Wouldn’t it be great if someone designed a speaker capable of amplifying the sound on an iPhone so that you could actually, well, hear it?
Wishful thinking? Maybe. Still, a group of middle-schoolers at Bi-Cultural Day School has its sights set on making this very wish come true.
The budding inventors are just a sampling of the students bringing their bright ideas to life in Bi-Cultural’s unique Makerspace lab. Since it was unveiled a year ago, the big, bustling, colorful space has become a hub of student activity and creativity. On any given day, students throughout the grades wander in and out of the lab, working—sometimes individually, often collaboratively, as part of a class or on their own—to transform a laundry list of innovative concepts into tangible products.
“It’s a constructive approach to learning that is really changing the face of education,” said Adrienne Robinson of Makerspace, a nationally renowned STEAM-based (science, technology , engineering, art and math) initiative that focuses on design, invention, creativity and critical thinking by melding DIY (do-it-yourself) methods with modern technology.
Robinson, a Bi-Cultural middle school teacher, and Beth Fritz, who teaches third grade, teamed up to bring Makerspace to Bi-Cultural in February 2016. Today, the Stamford day school is one of only a handful of Connecticut schools to foster student creativity through the Makespace program.
Simply put, said Robinson, “The idea is to use things to create things. When you go into a library you are inspired to read; when you go into Makerspace you are inspired to create.”
The space wasn’t always so inspirational. Once an oversized, unadorned storage room, Robinson and Fritz took four months to cleverly reconfigure the space into a series of engaging work areas, each one devoted to a distinct method of tinkering—from a full-scale Lego wall to a pegboard equipped with traditional tools such as hammers and screwdrivers to a corner for woodworking to a bank of sewing machines and quilting supplies. In addition to tools and building materials, the lab features a 3D printer attached to a stand-alone PC loaded with the most current 3D software.
Now, said computer teacher Sarah Hochman, “Students love learning in MakerSpace. They delve into the activity which is based on curricular activities from the classroom. Their problem solving skills really come through. They don’t even realize how much they’re learning about the subject matter and all the skills covered in STEAM.”
Other Bi-Cultural faculty give Makerspace an A+ as well—and not only because of its effectiveness in developing STEAM skills.
“Students are given a problem to solve using materials in the Makerspace. However, first they are learning to plan a design before they create,” noted Fritz. “The students are learning an important lesson when they have to improve on their original design. These higher- level thinking and reasoning skills are an important lifelong skill.”
The development of critical life skills is central to the Makerspace experience for younger students as well, says second grade teacher Kathryn Danner.
“The Makerspace is not just about STEAM and encouraging my class to be creative. It is a safe environment where my students learn important life skills. They have been learning how to listen to each other’s ideas and opinions, how to cooperate and collaborate with each other, and how to persevere when faced with a challenge,” she said, acknowledging her own enthusiasm. “My students love working in the Makerspace—and just as much as they love being in there to work on ‘cool’ projects, I love bringing them!”
This spring, students will have the opportunity to showcase the fruits of their creative labor at Bi-Cultural’s first-ever Makerspace Fair. Open to students, parents and invited guests, the May 18 fair will include an exhibit by the students of the Jewish High School of Connecticut. Several Connecticut organizations will also participate in the fair, including Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum, the University of Connecticut, Home Depot and STEMfems, a program of the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame that encourages young girls to pursue studies in science, engineering and medicine. Inspired by their forward-thinking children, Bi-Cultural parents are also planning a side competition featuring their own ‘grown-up’ inventions.
Perhaps, though, the real proof of Makerspace’s success lies not in the accolades of teachers, but in the actions of students.
“You can see it in the way they approach problem-solving. They’re not afraid; they don’t run away. You can even see it in the way they interact at recess. It’s a whole different culture,” said Robinson.
“There are even a few students who have now built mini Makerspaces in their homes,” she added.