Two new spaces in the Lower and Middle Schools are opening new avenues of creativity in making. The Lower School Creation and Innovation Station, named by Grade 4 students, and the Middle School Makerspace, led by Educational Technologist Rick Alfonso, are transforming classrooms into makerspaces and inspiring project-based learning throughout the curriculum. The intent, Director of Educational Technology and Innovation Jaime Chao Mignano says, is “to build a maker mindset across the divisions and for students to gain the sensitivity to see the nature of design in the world around them and empower them to affect change in their environment.”
Faculty and students have an array of materials and specialized tools to choose from to fulfill any project’s needs in the Creation and Innovation Station. Led by Lower School Educational Technologist Julie Ott, the space houses materials that transform classrooms into makerspaces. Faculty and students are invited to look for supplies and often find inspiration to take projects to levels not thought of before ultimately enhancing making “so that kids can make novel connections between materials and their vision,” says Ms. Chao Mignano. Depending on a student’s level of proficiency, having access to a variety of tools greatly impacts their making and overall skills they acquire.
The Creation and Innovation Station encourages students to think more deeply about their representations and make stronger metaphors with materials. Lower School students can stretch their understanding and ability to craft representations from visual replicas to adding functional elements to their projects. Throughout their Lower School years, students will be able to elevate these representational projects into functional prototypes, naturally preparing them for more advanced subjects like Systems and Engineering seminars in Middle School.
In Middle School, students have a unique opportunity to secure and build their identity around making and embodying the statement and mindset “I am a Maker.”
Last winter, with the Makerspace construction complete, students in Grade 5–8 were asked to imagine themselves in the space and think of what they would need to be successful makers. Students submitted their designs and ideas to the Hacking Club, who gave their input and passed the proposed plans to Middle School faculty and academic leadership to receive feedback. This was truly “a community-driven process of designing a space,” says Ms. Chao Mignano, “to find what would inspire and excite creativity in students and support academic growth.” Though the trampoline and a live pig didn’t make the cut, baking equipment like an oven, hotplate, and microwave did. On opening day, faculty were treated to cookies made in the new Makerspace, subtly inspiring teachers to think about how food might fit into their curriculum as a maker project.
The Makerspace not only encourages teachers to think of their lessons in new ways, but also offers cross-divisional collaboration. One idea Middle School students had, to have LED lighting throughout the space, grew into a user-centered design project in collaboration with Upper School students. Using what the middle schoolers had outlined, the Grade 9 Explorations in Technology classes made LED light fixtures, which are now displayed throughout the space. Additionally, students have access to new equipment like soldering irons, offering more opportunities for exploration. The Makerspace is open for classes, students who want to work independently on projects, and clubs, and it hums with activity during available periods like study hall or recess. Next year, the EdTech team looks forward to bringing more professional development activities for teachers to build the capacity to incorporate maker-centered learning into the curriculum.
The Lower School Creation and Innovation Station and Middle School Makerspace are opening doors for students and teachers alike. Students gain essential skills like choosing between different types of crayons and markers based on the style of their representation and learning how to build with various materials. These experiences foster an overall sensitivity to design so that children can work past the limitations in their environment and see beyond—making the impossible, possible.