A Conversation with Tracey Bryan, Digital Literacy Coach
As educational practices have evolved over time, we have gained insight supporting what great teachers have known for centuries: we learn better by doing and by applying our understanding in meaningful, engaging ways. Students are more motivated when they have an authentic audience and purpose for their learning. “It concerns me to see students work for months or a semester on a project that literally ends up in a trash can. As a school we are constantly looking for ways to connect learning across divisions and to give real world context for students. The ASF makerspace aims to be a place on campus where students can create, tinker, build, prototype and design solutions to real problems. Students will have the chance to use tools and create using design principles,” explains Tracey Bryan, Digital Literacy Coach at ASF.
A makerspace is a physical space where people meet to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network and build things. Makerspaces provide tools and space in a community - a library, a community center, a private organization or in a school like ASF. Expert advisors may be available but often beginners receive help from other users.
A makerspace, sometimes referred to as a hackerspace, is often associated with fields such as engineering, computer science and graphic design. This idea of a collaborative space for creative endeavors has materialized in education, where the informal combination of laboratory, workshop and classroom form a compelling argument for learning through practice and exploration. “The market is changing and we need to prepare students for the jobs of Industry 4.0. To do that we need to not only prepare them academically but also in soft skills such as: flexibility, communication, problem-solving, and creative thinking. Makerspaces serve as a background for many projects that foster developing these abilities. Understanding simple machines, electronics, design, and building will provide the backdrop for learning a range of these skills,” suggests Tracey.
So what will our own makerspace at ASF include? The space will feature 3D printers, a laser cutter, hand and power tools, and electronic equipment. In addition there will be low tech resources for prototyping, building and tinkering. The space will be able to accommodate a class of 24 students and will feature custom workbenches as well as adjustable tables which will allow us to configure the room to best meet the needs of each group’s particular learning goals. It will also include an outdoor patio, providing an extension for creating larger projects. There will be a large window in the hallway allowing anyone passing by to get a glimpse of the activities happening inside. There will also be a section on the patio where experiments with plants and gardening can take place.
“This is a new space on the ASF campus and we will have to perfect how it can be best utilized by staff and students. The vision is that it will be a space that can provide community members with a variety of tools and resources to help create and solve problems. Teachers will be involved in designing how lessons are set up in the makerspace, and the schedule will be different from that of other special classes. To maximize the usage of the space to meet the needs of the close to 1000 LS students, we will carefully craft a schedule allowing for long blocks of time for each group to create. Both teachers and students will need to learn to use the tools and technology in the space,” forsees Tracey.
Makerspaces are self-directed learning zones. Their practical nature, together with the tools and materials that support creation, provide the perfect educational space for people who learn best by doing. Interaction between makers in these facilities fosters a highly collaborative learning dynamic that is excellent for team work and peer support, advice and assistance. Where these spaces are open to be used by teachers, students and staff from areas of very diverse content, promote multidisciplinary thinking and learning, enriching the projects that are built and the value of the makerspace as an educational place.
“We are going to have to be very flexible, for the first six months at least, because the space is different from many others on campus. We will have to spend time communicating the vision to all stakeholders and working with them to develop best practices. We want buy-in and active participation from teachers and students in designing how the space can be used. Modern education must be adaptive and flexible while holding true to basic skills and knowledge,” states Tracey. The ASF Makerspace will have constants such as skills to be learned in order to use the tools available but at the same time flexible to maximize the creative potential of all students.
“Honestly everything about the project is exciting to me. We are going to have a beautiful, inspiring, new space to welcome students and teachers in August with a full range of tools and technology that can be used to create a broad range of products. As someone who grew up in the kitchen cooking and crafting with my mom and making things in the garage with my dad I know that making, building, tinkering and creating provide important skills for life. I can’t wait to see the hidden talents we will discover in our students. I am so excited to give community members a place to connect with their own creativity. The space has been designed with great care and detail and I hope it will be fully taken advantage of by the community. I am also excited about the possibility to design a space and plan that will inspire others in Mexico and beyond,” concludes Tracey.