Report from the MakerSpace: Returning to the Classrooms

By March 8, 2024No Comments

Written by Alison Earnhart, MakerSpace Maven

Well… It’s been a minute. I am so thrilled to have made my way back to Acera after a few months of being gone. For those who may not have heard, I was suddenly absent in late October due to being struck by a car while biking to work one morning. The road to recovery after suffering a traumatic brain injury was slow and deliberate, and I am deeply grateful to everyone at Acera for their patience, their willingness to pitch in and cover for my extended absence, and their deep concern and support for my well being and healing. With the help of the Acera community, I was able to slowly and safely return to work by gradually spending more time at the school and taking on teaching responsibilities one at a time. Starting with the new trimester next week, I will be back to full-time teaching and I am so excited!

I am particularly eager to get back to working with Room 1 and Room 5 as the embedded engineering specialist. Once again, I must express my gratitude for Ms. Kathy, who gracefully covered for me during my absence. Her expertise in all things hands-on and creative made her the perfect steward for these courses, and getting to work with her during my gradual transition back to the classrooms was a special treat because I got to learn so many things from her! 

In Room 1, I collaborated with Ms. Kathy over the last few weeks on teaching students about various mechanical components which culminated in the building of many fantastical Rube Goldberg-style chain reaction systems. Students used cardboard tubes, wooden blocks, string, marbles, and a host of other makerspace materials to design and construct their own systems that spread across tables, chairs, and the floor itself. I was delighted by their enthusiasm for building and their persistence in the face of repeated (and necessary/inevitable) failures as setting up these systems requires a careful touch and a lot of patience.

This past week was my first entirely “back to normal” session on my own with Room 1 students, and we began a paper-themed design challenge regarding something familiar to all the students – paper backpacks! My challenge to them was to design and build a functional backpack of any style (traditional two straps, messenger bag, single shoulder, etc.) that utilized pockets and closing latches that actually work to keep the contents secure. We spent a good deal of time brainstorming on various backpack styles and how to successfully create mechanisms out of paper. I’m really impressed with what the students are designing – with a few of the bags already working and holding alarmingly heavy wooden blocks! The strength of paper continues to amaze us all.

In Room 5, Ms. Kathy and I spent the last few weeks collaborating on the wonder of geometric shapes found in nature (like hexagonal honeycombs) and using them as inspiration for engineering builds. For one project, students learned about the great engineer Buckminster Fuller and built geodesic domes large enough for a student to crouch inside! For another project, students constructed their own paper spheres made up of many pentagons – all of which were made of circular paper with triangle folds in the middle. What a fantastic hands-on experience with so much geometry!

This week saw my first solo lesson with Room 5 as well, and we had a blast finishing up our paper spheres and then testing out another quick build – paper kites! We built a simple design of a paper kite with a ribbon tail, and tested them thanks to some “indoor wind” generated by one of the Acera shop fans. I have a few more flight projects up my sleeve for the upcoming weeks as the weather gets nicer and we can study various birds and insects that use different methods of flying. Speaking of the weather getting nicer, we will also be adding some gardening projects to our list of activities, as I am eager to get the students not only growing our own plants, but also designing and building the structures to support and grow them!

Once again, I want to thank the whole Acera community for helping me get back to doing what I love – teaching and working with the brilliant students here! I’m excited about the third trimester and the adventures it will bring.