Tinkering with Maker Stations

While on prac I was lucky enough to witness two innovative teachers using Maker Spaces in their classroom. They had paired up and decided to devote one hour, one afternoon a week, to joining classes (Kindergarten and Year 1) for ‘tinkering’. So what is a maker space? Well, I had never heard of it before but having seen the class in operation I am a total convert.

The Maker Movement, often categorized as a movement towards STEM-skills development, is about students engaging in tinkering, experimentation, creation and expression. The focus is on creativity, collaboration and lateral thinking, using digital tools and a DIY style of learning to solve problems and design solutions. It is an experimental and experiential way of learning, with students free to move between activities that appeal to them most. It really is about fun, creative, interest-driven learning. In fact, I’ve seen other cases where Maker Spaces are designed based on an ‘interest inventory’ where students can outline some of their interests and learning activities can be developed around those.itsbot_18_large

To give you a sense of what a Maker Space looks like in practice, in the classroom I visited there were stations for:

  • Designing solutions – students had to build a prop or stool out of paper and masking tape that could carry the weight of a small football
  • Develop products – electrical circuitry was provided and students could use lights and recycled material to build torches, lighthouses, vehicles etc.
  • Programming – BeeBots were used to program a route and test their accuracy through an obstacle course
  • Lego and Duplo for construction and architecture-based design tasks.

There was also a station simply for colouring in and drawing to relax and stimulate creativity, and a corner with recycled materials for students to design their own products.

In speaking to the teachers about how they prepared students for tinkering, they decided to buddy the Year 1 students with a Kindy partner, to reduce the social barriers to participation and ensure that if either of them were unsure of any of the activities then their partner could help them. The rule of engagement was that they had to agree on the same activity to undertake together. In advance of the first day, both teachers separately ran a number of sessions each week to introduce the concepts behind each Station i.e. one week the teacher would talk through electric circuits so students were equipped to play with them when the time came.

I love this idea and the rich opportunities it gives students to learn by experimentation. It also opens up activities that are based around electronics, programming, robotics, kinetic machines, craft and textiles. The space that you create is incredibly important, and it is worth recognising that things might seem chaotic and messy, but that is kind of the point. In hindsight, I can see why this is an ‘end of day’ activity, but as long as you are open to mess and potentially a higher-than-usual level of noise than I think that students can benefit greatly from the creative thinking encouraged in these spaces.

Some other activities that I think would be great additions include:

  • Using Minecraft to design specific places or structures i.e. in South Australia, students were invited to design their idea of a perfect national park 
  • Making a boat that floats using recycled materials
  • Designing a marble run with specifications i.e. the marble must take between 5 and 10 seconds to complete the course, or it must include three bends, or shoot through a hoop
  • Making a short film, turning a phone into a projector to screen the film
  • Building the tallest paddle pop stick towers, making periscopes, kites, hovercrafts, aeroplanes, engineering a bridge
  • Kinetic sculptures – here’s a great one using googly monsters 
  • Designing and building Rube Goldberg machines
  • Upcycling materials.

Have you seen any others in practice?

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