A Best-Practice Reflection by Rebecca Hitchman, Nelson Rural School
I am a grade 1 French Immersion Teacher at Nelson Rural School in Miramichi and applied for two of iHub Grants this fall. One was a general grant that I was awarded, and we began renovating and transforming one of our computer labs into a Maker Space for all of our K-8 classes to use. The other was the Best Practice Collaboration Grant, which was visiting other schools in another School District who already had Maker Spaces up and running. I was in contact with two schools George Street Middle School in Fredericton, and Harold Peterson Middle School in Oromocto. I visited both schools and met with educators who are the gurus of the Maker Spaces and collaborated with Mary Webber who works in the Brilliant Labs Headquarters at George Street Middle School. I have visited Maker Spaces in our own district and have seen some incredible things done by students and educators, however I have been following Janice Shaw from Harold Peterson and the BL HQ on Twitter and wanted to get their perspectives and expertise as well on how to use the Space with a range of age groups.
I first met with Mary Webber at George Street Middle, and she showed me around their Maker Spaces, presented projects that students had worked on or were currently working on and she showed me tools that have been essential in the Maker Space that students have been successful in using. She went over inventory that I could purchase to get our Maker Space started which was very helpful. We then went up to a grade 6 class taught by Jessica Marks and observed projects that students were currently working on. It was exciting to see the collaboration between students, the independence and problem solving occurring. They had to come up with a problem, develop a solution and go through the design process before beginning to work on the prototype. It was very inspiring seeing students take such autonomy over their own learning. Students were very excited to explain their design to me and their ultimate end goal. All of their ideas were things they were passionate about, which gave me many ideas to bring back to our own Maker Space and my own grade 1 class.
My vision for our Maker Space was to create a space for teachers to bring their classes to use the tools, technology and materials in the space to work on their classroom outcomes, however after visiting this grade 6 class, I also feel like creating passion projects for all grade levels is a very important element to a Maker Space. My question I had before visiting these classes was “How do I engage all students in the Maker Space and have them take ownership of the space?” Once I visited George Street Middle School and having sat down with these two educators, it became clearer. Mary and Jessica ensured me that in time; students will take ownership of the Maker Space with proper guidance.
After I left George Street Middle, I ventured to Oromocto to meet with Janice Shaw and to see her class working in their Maker Space. I really enjoyed the conversation we had at the beginning with her group of middle school students. Students expressed to me what they like and disliked about the Maker space and they were very eager to explain their individual projects to me. Every project was quite different however; they were using a variety of tools and materials to create their prototypes. It was intriguing seeing their independence, problem solving, and collaboration with each other. Janice observed and helped when asked, but was also able to step back and allow them to explore on their own. She also co-taught with a fellow teacher who acted as the trouble-shooter with some of the technology when students asked.
This combined middle school group were engaged in the process and there was very little time off task. Moving towards a more student driven project really displayed the different strengths and abilities that each student possessed and they seemed to take on roles in their groups that enhanced their strengths. The communication factor within their groups is what impressed me the most. This cemented my vision that a Maker Space can enrich our students’ strengths and enhance communication, problem solving and their engagement. Using a Maker Space at all levels does not need to be something extra, but instead students focus on topics related to classroom outcomes but display their results in a way that interests them.
The enthusiasm from the students at both schools showed me that project based learning, personalized learning, student-driven projects, or whatever you would like to call it, works and is needed in this fast-moving, technology driven society that our students are being brought up in. Although it can be a longer process, through letting students have more autonomy of their own learning, there are many skills they are developing and being used.
I am very thankful for the opportunity IHub has given me through their collaboration grant to visit these innovative teachers and to collaborate with them and engage with their classes. I had a vision before my visit as to how I wanted to see students use our Makerspace and it has only expanded since after my visit. I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to the educators who kindly allowed me into their schools and Maker Spaces to see the innovation happening amongst their students.