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DIY Takes Center Stage As STEPS Adds Maker Space

Call it the intersection of DIY and STEAM. For students at St. Thomas Episcopal Parish School, a small corner of their library saw a drastic change over the summer as the former “reading corner” became a place of creativity and innovation in the form of a maker space.

“Maker spaces are dynamic learning environments that encourage and promote collaboration, creativity, and creative thinking,” says Head of School Lillian Issa. “They provide activities that incorporate 21st century skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. In the maker space, students solve problems, design solutions, and prototype using hands-on materials such as crafts, electronics, 3D printers, 3D modeling, coding, laser cutters, and robotics.”

The space, overseen by Instruction Facilitator for Tech and Innovation, Will Noble, was an idea floated by the school for the past decade, but pushed into action via the arrival of Issa, who had seen the benefits of the Space at her previous campus, New York’s Marymount School. “”Maker spaces are cauldrons of infinite play, passion, and possibilities,” said Issa. “They encourage an innovative mindset, so essential for our future, by allowing children to seek answers to problems in creative and collaborative ways. They force children to take risks and make mistakes, thereby building important qualities like persistence, empathy, and grit.”

Even the makeover took a creative turn, with Noble explaining that the bookshelves that were removed to “open up the space and bring in natural light” were repurposed into work tables. Now that the space is up and running, Noble welcomes students from grades K-5 every day for scheduled periods of learning. For fifth graders, learning about metrics means building a miniature golf course. “They have to make metrics, figure out volume metrics; they have to provide all the calculations before they build it and then show their measurements,” says Noble. “ It becomes an engineering challenge as well.”

Other class projects include a Halloween float challenge for fourth graders that uses littleBits electronic building blocks, and coding classes and digital learning for younger students. “We try to give them a lot of open-ended questions, not necessarily one solution. It gets them to question their thinking,” says Noble, who works closely with Librarian Addy Gonzalez and Tech Ed Specialist Maritza Fernandez on programs. “It’s not always what’s right or wrong; it gives them an opportunity to fail and to use that as a positive. We want to help the kids create, invent and innovate.”

So far the kids are all in. “The maker space is great because it is a room full of kids making cool stuff with all kinds of materials,” said 3rd grader Maximus Taylor. “I especially love the 3-D printer. I also like to learn when I play games.”

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