What is a MakerSpace.
I was interested in MakerSpaces because of their strong links to Foundation Stage best practise. It’s a place in school where children use sets of resources to work on projects related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic skills. Children design on their own projects or respond to challenges. I wanted to see how best practises and resources from Foundation can be extended to support learning further up school. For the Year 4 teachers, they wanted to see how our new range of iPad compatible robots can be used in their coding curriculum.
For this MakerSpace I was joined by Jason Milner. Jason is an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) from Sydney, Australia. Throughout July he visited other ADE schools across Europe and today we collaborated on this project at my school. Jason wanted to gain experience using iPad compatible robots and also observe the impact that wrapping code around the curriculum may improve the way in which children apply mathematic skills.
What did the MakerSpace look like?
We used the school hall for 2 reasons: space and the large screen projector. I provided all of the large construction materials for the groups to use: wooden bricks, plastic bricks, foam bricks, wooden planks. Metre sticks from the maths store were available as well as cones from PE and masking tape from Design and Technology.
The children were also introduced to the iPad compatible robots we have in school. We are using Dash, Dot, Sphero and Mini-Drones in our next instalment of the Computing Curriculum. As subject leader for Computing, I have seen great skills in using scratch-like blocks to code on different onscreen softwares and now our children need to apply code to the real world by taking their code and using it on an external device, such as a robot or programable toy.
Each of these robots use a free app called Tickle to program the robot using scratch-like blocks. Children also used Blockly by Make Wonder to code Dash. This free app also uses scratch-like blocks.
Our priority was to give children time to explore and solve the challenge set so explanations and class discussions were short and sharp. We introduced the children to the MakerSpace and the robots they would use first. We presented the challenge and context to them and gave them 20 minutes to work on their first part of the challenge. In a second short input, Jason taught the children how to use the apps to program the robot. We made use of Reflector 2 from Squirrels to share our iPad screen to the projector. When the children worked on this part of the task, it was useful to reflect all 5 iPad screens to the projector through Reflector 2 so we could see what each group were doing from the MakerSpace floor. This gave us a good idea when to intervene with a group. Jason’s input also applied maths skills such as measuring angles, time and distance, showing the children how to apply these skills in coding.
What challenge did we set?
The Year 4s have been studying Europe and learning capital cities as well as landmarks from each place. Each team were given a European country flag and landmark pack to place on their maze and the robot had to be programmed to visit each landmark in the maze.
Success of their challenge was measured through criteria from computing, maths and geography skills. The children had to apply maths skills around distance, time and angles in their code blocks.
How did the children respond?
“I walked through the maze and used my feet to estimate how wide the maze needed to be.”
“I used the robot to measure out the sides of the maze.”
“We needed to find out how far the drone went in 1 second and measured it and then measured how many times that was till it got to the place”
The challenge was even more meaningful as Jason explained he was visiting these cities for the first time in the coming weeks so as he taught the children to code they would be sharing their knowledge of Europe with him.
Reflections on learning and best practise.
It was great to see coding skills used in a meaningful context. Children have had a lot of experience creating games and programs on Scratch on devices. Our next step as a school was to take the skill of coding using blocks and apply them to external devices.
Using code in a three dimensions makes natural cross-curricular links to shape and space. Taking code off screen helps to wrap the code around the curriculum. This coding aspect of the MakerSpace challenge made clear links to maths and to geography. It is tricky to make your maths cross-curricular so linking it to computing and then to geography made this possible.
Making it Sustainable
If you are in a position to change your timetable and teach in this way then go for it! But what if you’re not?
This project was planned through a series of free courses provided by British Council and the focus has been creativity. It’s been a 13 week professional development network designed to unpick what creativity is and how to bring creativity back to the primary curriculum.
MakerSpaces, and any other title for best practice such as SOLE or REAL, need to be sustainable for real success. All of these ideas for teaching and learning are titles which give teachers permission to be creative. Simply speaking, it’s about being creative in all of the spaces in school, not just in a lesson or classroom. Make use of all your spaces and if somewhere isn’t being used (a library or a computer suite) then enhance it! Make it a place that supports creativity and plan to use it. My advice is to go and visit your Early Years classes. See what they do, where they go to and take their best practice. Build on their best practice for your age group. All of these empowering ideas have a common strand: voice, choice and creativity. Give your class a voice and choice, plan creatively and let the children design the way they work. But if you need to give it a title to make it work in your school, there are plenty out there with stacks of evidence to support your case for playful learning!