Making in Melbourne

David Hyatt

As part of the MAKEY project, Hans Christian Arnseth (University of Olso) and I visited two Makerspaces in schools in Melbourne at the end of March 2017.

Picture1At the first school, Collingwood College, we were welcomed by the campus principal Dale Perichon, the principal of the secondary school, Craig Bradley along with makers Greg Giannis and Craig van der Valk. We were both highly impressed by the set up in the school and the commitment of all those above.

The makerspace at Collingwood espouses a bottom up model with the emphasis on engagement and creativity. Attendance is voluntary and the children decide their own pathways through the makerspace. Dismantling is a part of the process as well as creating but this is tempered by a caution against mere destruction – dismantling is seen as a positive activity. The makerspace is seen as a respite from government mandated performative agendas. There are discussions happening about the potential for a mobile makerspace. Two interesting emphases were firstly on the social element of the work, emphasising collaboration with the locality rather than just geographical co-existence. Secondly there was an emphasis on the creative and artistic as well as the technological, leading to a preference for the acronym STEAM over STEM.

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Key issues that the makerspace in the school faced centred around logistics – as with many makerspaces, there are key driving figures in Greg and Craig. There was concern over sustainability if these key figures left. Other issues here included teacher involvement in extra-curricular activity given their already hectic schedule and other demands on their good will, issues of safety and risk, parental buy-in to the makerspace, funding, though there are some avenues opening up here, and teacher confidence with technology.

Hans Christian and I also visited the makerspace at Canterbury Primary School. Activities here include robotics, sewing/wearable tech, cooking gardening, cardboard and woodworking crafts. There was a tinkering zone where children had dismantled old bikes and created a new one which they sold on EBay. The school operate two modes of usage- a weak framing with free voluntary lunchtime sessions and a stronger framing using the makerspace as part of the general curriculum and this entailed more structured activities. Again the role of key inspiring individuals as the driver/engine of the makerspace was pivotal. In this case it came with teachers Rebecca Wells and Emma Ross, and with the full backing of the senior management.

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The school employed an inquiry-based pedagogy and support for users was devolved to the children. The institution operated a school parliament with Year 6 children elected as ‘Ministers’, including Maker Ministers. We observed these older children patiently and sensitively helping younger children, with one gently getting children to move back slightly from an iPad so all the children could see.

Robotics included Spheros and Dash and Dot robots which could be coded to move around and navigate through mazes. We were told on one occasion that Spheros had been used to roughly recreate the orbits of the planets in the solar system. The children learned block coding and progressed from remote control through to JavaScript.

As well as the sensitive work with younger children we observed children demonstrating creativity and leadership skills. We were told that one child had even diagnosed and repaired the 3D printer. However, formal standardised assessments did not capture this and whilst children were in maths working at 3 years above their expectations, they were not always able to demonstrate this in a multiple choice quiz. This issue here is with the assessment not being fit for purpose rather than with the makerspace. Challenges again were identified with assessment, teacher buy-in and keeping the space organised, though strategies had been put in place to incentivise children to keep the space tidy.

 

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