Spicewood Elementary School gets creative with education

EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON

Bear Morrow (left) and Gage Goebel have a wide range of tools and ‘odds and ends’ at their disposal in Spicewood Elementary School’s MakerSpacer laboratory. A grant from the Marble Falls Education Foundation funded the innovative program. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Bear Morrow (left) and Gage Goebel have a wide range of tools and ‘odds and ends’ at their disposal in Spicewood Elementary School’s MakerSpacer laboratory. A grant from the Marble Falls Education Foundation funded the innovative program. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Gage Goebel scrounged around the workbench, pulling out cardboard tubing similar to a paper towel roll but larger in circumference. He then grabbed a couple of thin, wooden sticks about 18 inches long and a bit thicker than a toothpick.

With glue, a few other supplies, imagination, and the freedom to explore and create, Gage went to work.

“It’s a raft that can go over a waterfall,” said the Spicewood Elementary School second-grader.

He pointed out that it wasn’t a real one, obviously, but a smaller version that could be used as a model for a full-size vessel — one day.

Teacher Mary Groth smiled.

“They love being able to come in here and just take their ideas and create,” she said. “It’s where they get to learn by doing.”

Welcome to Spicewood Elementary School’s MakerSpace. Thanks to a Marble Falls Education Foundation grant, the former computer lab has been transformed into a workshop for students to create with some guidance but mostly steered by their own imagination, ingenuity, and curiosity.

“The kids love it,” said Spicewood Elementary School Principal Susan Cox. “It’s a time they can come in, create, and solve problems.”

MakerSpace opened this year. Each Friday, classes spend about 30 minutes in the lab. Teachers give the students a problem, a project, or simply a little direction. The young creators have taken MakerSpace and run with it demonstrated by the school’s showing in the recent Fat Brain Toys KidVentor competition. Fourth-grader Emma Turner won the national contest with her Buggy Light invention, and third-grader Daniel Edwards finished in the top 7.

While MakerSpace is fun, Groth also wants students to learn something and challenge themselves. She and Cox pointed out that kids often start a project or a problem but give up when it things get difficult or the initial solution fails.

In MakerSpace, staff encourage students to push past those failures.

When fifth-grader Zoey Wider was making a Lego-based device that was supposed to generate electricity when a wheel was cranked, it didn’t work the first couple of times. However, instead of tossing the pieces back into the box, she kept plugging away until she figured out a solution.

“Yeah, it helps you learn because you’re doing something,” Zoey said. “And when something doesn’t work, you have to find out why and then fix it.”

Spicewood Elementary School teacher Mary Groth looks on as fifth-grader Zoey Wider works with Cubelets that can be put together to create simple robots. The Cubelets are part of the school’s MakerSpace. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Spicewood Elementary School teacher Mary Groth looks on as fifth-grader Zoey Wider works with Cubelets that can be put together to create simple robots. The Cubelets are part of the school’s MakerSpace. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Fifth-grader Rylan Kent said he enjoys MakerSpace for the same reason many of his schoolmates do.

“You get to build stuff and use your hands,” he said.

Rylan said what he learns from the hands-on projects seems to stick with him better than when he simply reads about it in a book.

That’s a benefit of experiential learning, Groth pointed out.

The impetus for MakerSpace was Spicewood staff, particularly four teachers: Groth, Judie Jenkins, Sarah Jenkins, and Rita James. The women researched the idea and wrote the grant application through the Marble Falls Education Foundation.

Groth and Cox pointed out that MakerSpace programs have gained ground across the country over the past several years, particularly as Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) education has become more ubiquitous.

The school sees the future potential of MakerSpace and is looking to expand it.

Cox, Groth, and the rest of the staff are developing a MakerSpace curriculum that incorporates Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards and supports other classroom learning. They hope to implement the curriculum after the Christmas break.

The MakerSpace concept, however, will remain: Let kids use their creativity, curiosity, and initiative to learn.

As Gage Goebel put the finishing touches on his raft after solving a problem with stability, he seemed pleased with the concept. It’s only a model, he reminded everyone, but he was already thinking about a full-size version.

“That’s the thing,” Cox said, “they’re having fun, and they don’t realize they’re learning.”

Groth nodded in agreement.

“And this is just the beginning,” she said.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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