Gilbert Public Schools

Vicki Harrell of Gilbert Public Schools helps second grader Jaxson Baker play a game at Augusta Ranch Elementary School's new makerspace. (Kimberly Carrillo/GSN Staff Photographer)

Ten-year-old Jade Koceja likes to write and make stuff and was able to step those skills up a notch with digital tools.

The fifth grader and three classmates brainstormed a story idea, crafted pieces and shot footage for a clay animation production in a specially designed classroom known as a makerspace.

“It’s space to build, innovate and develop and let your creativity flow,” Augusta Ranch Elementary Principal Terrie Barnes explained.

Augusta Ranch is the latest campus in Gilbert Public Schools to set up a collaborative creative workspace, which incorporates STEM and STEAM learning activities.

It’s the only campus with two because of its size — nearly 1,000 students compared with the typical 500 to 600 students at other district elementary schools.

School officials held a ribbon-cutting recently in one of its rooms — which is outfitted with computers, a 3D printer, a Lego wall and stocked with materials such as rolls of aluminum foil, yarn and popsicle sticks.

Jade eagerly showed off her team’s animated video to visitors.

“It’s about an astronaut that goes to space and doesn’t like it and flies away,” she said, adding she liked coming to makerspace “because it lets people be creative while they are at school.”

Students use what they’ve learned in the classroom and combine it with science, technology, engineering, the arts and math to work on guided projects, according to Jason Martin, GPS executive director of elementary education.

“I hear anecdotally from teachers and principals of students not engaged in the classroom,” Martin said. “But the opportunity to take that learning with a hands-on, real-world approach engages students who may not be engaged in the classroom.”

The makerspace’s benefits include fostering innovation through hands-on experimentation, creating real-world applications for classroom and building critical thinking and problem-solving skills, according to National Inventors Hall of Fame.

The concept has been gaining traction in the education world over the last several years so not much research has been done on it aside from a recent study by Macquarie University.

The Australian university found makerspaces can help develop children’s creativity, critical thinking, design thinking and digital skills.

“Locally, it’s so new here in Gilbert we’ve not had the opportunity to look at our own data and progress,” Martin said. “In the next couple of years, two to three years, we’ll start taking a look at that.”

Approximately seven of the 27 elementary schools in the district so far have makerspaces, each with an approach tailored to their students’ learning style, Martin said, adding that the program is an initiative in the district’s lower grades.

“Couple of them are exploring it, researching it and looking if there’s a certain style they want,” he said.  “Each year, we grow by a couple more. I think the neat thing is it’s growing organically at the school level so each school develops it to (its) need so it’s not one size fits all.”

Patterson Elementary was the first to have a makerspace, dedicating part of the school library about three to four years ago, Martin said.

“Most of them have funding through PTSO or have gotten a grant for a makerspace,” he said.

Barnes said gifts, donations and elbow grease put together Augusta Ranch’s two makerspaces.

To stock the rooms, the school keeps a drop-off box in a hallway asking for things such as pipe cleaners, tissue paper, coffee filters and straws.

One of sixth grader Claire Chatham’s first projects was to engineer a bridge out of aluminum foil that spanned at least 15 centimeters.   

“I think it was kind of cool how to do it,” the 11-year-old said.

  At another table, four students were building a windmill.

Sixth grader Michael Corrales remarked as he tried to get the blades to turn: “There’s lot of activity, which is better to work the mind than math, reading and writing. “It lets us learn in a different way than normally.”