Eastside Elementary School (EES) unveiled its new MakerSpace Laboratory to a group of students, parents, faculty, school board members and interested citizens on Wednesday, October 25. Assistant Principal Mike Lastra introduced twenty-two student leaders (STEAM Team Ambassadors) who range in age from seven to eleven. The term STEAM refers to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics from the areas that this program encompasses. These Ambassadors are not necessarily the students with the highest grades.
Lastra stated, “We choose students who are passionate about learning, about 'hands-on.' It's not about academic standing.”
Although a select few are chosen to be Ambassadors, all students in second through fifth grade have access to the Lab on a weekly basis as part of their rotating “specials” classes.
Title I, a federal government program that helps schools with a large percentage of disadvantaged children, provided the bulk of the money for this project . However, several community and school groups stepped up to the plate. The Hernando County Education Foundation donated funds for the after-school program. The Brooksville Wesleyan Church Women's Ministry donated over $4,500 for supplies. Eastside Elementary PTA purchased Sphero robots.
Ms. Kari Amico is the teacher who oversees the Lab. She obtained a Bachelors degree in Art and then completed a Masters in Elementary Education.
Ms. Amico commented, “A class of up to twenty-four students comes into the lab for about a half hour and breaks up into groups of four. Most of the STEAM team are older students, but we have a few second graders - those with good behavior or who picked up on the technology quickly.”
Mary LeDoux, Principal of EES, is excited about this innovative program.
“This is a one-of-a-kind lab. There is not another one like it in Hernando County.”
Lastra added, “We wanted to create a learning environment you don't see anywhere else. A room where the kids would be in awe when they walked in.”
In order to teach the students the technical skills needed to work with the various items in the lab, Ms. Amico attended classes in Orlando this past summer on how to code. Now, other teachers, as well as the students, are learning to code as well.
According to Ms. LeDoux, “Last year there were over 500,000 jobs nationally that required some kind of coding knowledge and only 52,000 college graduates to fill them. When you talk about college and career-ready and you look at your school population and say 'what can I envision for them for the future,' coding and robotics is what we came up with.”
To explain exactly what a MakerSpace Lab is Mr. Lastra showed a short YouTube video. You can watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLEJLOB6fDw.
Before heading to the MakerSpace Lab for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, each of the Ambassadors told the audience assembled in the cafeteria what he or she liked best about the facility.
Brooke Scarbourough said, “I like MakerSpace because it has all the technology you can use to express your feelings.”
Eliciting chuckles from the adults present, Damian Delucco commented, “I like the MakerSpace Lab because we get to play with all this expensive stuff. It's like a dream come true.”
Jackson Blocker, one of the youngest Ambassadors, stated, “I like MakerSpace because it's really fun and I like the technology. I want to be a YouTuber when I grow up.”
The new classroom was officially opened with a ribbon cutting by Ms. LeDoux, Mr. Lastra. Ms. Amcio, along with officials representing the Title I program and school board members Beth Naverud, Mark Johnson and Linda Prescott.
Everyone toured the brightly colored room and watched as students displayed their skills. The furniture in the Lab is innovative and designed to be moved around. Tables are on rollers so that they can be re-positioned to accommodate individuals or small groups. Children can sit on the stools and if they're antsy they can rock on them and not get in trouble. They don't have to sit still like they do at a conventional school desk.
There is a wide variety of items that encourage children to explore and be creative. They can create video games and stop-motion animated movies. The students build structures with Lincoln Logs, Connect Blocks and small wooden planks called Brain Builders. The laboratory even has a 3-D printer.
Ten year-old students Layla Warren and Karina DelToro demonstrated the Brain Builders. They showed how to build a pyramid by looking at a picture on the front of the Challenge Card. If you get stumped you can read the step-by-step instruction on the back. This not only stimulates spatial awareness but also utilizes reading.
Reagan Bailey and Marley Portuondo, both ten years old, demonstrated the Sphero Robot which they programmed to go through a maze. They were able to change the speed and direction of the robot through coding.
Ethan Blocker, age nine, and Benjamin Krusey, age eight, demonstrated Knex – another type of material used to construct objects.
Ethan said, “My favorite is the wheelbarrow because it's easy to make. It doesn't take that much time and it's useful. You can carry stuff in it.”
The two also demonstrated a working teeter-totter that they had built. Ethan wants to work for Nintendo and design video games when he grows up. Benjamin wants to be an inventor.
Ten year-old Kyanis Moran explained the Bloxel, “Each colored block means something and you arrange the blocks. The blue means water, the orange are exploding blocks, red means lava. You put them into positions, scan them with your tablet and create the video game.”
She added. “I like to to teach people and encourage people to brave enough to stand up for what they believe in.”
Eleven year-old Noah Brown illustrated the electronic scoring device he designed. It contained a small disco ball and digital numbers that lit up when he hit a switch.
“You can use it for keeping baseball or football scores. You can roll dice and type in the numbers on the dice and then add up the numbers to keep score.”
He added, “I've learned technology and how to experiment through the MakerSpace program. I probably want to be an engineer when I grow up.”
If these students are any indication of our future leaders, inventors, teachers, engineers and, yes, “YouTubers,” then we can be assured that the United States will surmount the challenges of the twenty-first century and hopefully progress in a positive direction.