One of the areas that Catherine O’Brien and Patrick Howard use to organize the attributes of Living Schools are the pedagogical practices that these schools use. They are different from a teacher-centered classroom practice in that they are influenced by a number of different factors including, but not limited to: “a collaborative processes and working as teams to grow individually and collectively, a commitment to inquiry based strategies and actions to affect real world change, and the development of creativity and creating a climate for risk taking and student agency” (O’Brien & Howard, 2016). Makerspaces and Instant Challenges hit a lot of these attributes!
By definition, “a makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials” (Rendina, 2015). They are a way to inspire students to take on challenges and create! I first heard about makerspaces while following a twitter hashtag (#TMChat) which is a weekly opportunity for teachers to hear about what is happening in the field of education. Who knew twitter could be so educational and provide such authentic professional development?
Makerspaces at their core are a collaborative learning environment where students can come and share materials to create and learn. Many have assigned tasks that students can pick from and then create something that fulfills the requirements of that challenge. Makerspaces allow for students to take risks and collaborate with their peers. Students learn to accept failure as their makerspace creations may not always be successful but they also learn to be resilient and try again. Makerspaces are also inclusive. All students are makers; be they: artists, crafters, knitters, builders, programmers, engineers, woodworkers, tinkerers, inventors, bakers, or graphic designers. Makerspaces can include a variety of tools and materials and all are welcome to make!
I have started the process of creating mobile makerspaces that will be shared with the primary classrooms at Robertson School and have invited the Inquiry Support Teacher at our school to join me. We are repurposing some of the lego that was used for the friendship club last year for a lego creation station and asking parents for donations of items for the other makerspaces.
The lego challenge cards can be found here.
The makerspace pack that we purchased can be found here.
Instant challenges are another way to engage students in risk taking and creative collaboration. Our Inquiry Support Teacher offered to come in and lead some instant challenges with my class and I was really excited about this opportunity. My students were engaged in problem solving, they were being creative, and working together! Instant challenges are an easy way to activate student learning and thinking about multiple ideas. There are instant challenges that target different types of thinking whether you’re looking for performace-based or task-based problems there are many different libraries of challenges for students! Many educators have done the marshmallow challenge with their students (where you give students a set number of marshmallows and spaghetti and have them make the tallest structure) but below are some links of different challenges you can try with your class! Some are drama activities where students have to work together to come up with a story to fit the challenge requirements and some involve students’ in building an item that meets a particular purpose.
I picked this topic because after completing the JCSH (Joint Consortium for School Health) survey I was really struck by the reccomendation that to move our school forward we needed to consider the intentional design and creation of spaces that would improve inclusivity. Changing the space to be more inclusive means changing attitudes around inclusion. Our school is currently on a 3 year inclusion plan and I think one of the biggest hurdles with this plan is demonstrating to all staff that all students can be doing the same task but at their level in a practical hands on way. Creating makerspaces that teachers can use in their classroom and starting instant challenges in each of the classrooms is an excellent way for students to see themselves as makers and creators and both staff and students to see everyone involved and contributing to a learning activity.
I feel like this project required me to be a problem solver and figure out how I can utilize the resources that are available to me to put something into action that will have an impact on my school. I repurposed lego from the club I ran last year and enlisted the help of parents and community members by asking them to donate supplies. If you are passionate about getting something started it can happen!
This project started as a healthy schools plan but quickly evolved into a Living Schools project as I looked at the information that Professor O’Brien emailed out as I saw a lot of potential at Robertson to put many of those attributes into action and change the climate of the school to one with greater focus on collaboration, inquiry, and creativity.
I feel like this inquiry project was a huge success because I can already see the change that it is starting in my hallway!