Making Elementary School Students into Makers

Before launching the school makerspaces, Professor Kim worked in Chicago to develop similar programs with specific adult populations. That work led him to believe that episodic interactions would not be as impactful as sustained exposure in schools. In particular, IN-MaC, Professor Kim, Professor Strimmel and other collaborators are developing in-school maker spaces to get in front of students before the 4th grade when research suggests career perceptions are first formed.

Managing Director of IN-MaC Michael Ursem says, “The goal at Burnett Creek was to test combinations of technologies and environments to support educators and introduce tinkering and making during formative early years.”

Kim Pinto, an educator of high-ability second and third graders at Burnett Creek and an early adopter of the school’s makerspace says, “the students go in with a project to tackle, but I make it completely open-ended. This forces them to think creatively and often outside of their comfort zone.”

Ursem adds that strong educators like Pinto and administrative support from Burnett Creek Principal Matt Ridenour make the ultimate difference. Currently, there is no curriculum that a teacher can utilize to support visiting the school’s makerspace. Teachers can elect if, how frequently and what to do within the makerspace.

“We are working to develop curriculum based on Indiana standards with the help of educators like Mrs. Pinto who understand the opportunity offered by the space,” says Ursem.

IN-MaC launched a makerspace at a middle school and high school in Indiana as well with the intent of growing similar programs across the state. IN-MaC compliments these makerspaces with programs to train educators in advanced manufacturing techniques and efforts like “MakerMinded” (sponsored by LIFT) that reinforce learning pathways to develop technical and design literacy and competencies.

For now, students from Burnett Creek are excited about the opportunities they have to experience the makerspace. On a recent visit, the Conexus Indiana team saw Mrs. Pinto’s class of high-ability second and third graders in their home classroom and in the makerspace. Before heading down to the space, students were discussing what tasks they wanted their robots to perform. Student suggestions ranged from finger monkeys and other games to cartoon and movie-making.

Two of Pinto’s students, Reed and Alexis, say that the makerspace is one of their favorite places in school. Reed said he made a guitar robot with buttons that connect to a computer that generates piano noises in the makerspace. Alexis says that the Sphero robots “the ones that you can control to go around and up a track and you can make with different colors” are her favorite part of the space.

The space includes a number of different areas for students to design and learn, including areas for art, 3-D printing, robotics, Legos and more.

“Burnett Creek is the ideal partner for us so that we can perfect the in-school makerspace model and create an effective, scalable program for other schools and districts to consider,” says Ursem. “Our goal is to expose more students to this type of space to build the next generation of manufacturing talent to sustain and grow Indiana’s competitive advantage.”