First photo above: Ogden Elementary’s new makerspace includes four stations: arts and crafts, robotics and electronics, construction and woodworking and textiles and sewing. Second photo: Principal April Whipple, left, and Teacher Librarian Mary-Catherine McElroy. Third photo: Students working in the makerspace.
Despite space constraints, Ogden Elementary expands hands-on learning opportunities
The maker and makerspace movements have been popular in education for several years. What’s not to love? Investigating the world through hands-on learning and deepening one’s understanding by doing—I think we all can agree that kids should have those experiences.
The new makerspace at Ogden Elementary gives students a chance to do just that.
But first, what is a makerspace? Principal April Whipple breaks it down:
“Our makerspace is a classroom where teachers can take their classes. They bring them to the space, and the idea is because the space is so innovative and creative and open-ended that students in turn will also feel that way when they’re in the space.”
Ogden’s makerspace has four stations. First:
“So, we have our arts and crafts, which has all of the supplies that you’d expect would be in an arts and crafts: paint and beads and markers and glue and ribbon, and things like that.”
Second: Robotics and electronics, from line-following and NXT robots to circuitry kits and littleBits. Teacher librarian Mary-Catherine McElroy explains:
“Now we have a lot of tools, things where they can really learn job skills, because there are a lot of STEM opportunities in this area.
“They have been so excited about what they’ve been exploring.”
The third station, as April tells us, is construction and woodworking.
“So in that area, kids get to learn those skills that maybe they don’t know. Maybe they’ve never screwed in a screw before. Maybe they haven’t sanded wood before.”
And the fourth station: textiles and sewing:
“Maybe some students have that experience, but not all. Do kids know how to thread a needle or sew a button? Is that something that maybe they are completing a project or a challenge and it would help them in?”
There’s a reason for all of those stations, as Mary-Catherine explains:
“It’s a variety of life skills. You always need to know how to hammer in a nail or sew a straight line. How many times have you had a project and it’s like, if I could just do this… And they have the opportunity to learn all of those skills here that they’ll take with them forever.”
The Ogden staff supplies many of the materials. Old jewelry, game pieces, phones that no longer work, watercolor paint holders, jar lids—nearly anything that might otherwise be thrown away or recycled is fair game, according to April:
“Our idea is also that we bring in all sorts of different materials so that basically they’re not limited by their materials, only their imagination.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t behavioral expectations, however. As a PBIS school, Ogden already had a few:
“We have ‘be safe, be respectful, be responsible.’ And then for the makerspace, we added ‘be thoughtful.’”
Going forward, students will reflect on how well they met those expectations. As teachers make connections between subjects they’re already teaching and new, hands-on learning opportunities that could enrich understanding, students also will learn about grit:
“Try, try again. That whole idea that there’s failure, and that’s what’s going to happen in a makerspace. We want kids to fail, learn from their failure and then have success.”
Access to these activities also reduces the opportunity gap:
“We do have a lot of students, being a high-poverty school, that don’t have access to things like this.
“It’s also filling a gap that we see where we want to make sure that all kids have an equal start and that they do have experiences that are going to prepare them for the future.”
New volunteers and partners also support and expand the possibilities of the makerspace. The “Makerspace Moms,” Holly Kinerk and Heather Gorman, helped set up. STEM professionals from the nonprofit Tinker Camp helped Ogden develop an initial supply list. A local contractor donates scrap wood, and a community member is helping the staff with surveys.
“It’s just one more opportunity to create additional community connections.”
Yet for all of the makerspace’s benefits, it required a few compromises. The space is located in a former classroom, chosen because it has a sink with running water. Unfortunately, the school’s space constraints meant that the loss of the classroom displaced students into portable classrooms, outside the main building. In fact, there are about 150 kids at Ogden—almost 30 percent of the student body—who attend classrooms in portables.
There are other challenges, too. To name just a few: inadequate staff restrooms; a heating and cooling system that wasn’t designed for the school’s current layout; limited technology infrastructure; and a small cafeteria and gym that doesn’t easily accommodate the school’s 550 students, much less their families during family events.
And the outcome:
“It ends up impacting what we can offer. We have community partners that will come to us with great ideas of things they want to do, and we have to say no because we have nowhere to offer it.”
Ogden isn’t the only school that’s experiencing overcrowding. Nearly 2,000 elementary students learn in more than 60 portable classrooms and spaces converted to classrooms for which they were not intended. That number could rise to 2,600 in 10 years without an investment in new, permanent classrooms.
If you work in a VPS school, you know that the age of our school buildings, while well-maintained, has created other problems, from roof leaks to faulty heating and cooling systems to worn-out flooring. More importantly, we have schools, like Ogden, whose facilities don’t support today’s teaching and learning needs. Our staff, our students, their families and our community deserve school facilities that support, not suppress, teachers’ efforts to nourish and prepare students for the future.
We have a plan for how to get there.
Under that plan, every school in the district could be rebuilt, expanded or upgraded with funds from a bond measure. The bond also would fund two new elementary schools and a consolidated facility for iTech Prep, which is housed in two locations 10 miles apart.
The board of directors will vote on the bond amount on Nov. 8. If approved, the measure will appear on the Feb. 14 special election ballot.
This is an important time for Vancouver schools. It’s an important time for us all.