Makerspace Spotlight: Decatur Blue Academy

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Makerspace Spotlight: Decatur Blue Academy

As the STEAM teacher at Blue Academy, planning effective, hands on, and unique lessons for 750 1st-6th graders can be a hefty task. There are endless amounts of incredible resources, project ideas, and kits in the world that all help achieve the same goal - STEAM integration in education. However, my goal this past year and in the next school year is to implement more opportunities for students to not only get a variety of STEAM project based learning opportunities, but for them to serve a deeper purpose in exposing them to new skills, new hobbies, new careers, and ultimately, new personal potential. As I reflect on my past year and plan for the next, I can’t help but reflect and suggest 1st Maker Space as classroom essentials for teaching students the 21st century skills they need with STEAM education.

After a very positive experience working with Mary and Kim, I can tell by their genuine and ambitious manor that the teamwork in 1st Maker Space would be nothing but valuable and beneficial to any school. 

1st Maker Space has a multitude of resources and ideas from the 3D printer to individualized packs that are intended for specific grade level topics. I think that each activity or resource could be adapted to fit any grade level, but I have to speak on the exceptional ones I was lucky enough to integrate in my STEAM classroom.

The first kit I implemented was the Toy Design Workshop with my 3rd grade class. I was so impressed with how this kit provided so much room for growth, creativity, and STEAM skills to a group I was very hesitant to try it with. My 3rd graders come with a very wide range of abilities and backgrounds but they all have incredible ideas when they have the resources to express them. 1st Maker Space provided that. The kit gives you more than enough supplies and makes it very easy for students to follow step by step instructions. As someone who is passionate about STEAM education being a tool to have kids create their own unique projects, instead of carbon copies, I was also impressed by the room it allowed for students to individualize their designs. They all start with the same steps to create their base vehicle, but eventually start to make it their own as they get to the crafting and marketing phase. One thing I did not expect to be teaching was proper and meaningful use of building tools such as hammers, pliers, screws, and more. However, I am so glad that those tool kits and that lesson is tied in with the Toy Design Process because it was a very empowering moment for students who had never gotten that level of responsibility before. It does take time, but for all that the students learned personally and academically, I believe it was completely worth it. Overall, my 3rd grade students loved the Toy Design workshop and still talk about it today. They got to create it with their groups, make a digital flier promoting their toy, and showcased their projects at our school STEAM night.  

I took another plunge and brought Paper Circuits into my 1st and 2nd grade classrooms. While I would probably recommend this activity for older grades, it was still one of my 1st and 2nd graders’ favorite activities in my class. I did find myself having to do more prep work in pulling lessons or resources to teach the topic of electricity at that level to students, but after relating it to common appliances and their cords, students began to pick up. Not only do the LED lights glow, but so do the students’ eyes when they see their paper creation get the light bulbs of their choice added to light up at the connection of their battery. It was also an unexpected bonus to teach concepts of electrical connection during some trouble shooting phases. Even with this being an activity where there is more teacher prep work than others due to the grade level, it was still a wonderful time of problem solving, creativity, scientific inquiry, and design. 

One of my favorite resources for any grade level, but specifically grades 3 and up, is the Bloxels kit. I was completely new to this application at first, but as I expected, just saying, “We are going to be making video games,” hooked my students enough right away to alleviate any fear. Part of the beauty of teaching STEAM is pushing past the fear of not knowing everything as the teacher, and becoming a facilitator because you get to explore, learn, and create with your students. I was first impressed by the variety of ways it can be used in any subject area. Bloxels provides you with a booklet that gives you the topic suggestion and lesson layout depending on your subject area. This gave me an opportunity to collaborate with what students were working on in their regular social studies and science classes. I used the suggested lesson where students are challenged to recreate an ecosystem and design a video game where a character has to survive. They used their knowledge of the most basic ecosystems and thought about what obstacles, enemies, resources, and environments would come into play. This is specifically a great activity if you want to incorporate more digital art. I started by giving students graph paper to color out their designs in bloxels shapes for practice. Then, it made creating it on the application easier because they had a plan. Each color block as a meaning in how it contributes to the game - whether that be terrain to run on, an enemy to avoid, or even story blocks. That also made for a great ELA and writing opportunity. Overall, my 5th graders were very engaged and excited to create their games, make it look the best, and then share it to the class library. 

I spent a lot of time in the beginning of the school year teaching my 4th grade students about the various forms of energy - wrapping up with electrical. In the Spring, I brought the Bristlebots Classroom Kit and and was pleasantly surprised at how engaged and excited my students were about this moving toothbrush top. Due to time constraints, I ended up modifying a lot of the suggested lesson plan and led my students through building their bot step by step. The learning came in the modification of their bot. They had to think of if they would use one or two pipe cleaners, apply fine motor skills in manipulating the pipe cleaners to guide the bot the right way, learn what side of the battery needed to touch which wire to power up, and apply knowledge in physics to determine how they would guide their bot through a made they created for it. Despite the modifications, students loved creating these and definitely understood the topic of electrical energy. 

The Solar Cockroaches were the perfect addition to our 6th grade classroom after grueling testing weeks. We started by watching some videos and talking about the science behind solar panels. Even with those topics being somewhat advanced, the general understanding was there. Then, we problem solved as our goal was to create a solar bug but apply what we knew about electrical circuits to get the energy from the solar panel to transfer to the miniature motor. I purposely had my 6th graders help some of my 1st graders with the Paper Circuits unit a few weeks prior because they would get hands on experience seeing how conductors and circuits work together. Once again, I had a moment I did not expect to teach (or learn myself) when I was soldering each motor to the panel. This did not take long and Kim was generous enough to let me use solder irons he had on hand. I used this as a learning opportunity with my students and we discussed why we had to use solder and not just hot glue. Even my most challenging students were entertained by this tiny bug and they loved showing what they learned by taking videos of their bug working and explaining all the parts. 

Overall, I would recommend 1st Maker Space to any school district or school whole-heartedly. As a STEAM teacher, I am always cautious to not invest in resources or kits that do not really give my students a wide range of skill building opportunities or exposure to various careers. I have found that Kim and Mary do an amazing job in making sure all of their products are meaningful, creative, cross-curricular, and engaging. Any team that works towards the exposure of a modernized, creative, and opportune world for our youth is a team I want to work with and I confidently plan to continue this partnership in the future. 

Yours in Education,

Rebecca Bersani

STEAM Teacher at Blue Academy in MSD of Decatur Township

@MsBersani

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