“I’ve always lived by the philosophy that students should be co-creators of technology rather than just consumers of it.”
A few years back an opportunity for my school, Emmaus Christian College, presented itself at the 2016 EduTECH Conference in Brisbane. There was a station set up there that had several students working together on different technical projects, and I was immediately thrust into the idea of Makerspaces and the value that they can bring to the education sector.
A Makerspace is essentially a platform for students to build, re-purpose or to fix something. It is part of a DIY movement that is growing rapidly in the education community, particularly among university students.
At the conference setup, students had either brought in some of their finished projects or were actively working on new projects for the conference attendees to view. We were able to walk around the space, watch the projects come together and ask questions, and I could see that this would be a powerful platform for my school and the greater education sector.
Fortunately, thanks to the incredible work of my peers, we already had a similar project that was underway in our school. It was a robotics and electronics interest group which was limited to Year 10 students at the time, and we had almost 10 regular attendees. The first thing that was clear to me was that we needed to expand the project to include more middle school students to bring in more interest and take on more collaborative projects.
As a Makerspace is very much an experimental platform, we wanted to bring in as many ideas as possible across multiple faculties. The idea was to focus on new technologies and ideas captured from the conferences and apply them in a secondary-school context within Emmaus Christian College.
Now, our Makerspace is an open and collaborative workshop. Students from multiple faculties and cohorts are able to work alongside teachers to understand and create projects that bridge the gap between existing technologies, understanding how they work and furthering the use and application. Importantly, other teachers who are not immediately involved in the Makerspace are taking interest in how the technical capabilities and the maker “can-do” spirit may influence and transcend our mainstream curriculum.
One of the platforms that we have been encouraging our students to explore was ARDUINO, which is a readily programmable microchip that a lot of people online have been developing creative uses for. One of our students suggested a particularly interesting project that we are now working on, a classroom air quality monitor.
This project is still very much ongoing, and we’re working through a lot of the technical challenges in the engineering and programming of the devices. We’re currently elbow deep in building a box that can read carbon dioxide levels in a space and communicate those levels using LED lights, as well as measure temperature.
Even just creating the enclosure has come with some challenges such as the impact of the distance between the different components when wiring them together, or to how many sensors we will need while making sure they all fit in the space, but the most important thing is that we’ve created this amazing shared learning experience. It has brought students and teachers together and helped us learn from each other. We also have a better understanding of how the technology that we use every day and take for granted actually works.
A few weeks ago, our Makerspace won one of the six NGS Super Scholarship Awards, giving us an extra
$5000 to invest in expanding the facility. For context, the scholarships are awarded annually, across the nation, offering an opportunity for members of NGS Super working in independent education to undertake professional development, a project or an initiative. I submitted the Makerspace we were already growing, and, to our delight, our project was chosen.
The awards have been growing significantly year on year, so all the students and teachers involved in our makerspace are very thankful for the opportunity that NGS Super has given us to continue developing and experimenting with technology. We are currently running the facility on a co- contributed model where the school supplies part of the funding for the project and the caretakers of the participating students help meet some of the costs, so the scholarship is a huge opportunity to expand our facility.
That said, if you are looking to start a discussion around makerspaces or even implementing something similar in your school, you don’t need to start out with a large-scale or expensive project.
We were able to get the group going with 10 enthusiastic students and some guitar kits, including pedals, printed circuit boards, affordable electronic components and old stereos. The Makerspace is the concept, but you can grow it in whatever way works for your school or environment, as long as the goal is to encourage people to learn and create together.
One of the most important features of our facility was to allow the students to propose what they wanted to do and then refine it from there, so don’t be afraid to start with something small that you can build on over time. Even if it is as simple as origami folding, the idea can grow in exciting and unexpected directions.
If you get the culture of your facility right and encourage the students not to be afraid to put their ideas forward, or to try and make sense of something they have never seen before, then students and teachers will continue to grow and strengthen our education sector.