual or small group projects. 

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The responsibility for running, planning and administering these spaces have been placed on a teacher, librarian or administrator. Other schools have hired people specifically for the job as a "makerspace" teacher.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of these approaches. Whatever way making works for a school, where children's learning is enhanced, we should whole heartedly support it.

The Lower School Lab at 'Iolani School is run differently then any other school makerspace that I am familiar with. There is a bit of a backstory to how we got to were we are, and if that interests you, contact me or look back at our blog posts (http://iolanik-6fablab.blogspot.com/). For the purpose of this writing, I want to explain how we are running things in this, our second year.

We started the 2015 school year with a schedule that was totally clear. No prescheduled classes, no required courses to teach. Last year, everyone got a glimpse of what could be done in the Lab. This year, teachers and students were ready to incorporate more making into the curriculum.

Teachers came up with units that were project based and used design thinking or the design process. Part of my job is to sit down with them and discuss how best to use the Lab's technology and come up with a time line. We would then schedule sessions and the making would start. 

For our kindergarten and first graders, we found units from the Science Museum-Boston's program, "Engineering is Elementary" (a hands-on science/engineering set of 20 different units across a variety of topics) that aligned with the curriculum. Teachers would sign their class up for 6 sessions of about 45 minutes each and we would go through a unit.

Those are the only "external" curriculum we use. Everything else comes from the teachers/students, Here are some examples of projects we did this year:

Kindergarten garden stakes (laser cutter): Students design stakes for their garden on paper. They are then scanned into the computer and laser cut. Although the children do not do the technical aspect of this project, we show them how we use the software and let them watch the laser cutter in action.

First grade fictional rainforest creatures (recycled material): As part of the rainforest unit, these students worked in groups to create a fictional creature that lives in one of the layers of the rainforest. Using design thinking they imagine, plan, create and improve this creature. The teachers also enlisted the help of our high school biology class.  The first graders shared their ideas for the creature and the HS kids gave them feedback about how "real" their animal was. The students then came to the Lab to create their creature using recycled material. We first gave them a lesson on connecting materials (tabs, flanges, slots, etc.) and then the followed their plan and made their animal.

Second grade statue pedestals (cardboard): After a few lessons on building structures and how different forces affect the structures, these students designed and created a pedestal to hold a statue they made. Using cardboard, these kids came up with some amazing designs.

Third grade desk caddies (laser cutter): As part of a design thinking activity, our third graders had to solve the problem of not having anyplace to put their supplies (pencils, markers, erasers, etc.). They solved the problem by designing and building desk caddies. They made drawings and then prototypes cut out of cardboard. Next they wrote out their plan and included a labled diagram of their caddie. They transferred the design to the computer and then to the laser cutter the pieces. Finally they glued them together and put them on their desks.

Fourth grade volcano poems (Scratch): After writing poems about volcanos, the fourth grade went on the computer and after an into lesson to Scratch, they began programing. Ofter 3 sessions on the computers, students brought their words to life on the screen.

Fifth grade game board pieces (laser cutter & 3D printer): After reading a novel, students were challenged to make a game board that would show what they learned about the book. They were given the option of using the Lab and some kids did. We had game piece made on both the 3D printer and the laser cutter. Students made signs on the laser cutter too.

Sixth grade Ancient Egyptian artifacts (laser cutter & 3D printer): During the sixth grade year, students learn about ancient cultures. One of these units was on ancient Egypt. Students were challenged to create an artifact and give a report on it. Given the option of using the Lab, a number of students came in and made a variety of things.

One additional program we offered was "mini-sessions" for grades 2-6. The students needed to have basic knowledge of what could be done in the Lab and how to use the technology. We developed a 90 minute session, specific to each grade level. The topic was based on their curriculum and what we thought their needs for the Lab might be. We came up with the following plan: 2nd grade would learn Scratch Jr; 3rd would be exposed to Scratch and MakeyMakeys; 4th would learn how to use the laser cutter; 5th would be introduced to 3D printing; and 6th would get basic circuitry. Teachers were asked to find a 90 minute slot, any day at anytime and I would teach the lesson. The thought is that by the time a student goes through the Lower School, they will have a basic understanding of all these things so that in the Upper School's Sullivan Center (that's another great story) there will be almost no limit to what they can make.

This is how we do it here at 'Iolani's Lower School FabLab/Makerspace. How do you do things where you are? Do you have any comments, questions or suggestions? 

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.