New Ways to Engage Students: Makerspaces

By Grace Rubenstein, CEI Intern

dreamstime_m_49286403Take the leap and join one of the latest innovations in STEM education at the primary and secondary school level. A makerspace can be in a school, a library, and even a museum. Any location commonly visited by children is the perfect point of interception for developing minds. Through age appropriate activities and adult guidance, children can use the space to engage with various topics.

Engaging, fun, hands-on experiences. Makerspaces serve as a balancing act against the stifling nature of a classroom learning environment. First, psychological research indicates that passive school education may inhibit a person’s internal drive to learn, whereas active learning can enhance that drive. Second, the vast variety of learning types means that few actually benefit from passive education. For instance, auditory learners may do well with lectures, while kinesthetic learners would have trouble staying focused.

Picture1Considering the importance of wholesome, inclusive STEM education, what can makerspaces do to help students feel motivated to discover? Rather than reading textbooks and memorizing facts, these oases should encourage students to delve into issues that matter to them, and to draw connections between their experiments and the world around them. Giving students free reign to identify a scientific problem that speaks to them—such as air pollution, prosthetics, access to clean water, etc.— will help them forge a sense of ownership over their ideas.

Following their initial choosing of subjects, students then could receive further support from experts. The ideal goal is for the students to feel personally invested in their projects, which hopefully will ignite a spark of inspiration to pursue a STEM field. If not, it at least endows in them a sense of respect for the role of STEM in our society.

Makerspace at Piner High School in California

Piner High School in Santa Rosa, California, serves as a promising example of a small high school makerspace where youth were fully engaged from the start. Biology teacher, Dante DePaola, has espoused the value of keeping his students wholly involved in all aspects of creating the maker space. The students assisted their teacher in woodworking every single piece of furniture. Since then, he has asked his students to bring in examples of work from other makerspaces that inspire them.

Picture2Dante’s students have deconstructed electronic devices, built bridges, built iPod speakers out of foam and fiberglass. They have also created balsa-wood airplanes with wings covered in heat-shrunk plastic membranes to encourage lift, with creative shapes, sizes, and types.



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