Makerspaces Build a Problem Solving Attitude

This year CCEF is raising money to bring the exciting new Makerspace program (currently in two of our elementary schools) to more CCUSD schools. Every time we visit the Makerspaces we’re struck by how this program engages and inspires our students.

At the end of one session, Makerspace teacher Eileen Pottinger asked her students to raise their hands if they had been frustrated by that day’s challenge. Seventy five percent of them held up their hands. Did it mean that she’d made the activity too difficult? Their classroom teacher didn’t think so. She made a point of telling Pottinger that the kids love going to the Makerspace.  It’s fun and exciting and they like being challenged. Watch transitional kindergarten students build flat shapes with toothpicks and clay or fifth graders construct containers that will keep raw eggs from breaking when they’re dropped from the ceiling, and you’ll see their joyful engagement and intense focus on solving the problem at hand.

Except for the youngest children (who work individually), the students work in small groups or pairs, and those partnerships are in constant conversation. Walk among fourth graders as they build and test miniature sleds (with the goal of making them go down an incline as fast as possible) and you’ll hear something like this:

“Let’s test.”

“Wait. We need to tape this.”

“Three pieces of cardboard to make it heavier.”

“How many seconds was that?”

“Zero point eight one seconds!”

“Let’s tape it diagonally. That will be more aerodynamic.”

“Sixty eight milliseconds!”

“Let’s try to make it even faster than that.”

“Let’s try it this way.”

They are learning the Engineering Design Process— planning, building, testing, discussing what they learned, rethinking and improving. They are learning to collaborate and share what they discover.

“They are listening to someone else’s ideas,” says second grade teacher Marshanne Love. “The collaboration they learn here gets them ready for the world.”

Sometimes the work is frustrating.  But more often than not the very process of thinking, planning, and then building their own original sled, zipline, pendulum, pipeline or bridge makes kids proud.

Even the kindergartners working on their individual constructions are in conversation with their classmates as they build and explore 3-dimensional shapes. Most of them start building by creating a flat shape to use as a base and building up. Fletcher started with a cube, followed by connected cubes to the left and right. Then he began to build upwards. When his construction began to come apart at the corners, Fletcher didn’t panic. He just said, “My thing is breaking apart, so I have to fix it.” And set about the job of putting his structure back together.

Makerspace teacher Jesse Sprung says: “What’s cool is that we’re teaching a process, how to think through things, how to solve problems, not just content knowledge.” Sprung strives to create lessons with “enough of a framework to bring a problem solving attitude and aptitude to the rest of their lives.”

The Makerspace pilot program is an example of the innovative approaches our schools are taking so that our children can succeed in and shape the future.