Make space for a Makerspace

East Wemyss Primary School won the 2018 Rolls-Royce Science Prize for its use of Makerspaces. Teacher Tracey Ellicott talks us through their journey

The Makerspace seed was sown after visiting Northrop Grumman’s FabLab in Los Angeles. I set out to create our own scaled-down version in the old public library building in the school grounds.

My intention was to use all available resources to establish a space in which children could lead their own learning through exploration, creativity and tinkering. I set up areas linked to different aspects of STEM to encourage children to undertake different aspects of making in the hope that these areas would merge in time. We had a Slime Lab, Woody’s World, Sparky’s Bits Bar, Prototype Place, Designers’ Den, Take-Apart Tech Station, a Lego Wall and an interactive Smartboard for virtual making.

Children, parents and staff were initially introduced to the space through Family Friday sessions. The Makerspace was open every lunchtime for one or two named classes to voluntarily attend. The sessions were consistently popular and in our second year, the 50-minute sessions were incorporated into the weekly curriculum under the umbrella of STEM.

The children are familiar with the available resources and autonomous nature of the sessions. They are encouraged to take things apart to discover how they work and what’s inside. They might find something which sparks an idea and the object gets incorporated into a new creation. All the children have been introduced to online 3D design through Tinkercad, with the intention of 3D printing their designs once we’ve learned to slice them first.

Underpinning the philosophy behind Makerspaces, the idea is to drip-feed new technologies into the arena to support and extend the creative possibilities. We have introduced a virtual learning element through access to Minecraft-type games.

Engineering engagement

We have invested in Lego Mindstorms robotics and Lego WeDo 2.0 building sets. Both of these can be programmed using block-coding elements to introduce motion, colour changes and sound. Using funding from winning the Rolls-Royce Science Prize, we have purchased a 3D printer too.

Learners engage with the Engineering Design Process as they plan their ideas and organise suitable resources. They produce a prototype or first model, improving the design and solving problems encountered along the way in an iterative design process. They learn from their mistakes and from each successive build about what is achievable, developing their approach to new challenges whilst extending their knowledge. They build resilience, collaborate to take projects forwards and share skills in the process.

Children have the opportunity to build upon valuable experiences acquired in the nursery environment, and learn to:

  • develop purpose when using tools and learn to manage associated risks
  • draw upon the extensive range of skills to measure resources when constructing models
  • apply their reading skills when following a sequence of steps or scanning for information
  • develop their sense of scale and proportion through drawing their designs
  • negotiate with team members and share decisions necessary to drive projects towards their conclusion
  • evaluate the usefulness of a product, its aesthetic qualities and the process undertaken to achieve the outcome
  • Providing children and families with opportunities to explore and create or to share a workshop experience together supports the building of family science capital, thus increasing the likelihood of children pursuing science as a possible career path and helping them to become scientifically literate citizens in society.

I want a Makerspace! Where do I start?

Start small: in a box or on a table in the classroom. Begin with what you already have: cardboard, masking tape, hot glue guns. Request donations of tools and construction materials: once people begin to understand the idea behind it, all sorts of materials will arrive on your doorstep to inspire the children with creative ideas.

Tap in to the talents of your school community: what skills do the parents have and are they willing to share these through informal workshops or demonstrations? Start with the learners themselves. They will guide the evolution of your Makerspace or Tinkering Table. As their experience and ambition grow, so too will the level of the projects undertaken. There are no hard and fast rules: your Makerspace will be unique to your setting.

A Rolls-Royce of a Makerspace

Remarkably, our Makerspace helped us win the Rolls-Royce Science Prize 2018. From formulating an action plan when attending a course at SSERC, we were selected as one of 60 merit award winners, securing £1,000 initially to invest in resources to take the plan forward.

The next phase required a detailed breakdown of how the project would be further developed. We were delighted to be chosen as one of six national finalists, receiving a further £5,000 funding to support our bid for the Rolls-Royce Science Prize.

A team comprised of staff and parent members was selected on the basis of their roles and skills to put the forward plan into action. We were paired with a mentor from Rolls-Royce to liaise with over project deadlines and to use as a sounding board. He created a spreadsheet mapping out all the deadlines, sequencing phases of our plan to provide a framework for the team.

Lots of video footage was recorded to provide evidence of what the children were doing and monthly diary entries had to be submitted and shared via the school website. At the end of the session, a storyboard had to be submitted along with chosen video footage. A financial report was written documenting how the funds had been deployed and a final evaluation of our journey was composed by the team.

The process was quite intense and we were relieved to complete it, but we were happy to have taken part and content in the knowledge that we’d worked hard to achieve our aims, gathering a wealth of knowledge in the process. We were shocked beyond belief when East Wemyss Primary School was announced as the winners of the Rolls-Royce Science Prize 2018. It wasn’t until the following day that we acknowledged that we would receive a further £10,000 in prize money. We returned to school to a rapturous reception from the children.

Going underground

Bringing us back to the present day, our Makerspace building has recently been acquired by the council for the purpose of all-year-round nursery provision. However, a plan is in motion to rehouse the Makerspace facility in a disused space below the school. ‘Makerspace Downunder’ is under development!

If you are interested in discovering more about establishing a Makerspace in your setting, I would highly recommend the book Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace in your School by Laura Fleming.

This blog started life as an article in our primary magazine, which you can find online here.

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