OCEAN CITY — If you filled a room with 6,500 Legos, what could kids create? Students at the Ocean City Primary School will soon find out, as their makerspace lab opened this week.
Technology teacher Randy Kohr and kindergarten teacher Jen DeVlieger helped a group of 30 third-grade students last year develop plans to open a sustainable makerspace at their school as part of the OCLife21 Club.
The maker movement isn’t new for classrooms. Makerspaces have been popping up in schools across the state over the last few years, providing students an opportunity to use their imagination and create. The definition is fluid but the idea for a makerspace centers on creating an area that has the materials and tools needed to create a project.
Kohr said providing the makerspace to children in primary school introduces them early on to engineering. “It’s opening up the kids to a field that wasn’t available to them until middle school or high school,” he said. “It’s just going to spark a passion for that field.”
Dale Dougherty, founder and CEO of MAKE magazine, said makerspaces introduce students to a new way of learning that is hands-on, project-based and experiential.
“We want students to learn to use technology in creative ways as well as develop skills such as problem-solving and collaboration,” Dougherty said. “Through the practice of making and creating projects, students can acquire the maker mindset, which could be described as being resourceful and resilient.”
Kohr, who was honored last May as an emerging leader by the International Society for Technology in Education, also helped introduce a makerspace in Somers Point two years ago when he taught at the Jordan Road School. Other area schools, including Egg Harbor Township, have opened makerspaces in the last two years.
Experts say makerspaces can offer any materials, from technology to art to engineering. They are not limited to school settings, either. In Bridgeton in 2015, Cumberland County College teamed up with the city to open STEAMWorks, South Jersey’s first member-based makerspace with 3-D printers, laser cutters, CAD software, a fully equipped audio studio and more.
One year before, Atlantic City Free Public Library opened a makerspace for youth with a $7,500 grant from the New Jersey State Library and LibraryLinkNJ. Maureen Moffit, director of the Youth Services Department at the Atlantic City library, said makerspaces are a great way to attract children to learning by offering technology they might not otherwise have access to.
“Teens are kind of that hard-to-reach group. They’re not necessarily going to come to the library because of the books,” Moffit said. “Music-recording equipment is going to be attractive to kids who love music.”
Moffit said in addition to STEM skills, makerspaces help students develop both problem-solving and social skills when they can collaborate with others. She said she is often contacted by schools and libraries for information on creating makerspaces.
“I used to think it was a trend. Because I’m a book person, it took me a while to really see how interesting the process of creating materials, ... how it translates into a learning experience,” she said.
Ocean City’s makerspace was funded by the Sea Isle City Board of Education, whose students all attend Ocean City schools. Last week, the third-graders who developed the room — who are now fourth-graders at Ocean City Intermediate School — were invited back to the primary school for a grand opening. They got right to work drawing on the dry-erase walls and building with the Legos.
Kohr said he plans to use the makerspace for a variety of technology lessons, like creating Lego racers for a pinewood-derby-esque race, but other teachers will also use the space for lessons.
“And that’s where STEM comes in,” said Principal Cathleen Smith of the popular acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, which is sometimes expanded to STEAM to include art. “With the 21st century learning, kids are learning 10 things at a time. We’re just preparing them for the 21st century to be solid contributors to the world. (Superintendent Kathleen) Taylor is saying the sky is the limit.”
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