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Makerspace: Learning in the 21st century

This is not your old-fashioned library. Soon after fourth-grader Cella Nath looks up from her just-completed circuit, which is singing "Happy Birthday," her classmate Paige VanderHeiden sends a small, plastic fan flying through the air. Across th...

Students Breanna Adams, left, and Alexandra Stange, right, play with Spheros, remote-controlled robotic balls, on March 10 in the Makerspace area at L.B. Williams Elementary in Mitchell. (Sarah Barclay/Republic)
Students Breanna Adams, left, and Alexandra Stange, right, play with Spheros, remote-controlled robotic balls, on March 10 in the Makerspace area at L.B. Williams Elementary in Mitchell. (Sarah Barclay/Republic)

This is not your old-fashioned library.

Soon after fourth-grader Cella Nath looks up from her just-completed circuit, which is singing "Happy Birthday," her classmate Paige VanderHeiden sends a small, plastic fan flying through the air. Across the room, fifth-graders A.J. Siemsen and Chase Eitemiller crash two app-controlled robotic balls into each other in a game of tag.

"You're it," Siemsen calls.

This is what a 21st century library looks like.

Housed in the L.B. Williams Elementary School library, this new academic playground, called a Makerspace, is a designated area for exploration and innovation, according to L.B. Williams Principal Becky Roth, and it's a glimpse of the future.

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"It will never replace books, in what we do in the library, but yet it will enhance what experience the kids have in the library," Roth said. "And that's what we're really proud of, how it's moving us into the 21st century, and our libraries look different now in the 21st century."

In November, L.B. Williams received a $2,000 grant from the Mitchell Area Charitable Foundation to create a Makerspace area in the L.B. Williams library. The space was ready in January, and is often bustling with activity as students of all ages utilize the new space.

The Makerspace at L.B. Williams includes a station for Legos, one for Snap Circuits, an origami (the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes) corner, a homemade "Lite-Brite" board (painted peg board outfitted with brightly colored golf tees) and an open space for the Spheros, remote-controlled robotic balls.

They provide a blend of recreation and integration of the often-coveted science, technology, engineering and mathematics subject areas into students' daily activities, Roth said.

"It's really bringing STEM education into our libraries and into our schools more," Roth said.

Roth praised L.B. Williams Librarian Jennifer Brewster for embracing the addition to the library, which rotates different classes through based on power block schedules and availability.

It's still a fully functional library, Brewster noted, and she also looks for ways to incorporate different relevant books into the Makerspace stations.

"I'm excited for them to have this opportunity," Brewster said.

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Teaching 21st-century skills

Called the "makers," students are given the mantra, "Make something that does something." And they do.

"We really feel like we can do, make, whatever we want," Siemsen said. "It's like a safe place to share your ideas, basically."

Nath, 10, said she loves the Lego Challenge area and Snap Circuits. VanderHeiden, also 10, said her favorite station is Snap Circuits, which teaches students how electrical circuits work through hands-on practice.

At the Snap Circuits station, VanderHeiden and Nath choose different cards with patterns and codes, then follow the instructions to create the circuit pictured. Powered by batteries, once completed, some of the circuits turn on lamps, others turn on fans (which occasionally fly into air; students wear goggles as a safety precaution) and others play music, like "Happy Birthday."

"I like that you really get to explore and problem solve," VanderHeiden said. "If you can't get the light bulb to light up, you can think of different ways to make it light up. If it's a not a complete circuit, then it wouldn't light up."

Eitemiller and Siemsen were also enthusiastic about the Snap Circuits, but most of their attention during a recent interview was focused on the Spheros. The robotic balls are controlled via an iPad app, which both 11-year-olds are deft at maneuvering. Eventually, Roth said the students will learn how to code the Spheros for different things, like navigating an obstacle course. Now, using the tablet, students can make the Sphero spin, change colors, jump-even breakdance.

"The other day I saw it doing the 'Hokey Pokey' on one of them," Brewster said with a laugh. "So it went in, it went out, and it shook all about."

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There are also different "missions" students can undertake, Eitemiller said, such as drive for 40 yards or crash into something 22 times.

"It's a really fun thing to do. Since I can't drive a car, this is my fun to drive," Eitemiller said.

Roth said there's more to it than just fun and games, though.

"Even though the activities look kind of for fun, per se, they're really using those 21st-century skills to problem solve, to run the programs, to design different things when they're working through the different stations in the library," Roth said. "It's more of the hands-on learning."

In a glass case, Roth pointed out other kits that can be switched out with other stations at some point. All of the items, she said, give students a chance to explore, learn, be creative and fail-the concept of "productive struggle," she said.

"We do a lot of problem-based learning at our school, which this fits really well into the problem-based learning strategies that the majority of our teachers have learned over the years, too," Roth said. "We're trying to bring those types of experiences, real-life experiences, where they're hands-on and they can actually work together."

L.B. Williams is still in the exploration stage with Makerspace and its possibilities, Roth said, but there is a committee working on new ways to "amp up" the spaces next year and beyond, and to link the stations and projects to the students' academic curriculum. Roth said she also is seeking out additional grants funds to add to the offerings, and hopes to eventually have mobile Makerspace carts for students to check out.

Students said in addition to the hands-on learning, Makerspace also gives a "brain break" from their regular classes, which helps them re-focus when they re-enter the classroom.

"After you've had a little bit of a break, then it's a lot easier just to go continue your next subject," Eitemiller said. "It's a big privilege that we have here. This is something that you can look forward to."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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