Coding and Makerspace could not have been further out of my comfort zone more, especially as a topic to present on in a grad class.  On the list of topics provided, it was definitively my last choice.  It became what we were “stuck” with.  This was my initial reaction to this topic choice.  However, it could not have been a better experience for me.  I was grateful to have two excellent partners to tackle this topic.  Although I was familiar with both initiatives, I really did not have a great grasp of what it was really about.  More importantly, I did not comprehend the value it brought to students and in particular, some of our most vulnerable students.

My initial thought of coding was “computer programming”.  So, it was an intimidating topic for someone that has no background in this field.  I was quick to discover that coding takes on many looks.  Everything from choreographing a dance, to designing commands on paper for ozobots, apps, websites, etc.  I explored the Scratch program and I was surprised how user friendly it was.  Scratch allows users to program interactive stories, games, and animations and share these to a community. Scratch supports student learning with creativity, logical thinking, and problem solving.  It was becoming apparent to me how students would be engaged with this and how some students would absolutely excel with this opportunity.  I also considered some of the drawbacks – tech availability, classroom management issues, perception that it is not necessary or in curriculum, and some teachers do not like to let go of the control of the task (less structured).

Makerspace was an entirely different method of teaching.  Coding could occur within a makerspace but makerspace was an opportunity to utilize everything from high tech devices like 3D printers, engravers, laminators, 3D scanners, wood burning pens, etc to low or no tech lessons for our students.  This could include pumpkin carving at Halloween, gingerbread houses at Christmas, making dolls houses, dioramas out of shoeboxes, creating board games, domino challenges, and countless other creative outlets for students.  The philosophy was for it to be more student driven than teacher driven.  It is hands-on and the learning is through play/design/fun/tinkering.  The environment is generally flexible and it could be in a designated makerspace area within the school.  This often is located in the library of a school.  However, it sometimes might be in a multi-purpose room or spare classroom within a school.  There have been a handful of teachers that I have taught with that use the makerspace philosophy in their practice.  They integrate it into art education, math and science.

There are always students that struggle with school and they seem bored/unmotivated.  In my experience, everyone has talents and different things bring those talents out.  I recall a grade 8 student at my previous school who was always in my office.  He was a bright student but he did not care to exert any work into his schooling.  One day while in my office for misbehaving – a package arrived at the school.  I had ordered some benches for the hallways for students to read on.  I started to assemble these benches and I asked him for help.  Within moments, I witnessed something that has changed my mindset as an educator.  This student not only took the lead with the assembling of these benches – he was on task, excited to help out and suddenly had a sense of self worth.  From that moment on, we changed how schooling looked for this student and others similar to him in the school.  He needed hands-on tasks like the one described.  He went on to Miller Comprehensive High School and he enrolled in as many hands-on classes that he possibly could (carpentry, welding, mechanics, etc.).  He is in grade 12 now and he will be a valuable  member of society.  It is safe to say he will be a skilled tradesperson.

machine, drink, retro work

Photo by caouic on Pixabay

I look forward to encouraging all teachers – regardless of grade level – to utilize the many resources within our school resource centre, online websites and apps, tinker tubs through our school division, kits and supports from saskcode.ca, and to take the risk of attending PD sessions at Institute to better understand the potential of such a great learning experience for our students.  I now need to dust off the 3D printer we purchased a few years ago and inspire some teachers/students to bring it to life.

We have a Christmas concert in three weeks – I need to brainstorm some makerspace activities for our students.  These could include creating backdrops for the stage, designing programs to hand out as audience members arrive, informative posters to promote the concert, etc.  Any other ideas of what we could do to utilize our students for that evening??