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Unit 4 Magnet Schools

Makerspace Brings Engineering To Life

Some thing about Garden Hills

Tables full of batteries and alligator clips. Notes scribbled in marker.

Lively questions and “aha” moments. This month, the makerspace at Garden Hills Academy is abuzz with electrical activity.

A planning space for kids to explore, create, build, and experiment, Garden Hills’ two-year-old makerspace is full of tools, materials, screens, and whiteboards. Melissa Kearns, a Champaign Magnet Schools site coordinator, co-facilitates STEM projects in the school’s makerspace with classroom teachers. “Kids learn basic engineering principles in the classroom to build an understanding,” Kearns explains. “Then they come to the makerspace to apply their knowledge in the lab.” From afternoon activities to weeklong projects, the makerspace offers challenges based on each grade level’s curriculum.

Recently, Garden Hills 4th graders studied the ways energy can be converted from different forms. Electricians from Ameren visited classrooms to talk about different types of energy and how to conserve it at home by using appliances like power strips and eco-friendly shower heads. “Having Ameren come in was really powerful,” says Kearns. “Students don’t just learn the content, but the application, and why things are important. “

For instance, after learning about solar energy in the classroom, 4th graders used the makerspace to construct solar ovens from pizza boxes. They used aluminum foil, tested its properties, and made s’mores. When the class learned about electrical energy, they used the makerspace to build series and parallel circuits. Seeing how the circuits are used in common objects—like Christmas lights—showed the students how things they learn in the classroom can be applied to everyday life.

Garden Hills students have also used the makerspace for projects like building marshmallow towers with toothpicks and creating an edible solar system. When 5th graders studied the Great Depression, they used the makerspace to build 3D dweller houses out of recycled materials, as well as dust clouds to demonstrate the effects of the Dust Bowl. For an upcoming project, engineers from Clark-Dietz will be talking to Garden Hills students about Rube Goldberg machines. The hope is that students will design their machines in the makerspace and eventually compete at the Engineering Open House at the University of Illinois.

“Without a makerspace, kids might not have these rich experiences,” remarks Kearns.

“We live in a community that builds local engineers,” Kearns continues. “And our kids can be those engineers.”