Park City schools introduce makerspaces for student learning
What happens when you give a child some cardboard, Lego toys and a 3-D printer? That is what schools in the Park City School District are trying to figure out. At the school’s new makerspaces, students are learning to create and design objects of all sizes and functions.
A makerspace is a collaborative place that contains a mix of materials that students can use to invent and build projects. The concept first started to emerge in the district with Park City High School’s Park City Center for Advanced Professional Studies program (PCCAPS) in 2013, but now there are makerspaces at Ecker Hill Middle School, Parley’s Park Elementary School, Trailside Elementary School and McPolin Elementary School.
Tracy Fike, technology instructional coach at Parley’s Park, said that makerspaces in schools are quickly gaining momentum around the nation. Parley’s Park opened its Amplified Learning Center, as school officials call it, this year. Fike switched from a part-time employee focused on technology to a full-time one who spends time with every grade level and class in the school.
The money to hire Fike and create the room came from the school’s land trust money, along with donations from the Park City Education Foundation and the school’s parent-teacher association, she said.
Jennifer Shane, a fourth-grade teacher, said that she and her students love going to the Amplified Learning Center with Fike because it is a change of pace.
“It is just incredible,” she said. “It’s like unending creativity. It is like a dream because we don’t get that. Now, with so much testing, so much is fact-based stuff and, ‘Do well on this test.’ When they go in there, they are creators, they are inventors and they are engineers.”
Fike does a mix of project-based learning that builds off lessons the students are working on in their classrooms, such as making diagrams and iMovies about the water cycle or about scenes from books they are reading.
But she also reserves free time for students to use the materials to imagine and create.
Bradley Gannon, a career and technical education teacher at Ecker Hill, opens his makerspace room during iTime, free time in which students can receive extra help from a teacher, do homework or activities like make bridges in the school’s makerspace.
Gannon received a grant from the Education Foundation in 2016 to start his makerspace, which focuses on electronics. There are soldering tools, circuit boards, gyroscopic robots and 3-D printers. One of the projects his students worked on was to build carts and program a gyroscopic robot called a Sphero to navigate through a maze carrying a cup of water.
He said that providing students with objects that they can physically hold and create is important for learning, and he said that education has moved away from it in the past few decades. Fike, too, said that teachers have commented about how they used to do projects that were similar to the ones being done in the makerspace. But teachers have said that it is hard to find the time with all of the curriculum they must cover.
Gannon and Fike hope to change that.
“Creating encourages growth in the mind,” he said.
Being able to take things apart, put things together and fail is crucial to learning, Gannon said. As students program a 3-D printer to print a design and it breaks, they learn through trial and error rather than a teacher directing them through every step.
Plus, the students are learning how to communicate and work in teams, he said.
Since the job market is constantly changing, Gannon said that it is important for students to learn skills like creativity and collaboration because they will be useful no matter the career.
Shane said that her students are gaining confidence as they try new things and take risks. When they come back into her classroom, they have better communication between their peers. Pike said that teachers are collaborating more together on projects as well.
“I don’t think it can go anywhere because the kids would be upset,” she said. “So I continue seeing it growing and integrating more and more into every classroom.”
A Parkite who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 is giving scholarships and internships to three first-generation graduates from PCHS.