Rebecca Hoskins, Maker VISTA

The excitement is always obvious when a class comes to the door of the Makerspace. The Makerspaces have been up in most of our seven schools for over half a year now, and students of all ages know this is a place they like to be.

Here in the Costaño Makerspace, tinker-teacher Dave Hicks runs the show and it’s a privilege to watch his class in action. The activity that all the tinkerers are leading this week is called the “read-aloud design challenge,” and while it is perfect for the second grade class in Mr. Hicks’ room today, it was also a hit with the 7th and 8th graders at the Cesar Chavez Makerspace.

The activity starts with Mr. Hicks going through a wordless picture book called The Boy and the Airplane with the class. The kids are riveted. They get excited when the boy receives a toy plane as a gift, they raise their hands eagerly to answer the question “what do you think is going on here?” when he throws it, and when the toy plane gets stuck on the roof, Mr. Hicks prompts them to think about how the boy might be feeling. Then he points to the lights and yells “the story is real! LOOK! There’s the plane!” There is a real paper plane up on the lights. How are they going to get the plane down?

The students then line up and take a walking tour of the materials available to them, and sit down to design four possible tools to get the plane down. One student draws four variations of a fishing rod, another tapes plastic straws to her page. All of them are quiet and using their imaginations to solve a real-world problem that they identified by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes.

The kids then spend 10 minutes cutting, taping, sawing (with plastic saws), and assembling to make their ideas a reality. The room fills with happy chatter and organized chaos while Mr. Hicks keeps a watchful eye on things and gives the occasional instruction. I overhear one little student tell his classmates “never give up!”

There is freedom in this process of creating something of your own design that is by necessity not very common in traditional classrooms, where the priority is to get all the students up to grade level standards in reading, math, social studies. In the Makerspaces, kids have many opportunities to use their minds and hands together. For students who struggle with traditional classroom settings, this is a place where they can come to feel knowledgeable and confident. And for students who are confident in traditional classroom settings, this is the perfect place to practice creative and independent thinking.

At the end of the class, a few kids tried to use their tools to get the plane down. The last one to try managed to get it down, and he was elated. He had built a prototype that works to solve someone else’s problem, and walked out of the Makerspace as excited as he’d come in.