Around the Windsor-Severance Re-4 School District, teachers explore using makerspaces |

Around the Windsor-Severance Re-4 School District, teachers explore using makerspaces

James Redmond

When students have the tools and materials, only their imagination and time limit them.

At Severance Middle School Jen Maley, library media specialist, and Molly Rauh, sixth grade social studies and science teacher, want to give their students the tools, materials and space, or makerspace, to let them explore, build and learn through a new avenue.

This year they've started creating their own makerspace in the Severance Middle School library workroom. They hope to see it grow into a larger facility with more options and users as the year goes on.

Around the district, interest in makerspaces has spiked with schools finding ways to create their own or make use of community resources, such as the Clearview Library District's makerspace.

A growing idea and movement, makerspaces offers space and resources, everything from basic construction and craft materials to hand tools and high-tech equipment like 3-D printers and robotics software and tools. Ideally, the spaces allow people to create on their own, working from existing patterns and ideas and pioneering their own.

At schools, they represent a wealth of potential, everything from letting students apply classroom learning in a hands-on fashion to helping learners express understanding through projects and construction.

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Makerspaces are that ideal fusion, bringing in technology students have traditionally worked with in school and combing it with the 21st-century skill schools endeavor to impart to their students, said Trevor Timmons, district director of technology and information services.

Technology like 3-D printers and other fabrication equipment gives students the chance to authentically create something of their own with tools that often fall of out the box of normal education, he said.

"But the real key of makerspaces is looking back at our 21st century skills and giving kids an area where they can work on creating things, producing things, problem solving, critical thinking and collaborating with friends," Timmons said. "And more than anything else it's being able to do that in a safe environment where you can take a stab at something and if it doesn't work you can just start it over."

Makerspaces can be stocked with things as simple as pipe cleaners and paper towel tubes, allowing kids to build like that, he said. Commonly makerspaces rely on things like Legos or other building toys for the same reason.

On the other end of the spectrum, some makerspaces look at more technologically advanced ideas like making wearable technology.

"We've seen schools doing programmable LEDs and sewing those into hats and T-shirts, and giving kids that first foray into wearables, which are becoming so important whether its an Apple Watch or Google Glass," Timmons said.

At Severance Middle School, they're starting small. In the school's library work room Maley has cleared out counter and shelf space that she has already stocked with supplies ranging from construction hardware to cloth and other crafting materials.

They've already had someone donate a sewing machine to their makerspace but they still want to grow it more and hope to acquire more tools and materials.

Both Maley and Rauh joke someone might decide to donate a 3-D printer, a sort of crown jewel piece of equipment for makerspaces.

A small start won't stop their big ideas though.

In an early section of Rauh's social studies class, she wants to let students work in the makerspace to develop tools a civilization might have created to help them survive and thrive in a given area.

Instead of only talking about the role tools play in cultural adaptation, her students will get to take what they learn and apply it in a hands-on project demonstrating their understanding, she said.

"It's a different mode for kids to show their learning," Rauh said. "I like that kids could build what they know. So if we had materials on hand for them to do that, we could do that more often. Because we try to let them do as many things as they can, but typically in a classroom it ends up that you can draw or write something."

The space gives students a chance to be inquisitive. With materials and tools to explore and create with, she hopes they can further the inquiry model of learning they have at the school.

The two want to present their makerspace and the student's work at a staff meeting in September after getting it piloted with students and see how they can use it, Maley said.

"It's just another avenue for kids to show their learning," she said. "I think once (the other teachers) see the cool things we're doing with Molly's classes they'll hopefully want to set up a similar rotation where they can regularly send kids in."

Other schools around the district have started their own path toward incorporating makerspaces into the opportunities they offer students.

At Range View Elementary School Mollie Amundson, Library Media Specialist, and Wendy Niccoli, Gifted and Talented Education, are implementing their own after-school makerspace program.

With the help of a Littler Youth Fund Teacher Mini-Grant, the two want to give students a chance to tinker, to choose a project that they may not have had the materials, space or time in classroom and work on it in the after-school program, Niccoli said.

"It's about having a place where kids can produce something," she said.

In addition to giving students a chance to work with electronics, they hope to offer students a place to create art. Student could write a play and use the space to make costumes, props and backdrops, Niccoli said. They also want to look into having a place for students to learn computer coding.

"The idea is students can follow an interest after school," she said. "If there is someone who is really interested in electricity, they learn about that in fourth grade, but everyone kind of does the same experiment and then that's it, so this would be an opportunity to carry that (learning) further."

Skyview Elementary School just recently received a grant from the OtterCares Foundation to help turn their library into what they will call Innovation Central, or their own makerspace, Principal Tammy Seib said.

As a school of science, technology, engineering and math, also known as a STEM school, Skyview already had some elements in the style of a makerspace in what they called their hall of discovery. With the grant money they intend to establish a true makerspace for the school, she said.

At Mountain View Elementary School, Jackie Giehm, library media specialist and enrichment teacher, plans to use the Clearview Library District's makerspace with her students.

"We will be starting with 3-D printing and robotics," Giehm said. "Robotics and makerspaces are really a great way to bring out the creativity in someone. It helps them grow and see things and communicate from a different perspective. It also gets the kids excited about learning. They are manipulating (and) creating to better understand something and how it works and often see greater possibilities."

Working with robotics gets the students motived, she said. Working with those sorts of tools and technologies shows students the applications of what they learn in school while helping them further build on math, science and even language skills.

"These skills can help prepare themselves with real-world experiences," Giehm said. "Our world and the technology around us is growing. We need to grow with it."

Each school sees slightly different visions of makerspaces and how they might use them. The idea excited students and teachers alike, so much they've decided to see what they can make of this new movement.

"I think it's awesome that we've reached that point that we're starting to see some of those spaces starting to be created in the buildings," Timmons said. "And whether it's a permanent space in their library or kind of a mobile makerspace that they can take into a classroom, allowing students that opportunity is going to really help them to not only hit both their 21st century skill, but also it makes the curriculum deeper. It allows them to experience (what they learn) at a different level."

Help build Severance Middle School’s makerspace

Still in its beginning stage, the Severance Middle School makerspace needs donations and help from the community to grow more.

Any donation of tools: from hand-tools and up the technological scale; materials: such as gorilla glue or raw construction materials; or experience can help said Jen Maley, library media specialist. Anyone who has something to donated or a skill they would like to teach student should contact Maley at