A Fun Space to Create

Designing a moving vehicle or fashioning a lock for a backpack seem to be tasks for adults, right? Well, not necessarily. Children can be the masterminds of these projects and more when they enter the Makerspace Lab at Jerabek Elementary School.

Terra Norine, STEM Committee chair and Family Faculty Organization (FFO) president, explains a Makerspace Lab. “It’s a space where kids can come in and create, innovate, have access to an array of technology in engineering, digital, and media,” Terra says. “We do a lot of makerspace lessons, which includes really giving them a challenge.”

While there is some structure to the challenges, the children have the opportunity to let their creativity run wild in two different classrooms that aim for maximum comfort. Terra says the lab needs to inspire children, and, in order to do so, a lot of attention was paid to how the room was set up. There’s an array of colors, both soft seating and hard seating, tall and small chairs, rugs, and tables.

Kelly Melancon, Jerabek’s FFO past president, says the arrangement of the room itself has an effect on the students’ learning. “I’ve watched the classes come in here and it’s a totally different vibe,” Kelly says. “When they’re sitting at their desks, they’re all in rows. But here they lay on the carpet, they’re lounging, they pair up in a comfortable way for them, so that way they’re more free to have fun with the learning.”

That learning centers around a science, technology, engineering, and math— STEM—curriculum. The Makerspace Lab came to fruition at Jerabek at the start of the 2107–2018 school year. Currently, 3rd grade teachers and students are pioneering the use of the room. The students use Piper Computers, which are essentially a build-your-own computer. They come in small wooden boxes, and the children receive blueprints to build the computer while learning circuitry and code.

Curriculum is being built for the other grades and, it is hoped that by the upcoming school year, all grade levels will be able to work in the lab. Each grade-level curriculum will build upon the previous, so that by the 5th grade, students will have knowledge on robotics, circuitry, coding, and engineering.

Through the innovation and creativity that goes on in the lab, Terra believes children are given a truly real-world setting. “If we can give experience to our children around creating business ventures and having more autonomy and working in groups and collaborating, I just feel like we are going to set them up the right way because that kind of is the real world.”

The difference between this lab and a traditional classroom, Terra says, is that there are no examples for kids to memorize and replicate. “This allows them the freedom to not be good at something and be okay with that and understand they’re going to create a design and they’re going to fail many times. We are not going to grade them on what they achieved. We are going to grade them on their process and how they tried to achieve and the steps they took to get there.”

She says the lab also allows children the chance to find their niche, giving them confidence as they enter middle school. Terra and Kelly both say that even if students don’t particularly enjoy robotics or science, they still love coming into the lab. It gives children autonomy while they learn collaboration skills, putting a plan together, and learning how to fail. Kelly enjoys seeing the impact the lab has had on her own children.

“It’s working through all the different personalities, which is so much more than just working on a robot. Watching them was very exciting as a parent, to see that growth,” Kelly said.

While the Makerspace Lab began less than a year ago at Jerabek, Terra has goals for its future. For one, she hopes to implement a green screen so kids who like public speaking or the media can practice those skills in a creative environment.

And she’d like to see labs such as these in middle and high schools, so children can continue their learning development in this space. Because at the end of the day the children are learning more than just STEM. “The dynamics of what the kids are learning in these labs is way beyond robotics and engineering. It’s way beyond.”

Cassie Amundson