Maker Monday: Southern Tioga Makerspaces

Sarah Murray
Sarah Murray
Occupation: Librarian
Employer: Blossburg Elementary School and Liberty Elementary School

Blossburg Elementary School and Liberty Elementary School, both part of the Southern Tioga School District, transformed portions of their respective libraries into makerspaces, enabling students to tinker, explore, and creatively involve themselves in the world of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). Makerspaces are part of a growing trend to educate through hands-on training to strengthen the workforce — a goal which Governor Wolf’s PAsmart initiative is also seeking to accomplish by connecting Pennsylvanians with training, educational, and career opportunities.

What is a makerspace?

A makerspace can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. No two makerspaces look alike. It all depends on what you are hoping to get out of your makerspaces. With mine, I teach kindergarten through sixth grade and focus on STEAM. A makerspace is a place to build and learn while being able to either work independently or collaborate with others. I tell my students that a makerspace gives them the opportunity to use their hands and their minds together to accomplish a project. Some who walk in my room may say that they are “just playing,” but it is so much more than that!

It has been over a year since you’ve opened your makerspace. What has changed since then?

When I first started this, I was approached by my superintendent to change our library and update it to the 21st century. She then told me how she started small and engaged with PTOs, earned funding through book shares, and found resources through Scholastic. She said when she first started, a mistake she made was just asking parents and the community for items without a clear vision for the activities she had planned. As she put it, “storage became an issue and we had a lot more paper towels than we anticipated — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!”

In the time since I have opened my makerspaces, I have added so many new items, including different types of technology, robots, and laptop carts that the students can use to practice coding. At the end of this past school year, I added some different types of flexible seating (yoga balls, stools, lap desks) for the students to be able to use during makerspace time, and that has been very popular.

What are the types of projects that you work on with your kids?

My students work on a variety of different projects during makerspace time. Sometimes they are all working on the same type of project or activity, and other times they have free makerspace time where they can choose from a list of activities. Some projects involve them solving a problem or challenging them to create something that could be used in a specific type of situation. During free makerspace time, students are drawn to different stations depending on their individual interests. Some examples of activities are robots, Perler beads, building on the Lego Wall, Osmo, Snap Circuits, and Play-Doh. I also have a 3D printer at each of my makerspaces now, so I am looking forward to having the kids work with those this school year on some fun projects.

What do makerspaces give students and how will this help them in their future?

I think that makerspaces give students the opportunity to make, create, design, and play without worrying about “failing” or doing something exactly perfectly or for a grade. I encourage them to try new things and always be exploring. I will purchase robots and different technology items for the makerspace to give students the opportunity to learn how to use them and before you know it they are teaching others and myself how to use it! They are like sponges, and I am truly amazed on a daily basis of each of their individual talents and what they can do.

I think that makerspaces help instill a sense of learning and creativity in students. My students always ask for makerspace time when they come in to the library, and I think that carrying this sense of hard work and curiosity will only help in the future in whatever type of career path that they choose to take.

What advice would you give other schools who want to start a makerspace?

A makerspace needs to be driven by what the students need. Start small at first and have a game plan of what you envision in mind. Flexibility is important — some things will work, and other things may not work. Ask the students about what they are interested in and what they would like to see in the makerspace. My students have given me some great ideas of things to add over the last couple years to make my makerspaces even better. Always be on the lookout for potential resources and be sure to engage with your school community — they can be a great source of inspiration and support.

The Maker Monday series features Pennsylvania manufacturing employees discussing their work, what it’s like to be in the industry, and why they love what they do.

To learn more about the manufacturing industry in Pennsylvania, visit the DCED website.


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