Makerspaces and Student Wellbeing
When students engage in the many activities and opportunities provided in a Makerspace, they relax and have fun. It is non-threatening, no testing or grading! It’s a place where students can fulfil their own desire to give things a go. Failing becomes part of the fun. To solve problems and challenges when creating and trying to make things work gives children confidence to succeed. Students can share, collaborate and help each other in the pursuit of making.
Constructivism and Constructionism were born out of the research and life-long work of Seymour Papert, who was a student of the work of Jean Piaget. The maker movement is holistically tied to constructionism and constructivist theories. The creation of objects whether they be building a computer using Raspberry Pi, creating a video through the use of stop motion animation and green screen technology, creating AI for Chatbots or the development of programs using elements of coding in programs such as Scratch, all have at their core in constructionism.
Within a Makerspace environment, students spend time with like-minded people who enjoy exploring, discovering and trying ‘new’ things. Students build friendships and relationships with peers and facilitators in pursuit of creating and making. They have a voice in their learning and choice of ideas to work on with or without technology.
As quoted on the Australian Student Wellbeing Hub: ‘The wellbeing of children and young people is enhanced and their learning outcomes optimised when they feel connected to others and experience safe and trusting relationships. Students who feel connected, safe and secure are more likely to be active participants in their learning and to achieve better physical, emotional, social and educational outcomes.’
Makerspaces provide an environment where students can actively develop skills which will make them ‘future ready’. According to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs 2030 report, these five skills will be in increasing demand:
Of course, after coronavirus pandemic things will never the same as pre-coronavirus, more emphasis on ‘soft skills’ will be evident; such as kindness, empathy, resilience, ethical behaviour and other positive character traits. Makerspaces through their inherit nature supports the development of many of the job future skills and soft skills.
Providing a Makerspace with a welcoming and exciting environment within the classroom, library or home for children to ‘make’, explore and discover increases a child’s wellbeing. It is a space and place for students to have some ‘me time’. As quoted on Queensland Government Health site: “Taking some ‘me time’ is important. And it also helps strengthen your mental wellbeing”.
Activities in a Makerspace can be no-tech, low-tech or all-tech depending on what materials and technologies are available. Sculpturing with newspaper, drawing with led pencils, sewing by hand or machine, creating animations or movies, playing X-Box Kinect or making games, building with K’Nex or LEGO, designing cards with paper circuitry, discovering the possibilities of 3D printing with a 3D pen or 3D printer, exploring and creating AI apps, programming robots or building a Piper computer are all activities students can enjoy and develop.
An example of a fun and engaging activity in our Makerspace was the creation of an Amusement Park. STEMies is an afternoon club held in our Makerspace where the girls come to define themselves as makers, inventors, and creators. It provides a safe place for girls to give ideas ‘a go’ and to learn that it’s OK for things to not work first time. By iterating and making changes to improve designs, the girls develop a growth mindset, realising that by persevering and working hard many things can be achieved.
During home-based learning in Term 2 last year, STEMies Club members were invited to use DC motors, battery packs, wire and switches (kits were picked up from school) to design and make a ride which we could include in an amusement park. After viewing You Tube clips of card-board rides which had been motorised, the girls started making… a few Dads also got behind the idea! Girls sent photos of their progress which inspired others to give it a go!
Once school returned the rides were brought in and the girls started to put the park together, those who hadn’t made a ride started and others who had, made food stalls, toilets, entrances and exits, people, picnic tables, trees, decorations etc. The girls wrote up ideas on our shared whiteboard-wall names for the park. After voting, “STEMville Amusement Park” was founded!
The girls had plenty of challenges in designing and creating the rides, how to make a circuit with a switch, where to place the motor, how to balance the ride so it wasn’t too heavy or too light….too fast or too slow!
A child’s wellbeing is of utmost importance, even more so since encountering Covid-19 and the effect that is having around the world. A Makerspace can be one place to assist in ensuring a child is stimulated yet feels cheery, stress-free and relaxed. The joy and happiness seen in our Makerspace is evident of students’ wellbeing.
I’d like to share Zarah’s story with you. Zarah had been coming to our Junior Library Makerspace for a few years. She’s a sporty girl, reserved and sometimes insecure. She used to come in and play with ‘Goldie Blox’ and build really interesting structures. She then started to build circuits with our Snap Circuit blocks. She loved ‘motors’ and was always creating things with the motors…windmills, flying shapes with propellers.
Zarah wanted to enter the EKKA competition which involved designing a toy. She designed a Draw Bot in the shape of a crab. It had a motor, switch with battery, legs of textas to draw as it vibrated as she had off-centred the motor spindle. She won first prize!
Zarah later went and joined our First Lego League Team. Her mother told me how motivated she was and looked forward to spending time in the Makerspace! We all know how success breeds success. Zarah had strived and created an ability in solving problems and adapted her ideas as challenges were encountered.
St Aidan’s Junior School has two Makerspaces, one in the Junior Library and the other a designated area. In the library, students have mostly low-tech equipment to work with in labelled boxes. There are cards and posters displayed with ideas to inspire creation and also a video made each term to inspire the girls .
The designated Makerspace has a lot more equipment including; 3D printers, 3D pens, Pro-library of LittleBits, circuitry, tools, variety of materials, robotics, iPads, books and craft materials.
A Makerspace is a space where students’ wellbeing can be fostered and encouraged. A place to; relax, chat, make friends, share ideas with like-minded students, have their own voice, design their own learning and be self-directed learners, be adaptable, fail and succeed, try new equipment and ideas, have ‘me time’, FUN and ‘Make’.
During the National Education Summit (4 & 5 June 2021) students will share their experiences in both our Junior Library Makerspace and our Link Makerspace.
I’ll also be presenting in the Innovation in the STEM & Digital Classroom virtual event on Friday 26 February 2021 - I’d love to meet you online.